In their Aug. 14 Close to Home piece, "Private Toll Roads, British-Style," James Kee and John Forrer said that a proposal by a private consortium to buy the Dulles Toll Road "ups the ante" in the U.S. debate about public-private ventures. But they were mistaken when they implied that this proposal is new to North America. The Chicago Skyway was leased in January for 99 years, and Highway 407 in Ontario was similarly turned over to a private operator in 1999.
Mr. Kee and Mr. Forrer cited lessons for this country based on the British experience, but many British roadways operate under a shadow tolling regime, meaning that a private operator maintains the roadway and is paid by the government for the amount of traffic on the road. Users make no overt toll payment, and financing is through general government revenue. Few of these roads have been built as a purely private venture, as was the case with the Dulles Greenway, in which all the risk has been borne by private investors.
The authors' so-called lessons also applied largely to new construction, but it is not known whether drivers would pay a toll to use a new road or whether they would be willing to pay a fee large enough to allow the road to be self-financing.
Little such risk is associated with the sale of an existing roadway. Especially in the case of the Dulles Toll Road, the combination with the Greenway would simplify and unify the management of an existing toll corridor.
Continental Europe has had a long and successful experience with privatized toll roads, and this expertise is being transferred to North America through projects built and operated by French, Italian and Spanish firms. It would have been wiser to look to these European models -- rather than to Britain -- for potential solutions to the looming transportation financing crisis facing the United States.
PATRICK D. JONES
Tunnel and Turnpike Association