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Archives for Private Roads (page 1 / 1)

The Danger of Private Bridges

It turns out that a privately owned bridge is responsible for "carrying one-third of all road trade -- or more than $122 billion in goods a year" between the U.S. and Canada.

In a remarkable arrangement for a crossing so major, Manuel J. Moroun, a reclusive billionaire from Detroit's suburbs who oversees a trucking empire, owns the bridge, one of only two privately owned bridges along the entire northern border of the United States and by far the most economically significant privately owned bridge in the nation.

Now, with so much commerce depending on a single structure, people have begun to wonder what would happen if a terrorist were to attack it or if the Ambassador Bridge, approaching 80 years old, were to fail.

And so a race is on to build a new $1 billion crossing here.

Of course, the local politicians want it to be a publicly owned bridge this time. They don't trust private ownership, of course.

Supporters of a publicly owned span here say it is the only wise plan, the only one that offers needed public oversight and regulation. They have deep concerns, they say, about allowing a single man to continue his decades-long reign over such a vital connector of nations.

"This man is making billions of dollars on that bridge." said Raymond E. Basham, a Michigan state senator and a Democrat, who said that only a public bridge could ensure the structural inspections and domestic security needed. "When it comes to dollars and cents, there is every incentive for him not to tell us if something is wrong. We have an obligation for the safety of people."

Really, I don't know how to respond to Senator Brasham. The flaws in his argument are so gapingly huge that I feel ludicrous having to actually point them out. But somebody's gotta do it and it might as well be me.

First of all, Mr. Moroun has at least 100 million reasons a year to keep his bridge well maintained and protected. I'd say that's one humdinger of an incentive right there. If there are any fears about the bridge's safety, that traffic could all disappear -- it's in his best interests to make sure that no one ever has any reason to fear for the bridge's safety. That, naturally, means more disclosure -- not less.

Here's how the Detroit International Bridge Company has protected their investment.

... the bridge company had hired private security guards to watch the bridge in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

Mr. Stamper [the president of the company] also said that the Ambassador Bridge received structural inspections every year from private firms and that the results of those inspections were made available to Michigan and Canadian transportation authorities, though not to the public.

Secondly, it's preposterous to suggest that the government will be on top of maintenance and repairs. The most glaring example is the collapse of the I-35 bridge in Minnesota, two months ago. In the aftermath of that disaster, all 50 states suddenly realized that they were way behind on their own bridge maintenance. The levies that collapsed in New Orleans? Also publicly owned and maintained.

I'd far rather trust my life to private ownership and maintenance than public ownership and maintenance. A private owner stands to lose millions of dollars in business if his infrastructure collapses. A politician who underfunds maintenance earns an opportunity to blame someone else for skimping on safety and a chance get on TV, by promising to do better. That's definitely not an incentive for pro-active safety.

This entry was tagged. Private Roads

Road Logic -- As Seen on Slashdot

As seen on Slashdot

Garbage collection is fine as a private service, but roads? What would possibly improve by letting individual profit-seeking companies control where and when you are allowed to drive?

It's a simple answer. Individual profit-seeking companies only make a profit if you can drive when and where you want. Right now, only one "company" provides roads -- your local state government. And if they don't feel like building where you want to drive, tough luck. A private company would have a financial incentive to build a road where you want to drive.

Example: The population on the west side of Madison has been growing. More people have been moving to West Madison and to the West Madison suburbs. Traffic on the Madison beltline has been increasing, especially in certain sections of the western half. Traffic on County Road M has also been increasing. In some places, it's only a one-lane road.

The state of Wisconsin has no plans to widen the beltline or CR-M. They've publically stated that the earliest they'd even consider doing something would be around 2014. As a result, I increasingly do everything possible to avoid CR-M and the beltline during periods of high traffic.

Unlike the state, a private company would have an incentive to widen both of these roads and increase capacity. More capacity means more drivers. More drivers means more profit. It's a win-win scenario. They get more money, I get a faster commute. This is the beauty of free-market capitalism -- both parties win or there is no deal.

All of this only works, of course, as long as there is more than one private company building roads. Two competing companies would each have an incentive to get me where I want to go as quickly and efficiently as possible. A private company that has no competition -- for instance, one granted a monopoly by the state or local government -- would likely do little better than the government does. Competition is the magic ingredient that makes a free-market work.

So, why do you think roads should be government controlled instead of privately owned?