Today, current law bars Washington State from tapping the energy and talent of the private sector to maintain its highways. Established research demonstrates that the state could save at least ten percent each biennium over current operations if it contracted highway maintenance with the private sector. That amounts to almost $25 million out of a $248.6 million budget for 1997-1999.
Almost every state and Canadian provincial highway and transportation agency contracts with the private sector for some or all of their highway maintenance service. Five jurisdictions where private sector competition is used extensively are Massachusetts, British Columbia, Virginia, Texas, and Indianapolis.
The Washington Institute Foundation has undertaken a major study that examines in-depth these five communities. Our study found that, for the most part, these governments have seen highway maintenance costs decrease dramatically, while levels of service simultaneously increased.
Each government employed different methods to involve the private sector in highway maintenance work. Massachusetts and Indianapolis used “managed competition,” where private companies and public employees competed against each other to provide service. British Columbia privatized one hundred percent of their highway maintenance in a year’s time. Virginia and Texas implemented private sector involvement in different forms after receiving directions from their legislatures.
Washington State has much to learn from the experiences of the communities described in our study. Until current legal barriers fall, Washington taxpayers will never realize the benefits of cost savings, innovations, and choices the marketplace can offer.
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