Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration, finally acting on a provision of the 2009 Massachusetts transportation overhaul law, has named a seven-member panel to explore and oversee public-private partnerships.
Patrick, Treasurer Steven Grossman, Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo on Monday announced the members of the Special Public-Private Partnership Infrastructure Commission. Patrick appointed four members, the other three one apiece. Each will serve two-year terms.
Ned Corcoran thinks the momentum toward private deals is long overdue.
“Absolutely. The whole Northeast needs to get there,” said Corcoran, whose law and consulting firm, Corcoran & Associates of Quincy, Mass., submitted to state officials last December a proposal to expand the congested state Route 3 along suburban Boston’s South Shore.
Corcoran’s plan would add an express, high-occupancy toll lane for nine miles from the Braintree split with Interstate 93 southeasterly to Norwell. It would also reconstruct 15 bridges and incorporate planned improvements to interchanges with other regional highways.
Tolling would be electronic, through the E-ZPass system.
“We’re still figuring out the financing costs and what the toll rates might be. We need to put some more flesh on it,” Corcoran said in an interview Tuesday.
One day earlier, the governor appointed former U.S. Rep. John Olver; Joseph Dorant, president of the Massachusetts Organization of State Engineers and Scientists; Alan Macdonald, who serves on the state Department of Transportation board of directors; and Valerie Mosley, chief executive of Valmo Ventures.
Grossman appointed Jessica Strunkin, deputy director of the 495/MetroWest Partnership; Murray picked David Luberoff, a senior project advisor to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study’s Boston Area Research Initiative; and DeLeo named John Vitagliano, a principal with Seagull Consulting.
State officials are crisscrossing the state, selling Patrick’s far-reaching transportation bill to pump $13 billion into transportation system over the next decade through tax-code revisions.
“They’ve been realizing for a while the whole issue about revenue,” Corcoran said. “They’ve got $20 billion of need. My thought is that projects that can pay for themselves ought to be peeled from the program right away. Route 3 can pay for itself. The traffic there is still pretty bad.”
Corcoran served as chief counsel to the Massachusetts Highway Department during the 1990s, when it was a stand-alone agency, and advised on the $385 million widening of a northern stretch of Route 3 from Burlington, at I-95/Route 128, 21 miles north to the New Hampshire line.
The state at the time collapsed about 20 road improvement projects into one package. Enabling legislation created a special purpose, public benefit corporation that used lease payments pledged by MassHighway to issue bonds.
Corcoran said upon reading the text of the 2009 bill, whose headline provisions included eliminating the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and folding the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority into MassDOT, he began to craft his proposal.
“It was almost a throwaway line, about the state’s ability to receive an unsolicited proposal. We took that to read pretty liberally and pulled a team together,” said Corcoran, whose group met with MassDOT highway director Frank DePaola, chief financial officer Dana Levenson and other officials last fall.
Requests for proposals for a public-private agreement must receive the commission’s written approval before MassDOT issues it. The commission would consider financial issues including taxation, profit-sharing, revenue producing ideas and the financial value of any state transportation facility involved, as well as new technologies.