WASHINGTON — Transportation, water and energy infrastructure projects are most attractive for investment by public-private partnerships in the United States, according to a survey of construction company and engineering firm executives.

The survey, conducted last year and publicly released this week by KPMG International, asked executives of infrastructure firms worldwide to weigh in on trends, challenges and opportunities in the industry.

The firms that responded ranged in size from those with annual revenues of $250 million to those with more than $5 billion.

Given the opportunity to identify the most likely areas for the growth of P3s, U.S. executives responding to the survey identified transportation as by far the leading candidate, with 56% of them selecting it.

Water infrastructure projects got the nod from 26% of them, and 19% opted for energy projects.

“Respondents from the Americas are particularly interested in the transport market, where the U.S. is keen to improve its rail, road, air and shipping network to cope with 21st century demands,” KPMG said in its report.

P3s are already in use in much of the U.S. transportation industry, particularly the road sector where private firms take responsibility for planning, financing and building or expanding roads in exchange for the right to collect toll revenues from the completed projects.

Governments also often get upfront payments from the private companies in P3 ventures.

P3s have been used for other transportation projects than roads, such as the privately operated Seagirt Marine Terminal at the Port of Baltimore.

Leading policymakers in the sector have also touted the potential of public-private partnership investment, including Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and House Transportation Committee chairman John Mica, R-Fla.

That talk gained steam during the ongoing debate over the reauthorization of surface transportation legislation, which has dragged on for months.

About 71% of U.S. executive respondents cited a lack of government leadership as a major barrier to infrastructure investment.

But that number was even higher for non-American executives. 

They “are also very concerned about governments’ ability to drive infrastructure spending, with an overwhelming 80% citing lack of leadership as a major barrier,” the report said.

“As governments around the world seek to create 21st century infrastructure, they need to take a strong lead to create an environment that encourages private sector investment,” Nick Chism, KPMG’s U.K.-based global head of infrastructure, said in the report.

“This means addressing regulatory and legislative barriers and showing the kind of long-term will that transcends immediate political popularity,” he added.

P3s are only an option in states with laws authorizing their use. Only about half of the states in the U.S. have passed legislation authorizing a wide range of P3 projects, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

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