RoadWorks: Privatization Report: Some Ups, Some Downs

Governments at all levels are turning to private options to help them get through, and break out of, the current recession, according to the Reason Foundation’s Annual Privatization Report.

“Governments are swimming in red ink and realizing the effects of the recession will be felt long after the economy recovers,” said Leonard Gilroy, editor of the report and the foundation’s director of government reform. “Interest in privatization is sky-high and rightly so. Now more than ever, policymakers need to study their priorities, re-examine what are really core government functions, and then tap the private sector’s expertise in all of the areas where they can save taxpayer money and improve the quality of services.”

In his introduction to the report, Gilroy says that the current national economic recession “has swung the pendulum strongly toward federal intervention in the economy and there are many indications this interference is making the economy worse, not better. At the very same time, however, interest in privatization is sky-high and far reaching, with many state and local governments facing severe and prolonged fiscal crises. Even privatization-resistant states like California, New York, Massachusetts and New Jersey are now turning to the private sector to help solve major fiscal and capital investment challenges.”

The report, the foundation’s 23rd, forecasts “a bleak outlook for competitive sourcing under the Obama administration and a hostile Democratic Congress.”

According to the report there are “numerous discrete privatization initiatives in the states,” and policymakers’ interest in state privatization and government efficiency boards is rising with advisory commissions on privately financed infrastructure set up in several states. The report also looks at local government, especially Chicago’s $1.15 billion parking meter system lease – which it calls both “groundbreaking” and “troubled” – and reports that Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and other cities are contemplating similar initiatives to generate municipal revenues in the economic downturn.

The report examines developments across the country, including the following:

Florida’s Council on Efficient Government identified 511 outsourced projects in 2008. A review of 21 potential privatization projects forecast $94 million in savings for taxpayers.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal established a Commission on Streamlining Government that is using privatization to help reduce the size and cost of state government.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a public-private partnership law that enables and encourages the private sector to fund and manage road, prison and courthouse projects.

New York Gov. David Paterson created a Commission on State Asset Maximization to identify areas where public-private partnerships can save the state money.

New Jersey policymakers are achieving a major environmental goal by privatizing the cleanup of nearly 20,000 contaminated properties in the state.

The Reason Foundation (, created in 1968, says it is a nonprofit organization advancing “free minds and free markets,” and advances a free society by developing, applying, and promoting libertarian principles, including individual liberty, free markets, and the rule of law. v


Industry Fraud Worldwide: Losses decrease but cases increase

The global construction, engineering and infrastructure industry saw a significant decline in fraud activity with companies losing an average of $6.4 million over the last three years, according to the latest edition of the Kroll Annual Global Fraud Report. This new figure represents less than half of last year’s amount of $14.2 million.

Construction, engineering, and infrastructure companies registered a below average loss compared to other sectors, with the financial services industry being hit hardest by fraud over the past 12 months. The findings are the result of a survey Kroll commissioned from the Economist Intelligence Unit of more than 700 senior executives worldwide.

While the construction industry experienced a slowdown in fraud, this was not the case in every industry. In fact, despite the most challenging global economic conditions in recent history, the report revealed that across ten industries, fraud activity worldwide remained steady in 2009. On average, companies lost $8.8 million to fraud over the past three years, up just seven percent on last year’s figure of $8.2 million.

Although fraud losses are down in this year’s survey for construction companies, the prevalence of the problem is not declining at nearly the same rate. More than nine out of ten (91 percent) companies reported being hit by some form of fraud over the past three years, down slightly from last year’s figure (95 percent) but still well above the survey average (85 percent).


Bridges in Hong Kong

RoadWorksEfficient Design, Construction and Maintenance of Asia’s Modern Bridge Systems is the official title of the Bridges Asia Conference February 04 – 05, at the Intercontinental Grand Stamford, Hong Kong.

The event includes:

Focused technical presentations and workshops

Comprehensive coverage of bridge infrastructure

Specific case studies on ongoing projects

Interactive discussions including expert led panels and roundtables

Presence of prospective buyers and current clients

There will also be a number of workshops including, How to incorporate durability and life cycle cost analysis into long span bridges; How to enhance structural integrity in the design of long span bridges; and How to ensure sustainability within the construction of long span bridges.

Some of Asia’s most prominent bridges and bridge projects will be examined at the conference, including:

The Hong Kong Zhuhai Macau Bridge, a proposed series of bridges and tunnels that will connect the west side of Hong Kong to Macau and the mainland Chinese city of Zhuhai. The 18 mile bridge is expected to cost US$ 5.47 billion with construction set to start in 2011.

Stonecutters Bridge, Hong Kong, at the entrance to the busy Kwai Chung container port, is the longest bridge of its type in the world with an overall length of one mile.

Sutong Bridge, China, claims to be the world’s longest span cable-stayed bridge, a 3.5 mile long link between Nantong City and Changshu

Bandra-Worli Sea Link Bridge, India, one of that country’s most complicated civil engineering projects.

To find out more, go to


Road Deaths Down

Fatalities on U.S. roads have been steadily declining since a recent peak in 2005, according to an early estimate from the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) of motor vehicle traffic fatalities for the first half — January through June — of 2009.

NHTSA’s report — released in mid-October — finds that 16,626 people died in traffic crashes during the first six months of this year, a 7 percent decline from last year during the same period. Last year, 17,871 fatalities occurred in the first quarter of 2008. Fatalities declined by about 10 percent in the first quarter and declined by about 4 percent in the second quarter of 2009, as compared to the respective quarters in 2008, according to the NHTSA report. The second quarter of 2009 will be the 13th consecutive quarter of declines in fatalities, NHTSA finds.

However, preliminary data reported by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) show that vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in the first half of 2009 dropped by about 6.1 billion miles, about a 0.4 percent decline. On a quarterly basis, the VMT dropped by 1.7 percent during the first quarter and increased by 0.7 percent in the second quarter, according to the report.

Why the drop in fatalities? Jeff Solsby, director of public affairs for the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, says with this type of study and similar ones, there is never just one “factor” — but a combination such as, for example, a bad economy that means fewer drivers; newer, safer cars on the road; weather factors, and so on.


Lessons from the Fish and the Bees

Think about it. You never see a 10-fish pileup or even a 2-fish finder bender.

That’s because fish in a school navigate instinctively and intelligently, detecting and avoiding obstacles as a group. They recognize their surroundings based on lateral-line sense and sense of sight, and form schools with behavior rules. Nissan, using cutting-edge electronic technologies, has recreated the behavior of a school of fish in robot cars called EPOROs designed to help increase collision avoidance in groups of vehicles travelling together.

“We, in a motorized world have a lot to learn from the behavior of a school of fish in terms of each fish’s degree of freedom and safety within a school and high migration efficiency of a school itself,” said Toshiyu Andou, manager of Nissan’s MobilityLaboratory and principal engineer of the robot car project. “By sharing the surrounding information received with the group via communication, the group of EPOROs can travel safely, changing its shape as needed.”

 Nissan has done something similar in the past, studying the flights of bumblebees, which tend to fly alone, to builda robot car to help make isolated drivers safer.

Road maintenance may spread invasive plants

Road maintenance crews may have more of an effect on the environment than they think.

Roadsides are prime locations for the growth and distribution of invasive plant species and road maintenance, such as grading and mowing, disturbs the seedbank on a roadside according to a study. The seeds are then easily transported by water or other means. Taking steps to minimize disturbance of the road edge can provide an effective means of slowing the spread of invasive plants. The study found a greater distribution of invasive plants in proximity to forest roads which provide corridors that facilitate the dispersal of plant material.

The study was conducted in the Green Ridge State Forest in western Maryland along the Potomac River. The forest has a mix of protected natural areas, managed by The Nature Conservancy, and spaces for recreational use. The 32,000-ha area is dissected by paved and unpaved roads and trails.