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Discussion: Investing in infrastructure: A question of trust

  1. #1
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    Par défaut Investing in infrastructure: A question of trust

    Investing in infrastructure
    A question of trust
    Chicago pioneers a new way of paying for infrastructure
    May 12th 2012 | CHICAGO AND WASHINGTON, DC | from the print edition


    FOR decades America has underinvested in infrastructure—even though poor roads, delayed flights, crumbling bridges and inefficient buildings are an expensive burden. Deficiencies in roads, bridges and transport systems alone cost households and businesses nearly $130 billion in 2010, mostly because of higher running costs and travel delays. The calculated underinvestment in transport infrastructure alone runs to about $94 billion a year. This filters through to all parts of the economy and increases costs at the point of use of many raw materials, and thereby reduces the productivity and competitiveness of American firms and their goods. Overall the American Society of Civil Engineers reckons that this underinvestment will end up costing each family in the country about $10,600 between 2010 and 2020.

    Yet though investment in infrastructure would bring clear gains in efficiency, there is little money around, and all levels of government are reluctant or unable to pile up more debt. Traditional sources of funding, such as the (flat) tax on petrol, have delivered a dwindling amount of revenue as soaring prices at the pump have persuaded people to drive less. The federal government has been unable to get Congress to agree on other ways to generate new sources of funding for transport, to the point where money for new highways has almost dried up.

    For years America has talked about a federal infrastructure bank, which would blend private and public finance and would yield returns over a long number of years. Various other countries have tried the idea, but it has never caught on in the United States. Barack Obama wants $10 billion in funding as initial capital for a national infrastructure bank as part of his jobs plan. So far the idea has gone nowhere in Congress.

    In March the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, announced that his city could not wait for such help from elsewhere and will go it alone. With the speedy approval of the city council he created a new breed of infrastructure finance known as the Chicago Infrastructure Trust (CIT). The trust is not so much an infrastructure bank with money to hand out, but a city effort to match public infrastructure needs to private investors on a case-by-case basis; something more like an exchange. The city will finance the running costs of the trust itself to the tune of $2.5m. Several financial institutions are already lined up to make investments totalling $1.7 billion, among them Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets, Ullico, Citibank and JPMorgan.

    The background to this is that Mr Emanuel wants to spend about $7 billion to rebuild the city of Chicago—on everything from streets, to parks, to the water system, schools, commuter rail and the main airport. Tom Alexander, a spokesman for the mayor, says the city cannot ignore the future as it deals with the present. But raising the money needed for new investment, while maintaining the current infrastructure, is a daunting task.

    The CIT allows Mr Emanuel to tap the private sector for money, rather than just raising taxes and borrowing. The private sector will invest money in projects and get it back in the shape of tolls, user fees, premium pricing or even tax breaks.

    The first project is an investment of $225m to make city buildings more energy-efficient. This is expected to reduce annual energy costs by $20m, and the savings will then be used to pay back the investors. The CIT will provide some capital, bond financing and grants. It will also offer tax-exempt debt to entice investors. Returns on investment could vary from 3% on tax-exempt bonds to 8% for equity partners.

    Private involvement should, in theory, improve the quality of projects that get undertaken. A politically-expedient but financially dubious project would be unlikely to generate enough money to interest private investors. Padding, short cuts or shoddy construction are less likely to be tolerated. And city leaders might in turn overcome their aversion to the efficient pricing of public resources such as parking and busy roads. At the moment, investor appetites are keen and the supply of potential projects looks ample.

    The project is causing some anxiety in Chicago, though. Although the new trust would leave all the resulting investment under public ownership, the city’s recent bitter experience with a bungled 75-year lease of its parking meters under a previous mayor has left residents fearful. And with reason.

    For example, experience with public-private partnerships shows that cost-benefit estimates can sometimes prove wildly optimistic. When projects go bad—leaving half-built roads and schools—they become a public problem. Private investment might well end up being recouped in higher user fees.

    Mr Emanuel is well aware that other cities are watching this experiment with interest. The mayor is a hugely ambitious man, who is undoubtedly keen to leave a lasting legacy, and who some believe may want to remain as mayor for a period of Daleyian proportions. He, of all people, will want to build something that other cities will want to copy, not avoid.

    http://www.economist.com/node/21554579
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  2. #2
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    mai 2007
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    This is one area I agree with you Malek. There is no excuse for broken damaged roads filled with potholes! It's dangerous, it causes damage to property, and it hurts ALL users of the road.

    So I agree 100% with investing money to keep the road infrastructure that we do have in place smooth and free of potholes!
    Sadly Montreal is a disgrace in this area!

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