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Of all the things that need Washington’s attention, infrastructure should be close to the top of the list. Studies – as well as the tragic incident of the bridge collapse in Minnesota last year – suggest that the poor state of much of the US transportation infrastructure–airports, public transit, railway systems, roads and bridges–will eventually erode cities’ abilities to compete globally.This is due to years of underinvestment by the government.

There is a good chance that an Obama Administration will focus on this issue – as well as consider some of the alternative finance forms to build out and repair infrastructure, says Stephen Blank, Urban Land Institute senior resident fellow for real estate finance.

For instance, he points to talk by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who one day after the election began calling again for a lame-duck session of Congress to enact another stimulus program. “I think we may see any additional stimulus plans investing directly in the economy to create jobs – and investing in infrastructure would fit that need, as well as address the need to upgrade our systems,” he tells GlobeSt.com.

GlobeSt.com: In a previous report, ULI found that for years, European and Australian governments have successfully funded infrastructure projects through public private partnerships – but that this business model has been more the exception than the rule in the US to date. Do you think that might change under Pres. Barack Obama?

Blank: It could very well. We are at the nexus of two forces: one is a growing group of creative people in this country that want to try new ways to structure infrastructure investment, and the other is a President-elect who has shown he is open to new ideas and willing to look at alternative solutions to the problems facing this country.

GlobeSt.com: There are a number of permutations of public-private partnerships that can be crafted to fund, construct, operate and manage infrastructure. Are there any in particular that you see coming to the forefront in federal and/or state governments in the next few years?

Blank: Nothing in particular – many of these are all variations on a similar theme. But why limit yourself to wondering about what already exists? I think the investment model can be expanded from traditional roads or bridges to also include health care facilities or intellectual facilities like libraries or schools. If we expand the definition of infrastructure investment, that would be the most additive to the process.

GlobeSt.com: A number of private sector funds have been raised and are being deployed to invest in infrastructure. Any thoughts on what role they might play in a new government push to upgrade our communities?

Blank: To the best of my knowledge these funds are performing as expected – I haven’t seen any report of returns being diminished because maintenance was higher than anticipated or tolls were insufficient to provide projected return on revenue. So yes, I think these funds could somehow become part of a larger government initiative. It looks as though Treasury is already seeking out all kinds of economic models that are successful in general right now. I think Treasury under an Obama administration will continue this philosophy and further amplify it.

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