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PPP legislation afoot in Arizona

State Representative Karen Fann (pictured) is putting forth a bill in support of a public-private tolling model that would unlock new road construction across the state.

There is not a single toll road in Arizona. But a politician has a plan to change that, using private capital.

House Bill 2358, sponsored by Representative Karen Fann, a Republican, is promoting a public-private partnership (PPP) to “build and maintain highway infrastructure” in Arizona. The bill supports highway tolling, carried out between the Arizona Department of Transportation and a private partner, who would divvy up revenue.

The toll road proposal was passed by the state transportation committee, but would still need approval throughout the Arizona legislature, including a final endorsement by the state senate.

A pro-PPP bill was passed in 2009, making transportation PPPs viable in Arizona. Fann, in sponsoring HB 2358, specified she did not cite tolling a particular road or highway, but wants instead to create a public-private tolling mechanism.

But opposition to the bill claimed HB 2358 allowed overzealous penalization for anyone who tried to evade paying a toll, including loss of registration. Buster Johnson, supervisor of Mohave County in Arizona, in an open letter called the bill, “long winded,” adding loss of license counted as a potential punishment for avoiding a toll. He also claimed a toll system would make driving in Arizona “more like traversing a board game”.

The original 2009 legislation, HB 2396, was enacted by Arizona governor Jan Brewer, authorizing the state to enter into a PPP arrangement in undertaking a transportation project. The bill has an open-ended mandate, allowing for a design, build, finance and operate (DBFO) structure as well as a design, build, finance, operate and maintain (DOBFM) alternative.

But the 2009 legislation has not generated private sector interest.

Fann, elected to office in 2010, is chief executive of  highway construction company Arizona Highway Safety Specialists, described as the “largest guardrail” company in Arizona. She is also vice chair of the Arizona transportation committee.