GOP solutions to rebuild after Sandy

Like other big storms, Hurricane Sandy will likely be followed by a drop in retail spending, home-buying, and small-business activity, greater than the quick jump in plywood, flashlight and bottled-water sales. But as repairs proceed next year, utility and Shore improvements will boost depressed Northeast construction employment, and "reconstruction may create an opportunity to usher in new and updated technologies," writes Beata Caranci, economist at Canadian-owned TD Bank, whose US base is in Marlton.

Reconstruction will also be an opportunity to implement streamlined construction laws passed recently by GOP leaders in Congress and the states, says Frank Rapoport, Berwyn-based partner at New York law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP and counselor to contractors who support "public-private partnerships" (P3), a way of outsourcing lengthy government construction to private contractors and financiers, by "sharing" user fees -- like road tolls -- once the road is built, instead of charging taxpayers to pay for the road.

Under a "P3" law signed by Gov. Corbett last summer, Pennsylvania has convened a committee of pro-development "rockstars" -- Aqua America chief executive (and Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau chairman) Nick DeBenedictis, construction manager Ronald Drnevich, banker Michael Murchie, Laborers leader Ryan Boyer, State Rep. Steve Santarsiero, D-Bucks -- who'll be fielding applications. Maybe to add toll lanes on I-95, a second deck on the Schuylkill Expressway, a tollbridge on US 422 over the Schuylkill, and other projects to be funded from future tolls instead of borrowed money and taxpayer annuities. The system "streamlines" building by cutting back on change orders, fee disputes and other common delays, "because contractors work fast when they're not yet getting paid,." says Rapoport.

At a Harrisburg meeting attended by more than 100 contractors and allies the day ex-U.S.Sen. Arlen Specter was buried, state Secretary of Transportation Barry J.Schoch promised to review applications in early 2013, which would get projects started by summer, according to Rapoport. 

He also praised a new federal law that allows road reconstruction projects to proceed without time-consuming new environmental analyses, for roads where environmental reports were done years earlier. "Why do it again?" Rapoport said.

P3 funding -- which Corbett's predecessor, Democrat Ed Rendell, also supported and has continued to champion in his parttime retirement gig as a Greenhill investment banker -- is coming along "just in time" to aid in Sandy reconstruction, Rapoport points out. Virginia is pushing a high-profile, privately-run, toll-funded expansion of I-495 that P3 backers call a model. Pennsylvania "is following Virginia and Texas" in pushing privately-run public projects, he added. Cash-strapped Puerto Rico is using P3 schemes "for everything from bridges to schools."

Pennsylvania is a keystone in a national effort to expand such projects, Rapoport said. Pennsylvania "took awhile to come around;" Gov. Corbett is "deliberate." Now we're working on [Gov. Christie] in New Jersey. And I think Gov. Cuomo in New York will come around. These three Northeastern states, we've got a lot of old infrastructure that needs fixing."