A leader of one of the world’s largest contractors on Thursday extolled the virtues of building partnerships between the private and public sectors to get mega infrastructure projects done and increase economic growth.
Involving the public in project discussions, having a project champion within government and developing “defensible economics” are among the keys to achieving success with such partnerships, Chris White, regional general counsel for Kiewit Corp., told attendees of a lunchtime gathering held by the Columbia River Economic Development Council.
Inside a crowded ballroom of the Heathman Lodge in Vancouver, White delivered those and other remarks as part of a larger event dubbed “The Power of Private-Public Partnerships.” The event included a panel discussion about how the region’s ports are marketing themselves to other metro areas. The panelists were Todd Coleman, CEO of the Port of Vancouver (the event’s presenting sponsor), Brent Grening, CEO of the Port of Ridgefield, and David Ripp, executive director of the Port of Camas-Washougal.
White delivered the event’s keynote address. Over the past 10 years, he said, Kiewit has completed about $10 billion worth of megaprojects involving partnerships with public agencies. One of those projects was the $2.46 billion Port Mann/Highway 1 improvement project in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The project, aimed at relieving traffic congestion and increasing safety, included constructing a new Port Mann Bridge, widening Highway 1, upgrading interchanges and making mass-transit improvements. One ingredient that helped make that project a success was public involvement, White said. And it’s an ingredient that applies to other similar megaprojects. “Get out early, get out often and build support for the project,” he said.
Toward the end of Thursday’s event, audience members and those using social media were invited to ask questions of White and the panelists.
One question, asked by way of Twitter, centered on the Columbia River Crossing, the failed Interstate 5 Bridge replacement project that included light rail into Vancouver: When was the Portland-Vancouver region going to shape up and get a new bistate crossing built?
White fielded the question. Kiewit would not only like to see such a project happen but the company “would like to build it,” he said. However, as he’s followed “the back and forth” that’s taken place over the politically dicey project, White said, he’s noticed two things are missing: a champion who has the moxie to push for it and the kind of public outreach that builds broad support for it.
Until those missing ingredients come into play, he said, an Interstate 5 Bridge replacement project will continue to prove difficult to get done.