Assessing the Performance of Public-Private Partnership Highway Projects: From Anecdotes to Comprehensive Evidence

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Virginia Tech


Over roughly the last three decades, governments worldwide have implemented public private partnerships (P3s) to mobilize both private funds and public resources to develop transportation infrastructure, which has provided private entities contemporary opportunities to design, finance, construct, operate and maintain these important assets. Typically, P3s are large and complex undertakings that involve and impact many stakeholders, including public officials, financiers, builders, business owners and taxpaying citizens. Consequently, their efficacy depends – to a great extent – on how well they meet the interests of this array of stakeholders. Hence, effective assessment of P3s is crucial to determine whether these infrastructure initiatives and project outcomes satisfy these stakeholders' interests throughout a P3's life-cycle.

Researchers and practitioners have considered various aspects of P3s when considering their performance. In general, the current research landscape related to P3 performance includes two major areas: (1) the identification and implementation of critical success factors (CSFs) and key performance indicators (KPIs), and (2) the development of frameworks that conceptualize approaches to measure P3 performance. Numerous studies have focused on CSFs that are the "ingredients" of effective P3s. More recent studies have emphasized KPIs that are metrics to assess them. Alternatively, some research has taken a life-cycle approach to propose approaches for P3 evaluation that are more comprehensive than assessments of P3 delivery time and cost. While this research has produced useful insights, limited emphasis has been placed on assessing P3 performance comprehensively and beyond the public and private sector dichotomy. Therefore, this research develops a framework that identifies and assesses key stakeholder interests in P3s as a means to characterize their performance. Subsequently, this framework was employed in a case study of four P3 projects to evaluate how well these cases met stakeholder expectations and ultimately performed. The research to develop the framework and conduct the case study was organized in three integrated studies.

The first study employed a systematic literature review of CSFs and KPIs where the extant literature remains largely segmented and fragmented. Synthesis of the literature helped to identify and characterize various CSFs and KPIs and their current employment within the P3 performance domain. This led to the development of a CSF-KPI framework that integrates these factors and indicators throughout a P3 project's lifecycle.

The outcome of the first study served as the foundation for the second study where the framework to assess stakeholders' interests was constructed. In this process, the second study followed a systematic approach by integrating key components to assess performance. The development process involved several key steps: (1) identification of the key stakeholders – specifically the state (elected bodies and executive agencies), investors (equity providers), producers (project service providers) and users/citizens (individuals or groups impacted by a project); (2) characterization of their principal interests; (3) selection of indicators of these interests; (4) linkage of the indicators with 11 performance dimensions ranging from project environment to revenue and operations; and (5) connection of the performance dimensions with four levels of performance: planning, project management, business, and future potential. The framework was demonstrated and substantiated using data from the I-495 Capital Beltway Express project. The application confirmed the replicability of the framework.

The final study utilized the framework to evaluate P3s effectiveness in serving stakeholders goals and objectives. A multiple case study was conducted of four P3 highway projects in the United States: I-495 Capital Beltway Express, LBJ Expressway, SR 125 (South Bay Expressway), and SH 130 (5and6) to examine the extent that state, investor, producer, and user/citizen interests were fulfilled. Overall, I-495 and LBJ Expressway met stakeholder interests more effectively than SR 125 and SH 130 (5and6); these two cases had stronger planning, project management, and business performance. Notably, the I-495 case was an unsolicited (or market lead) proposal that followed a collaborative planning process to shape and define the project to meet mutual interests while the LBJ Expressway case utilized a competitive best-value procurement to generate an innovative technical solution that reduced the project's cost and footprint. Whereas SR 125 and SH 130 (5and6) experienced various issues that led to their bankruptcy; the new owners of both projects have taken steps to improve their outlook.

Overall, the research deepens understanding of the factors that impact stakeholder interests and their expectations of P3s, presents a holistic framework for P3 assessments, and provides evidence of how well multiple P3s performed, moving beyond conceptual frameworks that are currently found in the literature.



Critical Success Factors, Key Performance Indicators, PPP/P3, Performance, Performance Framework, Case Study, Stakeholder Interest