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Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations

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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-17-072    Date:  February 2018
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-17-072
Date: February 2018


FHWA Research And Technology Evaluation: Public-Private Partnership Capacity Building Program

5. Recommendations

Rotary drawing

The Center for Innovative Finance Support’s P3 Program is a relatively new effort aimed at serving practitioners involved in developing, procuring, implementing, and monitoring transportation P3 projects. The program is already recognized as a valuable resource for those involved in P3s, but the evaluation process has identified several actions that could improve the reach and usefulness of the program.

5.1 Evaluation Recommendations

Recommendation: The P3 Program should recognize the distinct groups that access program resources and identify their information needs. Content development should be focused on a few key target groups.

There are multiple audiences that currently access P3 Program resources. User groups include FHWA staff, State and local transportation agencies, P3 advisors, interest groups, and academics. Potential users include those involved in developing P3-related legislation and policy. Use of P3 Program resources differs among the user groups and sometimes even within the groups (i.e., by function or experience level).

The P3 Program should identify the information needs of each user group. Discussions at TRB or other outreach events, interviews, and surveys (such as the one used in this evaluation) can be used for this purpose. Once the needs are identified, the P3 Program can assess how well its content meets the needs of each group. The program may decide to focus content development and outreach efforts on meeting the needs of a few key targets. This ensures priority groups are served most effectively while still allowing the program to provide some value to other user groups.

Once target groups have been selected and content developed (if not already available), the P3 Program should develop communications tailored to each group, informing them of relevant P3 Program offerings. An up-to-date email contact list with information on practitioner organization, job title, and (possibly) experience level would be useful for this purpose. Such information could be gathered through formal surveys, program outreach events, webinar registrations, or website download contact forms.[1]

Recommendation: Marketing efforts should focus on target groups who are currently underutilizing P3 Program resources.

The P3 Program should monitor the resources accessed by its users. If target groups are not attending outreach events, accessing webinars, or downloading documents, actions should be taken to improve program awareness. One group the evaluation team identified as currently underutilizing the P3 Program includes those involved in developing P3 legislation and policy at the State and local levels.

The evaluation team had difficulty finding interviewees within State legislative and executive branches. There were only a few P3 Program users with legislative titles identified in the P3 activity database, and cold calling States who recently passed P3 legislation did not yield additional users. One program user interviewed, a legislative counselor in a recently formed P3 Office, noted that the P3 Program materials he used did not directly contribute to the recent legislation he developed. Others involved in recent legislation were not even aware of the P3 Program’s existence.

A legislative analyst from a State that recently enabled P3s was surprised he had not stumbled upon the P3 Toolkit website during his legislative research.

They really just need simple outreach. It’s just a lack of marketing on their part.[2]

While lawmakers and policymakers are an example of an underserved user group, discussions with the P3 Program team indicate that this group would not be considered a primary target, since FHWA’s main stakeholder group consists of the State transportation departments and their consultants. The P3 Program currently supports these users indirectly by providing material to the NCSL through the BATIC Institute. Although this group will not be the focus of content development, it can still benefit from program offerings. The P3 Toolkit website could be organized to lead lawmakers and policymakers to appropriate materials. Offerings such as fact sheets and primers will be useful to this audience. The program could also provide links on the P3 Toolkit website to existing State legislation as well as to the BATIC Institute, NCSL, and other groups that serve State and local legislators.

Recommendation: The P3 Program should segment its P3 offerings, aligning documents and tools with the needs of practitioners at different experience levels.

Some of the more experienced P3 practitioners that the evaluation team spoke to during the evaluation felt that the P3 Program was currently trying, without success, to be all things to all P3 practitioners. Interviewees noted that some practitioners have been using P3s for more than a decade, while others have only recently considered P3s for major transportation projects because of budgetary constraints. Those with existing P3 knowledge and expertise seek different tools than those just starting to explore this project delivery method.

[FHWA] needs to decide who their audience is—the beginner or the experienced practitioner. The P3 Program has materials that try to be both and it does not work when [beginners] get too into the weeds. And experienced practitioners, like us, do not need it.[3]
The P3 Program may be better off considering delivering for those new to P3s. These are the folks who hire consultants to do everything. Provide them information to guide them in working with consultants, the basics.[4]
Because there are “beginner” and “advanced” practitioners in every user group, the P3 Program could better serve all user groups by developing, organizing, and labeling content for specific experience levels. Beginners could follow a path to fact sheets, primers, and introductory webinars/presentations, while more advanced practitioners would be shown offerings such as guidebooks, analytical tools, model contracts, etc. Webinars and trainings could also be developed as a continuum with content for those just exploring their first P3 to those seeking information on advanced topics.[5]
Recommendation: The P3 Toolkit website should be organized in a way that allows distinct user groups to easily identify and access the content needed.

Recognizing that there are different user groups with different information needs and different experience levels accessing the P3 Program, the content of the P3 Toolkit website should be organized so that users can easily identify materials that meet their needs. Interviewees from different user groups complained that the current P3 Toolkit website was both difficult to find and difficult to navigate. One user noted that the website does not seem to have its own identity, as it sits within the FHWA website and often sends users outside the P3 Toolkit website’s boundaries to access documents. Other users said it was even difficult to locate information within the website. Two different users admitted that they exited the website and went to Google® search to find specific content within the P3 Toolkit website.

[Website] is hard to navigate and it’s hard to find the Toolbox and what you’re looking for. The website is so big. I just give up and write a term in search.[6]

Other users cited lack of upkeep on the website as a problem. One described confusion when finding multiple versions of the same document on the website (i.e., original and updated versions). Another noted that some of the content seemed out of date and that FAQs were scattered on multiple pages instead of in one central source. Although most of these users found the content on the website to be useful, they felt that it could be streamlined and better organized.

In addition to keeping content up to date and avoiding duplication, the P3 Toolkit website should look to its user groups for guidance on how to organize the website to best meet their information needs. Ideas include organizing content by P3 implementation phase or by user job function. Within these divisions, documents and tools could also be organized by experience level, with documents and/or tools labeled as “introductory” or “advanced.”

Recommendation: Provide resources that include more “real-world” P3 experiences.

One of the most difficult obstacles for the P3 Program to overcome is the perception that P3s are so unique that a general information resource has only limited utility. Several practitioners noted that, “if you have seen one P3 you have seen one P3.” There is a common perception that no resource can completely prepare a team for their own unique P3.

It’s hard because it is a complicated process and unique for each State, [it’s] so hard to take a blanket approach. It’s hard to cover everything when you don’t know the specifics.[7]

This explains why State and local P3 teams depend on P3 advisory firms, other States, and other information sources in addition to the P3 Program as they make their way through the P3 implementation process. Practitioners do see value in the P3 Program to get foundational information on P3s and P3 evaluation, but they stress that improvements to the program involve information sharing and details from other transportation P3 projects. Ideas for updates the P3 Program could make include:

Maybe a set of Lessons Learned would be more valuable than trying to fit every piece into a model that will never be right for every situation.[9]
What would be helpful is anonymized sharing. Eighteen P3 projects have been finished in the last 10 years. Take out the personal information—but keep in the assumptions so others can learn.[10]
Precedent document library: concessions agreements, loan agreements, RFPs, to the extent they are public records.[11]
Provide some examples of issues that have been dealt with on toll concessions. Or develop best practices out there for putting a P3 project together.[12]

5.2 P3 Program Update

The program evaluation period coincided with new institutional mandates from Federal policymakers that continued to evolve as USDOT refined its approach to supporting the P3 delivery method.

In July 2014, the Secretary of Transportation established BATIC within the USDOT as a “single point of contact” for project sponsors seeking to navigate the often complex process of project development, including identifying and securing financing. Until it evolved into the Build America Bureau, BATIC also provided technical assistance for project sponsors, including assistance in P3s. USDOT BATIC was aided with outreach and training functions provided by the BATIC Institute, an AASHTO Center for Excellence. The BATIC Institute currently assists the Build America Bureau. Its efforts are discussed in more detail in the final paragraph of this section.

In response to mandates under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act), the USDOT BATIC evolved in July 2016 to become the Build America Bureau,consolidating USDOT discretionary credit and grant programs together with outreach and project development staff.(49) The FAST Act also requires the Bureau to develop best practices and tools for P3s. Therefore, FHWA’s Center for Innovative Finance Support works under the auspices of the Bureau in delivering its P3 Program. Typically, all new documents produced under FHWA’s P3 Program are branded as Bureau products and are available via links from the Bureau’s website.

Currently, FHWA’s Center for Innovative Finance Support and the Bureau are working together to revamp their respective websites so that all P3 resources can be readily found and accessed by the public. This update will address many of the recommendations put forth in this document. FHWA and the Bureau also released the Successful Practices for P3s report in March 2016 and are currently developing several documents that address the call for lessons learned and “real-world” project examples and data.(30) Some examples include the following:

BATIC Institute

FHWA’s links to the Build America Bureau extend to the BATIC Institute mentioned previously. The BATIC Institute is the result of an effort mandated in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, which authorized USDOT to establish, through a cooperative agreement, a Center for Excellence in Project Finance.(51) AASHTO was selected to establish this center, which eventually took the name of the BATIC Institute: An AASHTO Center for Excellence. The BATIC Institute promotes public sector capacity building in the analysis, understanding, and use of project finance techniques. The Institute offers training, sharing of best practices, and technical assistance to State legislators, State transportation departments, and their local partner agencies. These efforts complement the P3 services of FHWA and the Bureau, which work closely with the BATIC Institute to accomplish mutual objectives. For example, the NCSL is a partner in the BATIC Institute and assists in providing P3 capacity building needs of State legislators and their staff. In this way, the P3 Program already supports lawmakers and policymakers as they research the P3 process.

[1]Any collection of data from program users should be done in accordance with the Paperwork Reduction Act and may require additional authorization to collect information other than contact fields.(53)

[2]State legislative analyst, phone interview conducted by Chris Calley (evaluation team), September 2016.

[3]State transportation department employee, phone interview conducted by Lora Chajka-Cadin (evaluation team), May 2016.

[4]State transportation department employee, phone interview conducted by Lora Chajka-Cadin (evaluation team), May 2016.

[5]P3 consultant, phone interview conducted by Lora Chajka-Cadin (evaluation team) and Chris Calley (evaluation team), September 2016.

[6]P3 consultant, phone interview conducted by Lora Chajka-Cadin (evaluation team) and Chris Calley (evaluation team), September 2016.

[7]FHWA employee, phone interview conducted by Lora Chajka-Cadin (evaluation team), May 2016.

[8]State transportation department employee, phone interview conducted by Lora Chajka-Cadin (evaluation team), April 2016.

[9]State P3 employee, phone interview conducted by Lora Chajka-Cadin (evaluation team) and Chris Calley (evaluation team), August 2016.

[10]State transportation department employee, phone interview conducted by Lora Chajka-Cadin (evaluation team), May 2016.

[11]P3 consultant, phone interview conducted by Chris Calley (evaluation team), September 2016.

[12]State transportation department employee, phone interview conducted by Lora Chajka-Cadin (evaluation team), May 2016.



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