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Public-private partnerships on dwindling to-do list, Patrick says

Before he leaves office in January, Governor Deval Patrick hopes to get the state’s feet wet with some public-private partnerships to fund transportation projects.

“The resources we have to pay for these improvements are limited, and that requires us to think creatively about how we deliver the projects people want responsibly. And public-private partnerships are one of these creative solutions,” Patrick told people from the private sector at the state Transportation Building on Wednesday.

As the Transportation Board’s senior counsel, Owen Kane, walked the executives through the legal framework for public-private partnerships, easels displayed two potential opportunities: express toll lanes on Route 3 south of Boston, and a third highway bridge across the Cape Cod Canal.

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One schematic for a canal bridge showed a path that veered off from Route 28, crossed the canal between the Sagamore and Bourne bridges — both built in 1935 — and linked up with Route 6. Another plan showed a “twin” bridge alongside the Sagamore.

The Route 3 plan would add lanes to deal with rush-hour traffic, creating “managed” or “express” toll lanes with either dynamic pricing that corresponds to traffic or fixed tolls, depending on the time of day.

Launching a public-private partnership in the remaining 2½ months of the Patrick administration would cap what has been an emphasis on advancing transportation projects and resolving disputes over how to fund them.

In his second term, Patrick pushed for revenue to fund transportation. The Legislature delivered a $500 million tax law over the governor’s veto. Patrick said it did not do enough. The Legislature soon repealed a key aspect of the law that taxed certain computer services.

Transportation Secretary Richard Davey plans to leave his job two months early, and on Wednesday Patrick told the executives he wants to give public-private partnerships a try in that remaining window of time.

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One of the things they’d like to try, Patrick said, “is to launch a couple of projects to practice, to get used to PPP here in the Commonwealth, and get folks comfortable with their potential, with their efficiency, with the opportunity.”

Joseph Aiello, an executive at the asset manager Meridiam, said partnerships involve regular payments from the state in exchange for a private entity being responsible for construction and maintenance of infrastructure. Private entities can also take over tolls, Aiello said.

That “gives the government huge leverage over private-sector performance” and clarifies the private company is responsible for providing a well-built project and maintaining it.