Metropistas, the consortium of companies that is now running PR-22 and PR-5, will use the public-private partnership agreement established with the government as the model to possibly secure similar deals in the U.S. mainland, company officials said Monday.
Francisco Reynés, CEO of Abertis — which along with Goldman Sachs Infrastructure Partners II, L.P. landed the PPP worth $1.4 billion and formed Metropistas — said the Spanish firm is setting its sights on state governments looking to hand over infrastructure management to private operators, to continue expanding its international footprint.
“We consider this project as our entrance to the U.S., because Puerto Rico is not just a Commonwealth, but a government that is doing hard work to be considered a part of the U.S.,” said Reynés during a visit to the island Monday. “Puerto Rico has been a model project, which we’ll present as our flagship project to other states.”
Reynés, who along with a delegation of Abertis executives, headed to Washington, D.C. to meet with a number of governors today to explore possible partnerships in Virginia and North Carolina.
“Although this project may not be seen that way here, for us it is a flagship project of efficient management by the administration and the concessionaire on how a PPP project should be done,” he said. “We believe the world is closer to understanding this type of project more than before.”
Barcelona-based Abertis, which runs toll roads in Europe and Latin America, has been contemplating the possibility of expanding its footprint into the U.S. mainland since 2008 after successfully bidding $12.8 billion to run the Pennsylvania Highway, a deal that subsequently fell apart. The 75-year lease to operate and collect fares on the 537-mile turnpike would have been the biggest agreement of its kind in the U.S. to date.
“It was frustrating to see how after we won the bid, the legal framework was not in place to support the concession,” said Reynés. “The Puerto Rico project analyzed what had worked and what had not in other similar PPPs, something the governor [Luis Fortuño] told us this morning.”
The difference in Puerto Rico, he said, is that “government officials understood that the concession and the negotiation with the bidders had to go hand-in-hand, and that there had to be a legal framework in place.”
Over the next three years, PR-22 and PR-5 will undergo a $56 million facelift en route to becoming world-class roads, and while improvements are already underway, it will “take time” for drivers to experience noticeable changes, said Luis Palazzi, CEO of Metropistas, during the meeting with members of the local media.
“We have been in control of the operation for 20 days. We’ve already begun working on the green areas and have implemented a security patrol system in place, and have gotten good feedback from drivers,” Palazzi said. “A lot has happened in 20 days and there’s still much more to be done.”