Golden opportunity or fool’s gold?

| July 05, 2007

And while foreign-run toll roads in the United States may be new, foreign management of U.S. transportation is not. Truckers who haul in and out of any major U.S. port, for example, already operate on foreign-run roads. According to the Reason Foundation, 80 percent of U.S. port terminals are run by foreign companies on long-term leases, including 80 percent of the terminals at the Port of Los Angeles. These remain under the watchful eye of the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Transportation Security Agency and other government entities.

Legislators who OK’d the Indiana Toll Road lease had good examples close at hand of foreign companies managing critical infrastructure with no problems. Indianapolis is one of the 600 towns and cities nationwide dependent on Veolia, a subsidiary of a French company, for their drinking water. Moreover, Indianapolis International Airport has been run since 1995 by the U.S. subsidiary of a British company, BAA.

Just as Veolia’s waterworks must answer to local governments, BAA must answer to the Indianapolis Airport Authority, a public body that has repeatedly renewed BAA’s contract. Smaller U.S. airports from Orlando, Fla., to Burbank, Calif., are run by foreign companies, as well.

That foreign involvement in U.S. infrastructure is an increasingly sensitive political issue was demonstrated by the 2006 furor on Capitol Hill about the prospect of Dubai Ports World, a state-owned company in the United Arab Emirates, taking over management of some U.S. ports. Two-thirds of Americans polled said they opposed the deal. Dubai Ports World ultimately bowed out of the controversy.

The deal prompted U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., to sponsor the National Defense Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, which died in committee. It would have prohibited foreign companies from owning or managing any assets deemed by the U.S. government to be “critical.”

In response, Leonard Gilroy and Adam Summers of the Reason Foundation wrote: “Desperate cries of ‘national security’ have robbed Americans of many other rights and liberties already. Is free enterprise next?”

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