There has been a lot of news coverage about various politicians and political appointees conspiring against the public by closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge. None of the articles have addressed the question of whether it makes sense for this bridge to be government-owned. A private company surely would not voluntarily cut its own revenue by closing lanes unnecessarily. When was the last time that you went to a McDonald’s restaurant and had to sacrifice your health by ordering a salad because they weren’t selling Bacon Habanero Ranch Quarter Pounders due to a personal grudge among politicians?
There are probably a lot of governments worldwide that could operate a bridge competently and efficiently, but New York and New Jersey do not seem likely candidates. The Tax Foundation says that New York and New Jersey are the two least efficient states in the United States, in terms of the percentage of state income that they spend to fund state and local government. The Port Authority is one of the world’s most wasteful entities (see this July 2010 posting about them spending $15,500 per flight hour to accomplish a $400 per hour helicopter mission) and now we’ve learned that Port Authority properties are playthings for capricious rulers.
Why should an already-built bridge continue to be owned by this entity? There are no unusual capital or permitting requirements associated with its continued maintenance. If you are a fan of expanding the government’s role in our economy, the proceeds from selling the bridge could be used to build additional infrastructure to be managed by the Port Authority. If you’re a fan of arithmetic, you could note that New York and New Jersey are both insolvent if pension obligations are lined up against pension funds invested in financial instruments that exist in the market (i.e., not fictitious ones that return 8 percent per year). The money from selling the bridge could be used to reduce the pension funding gap.
Private companies own and operate some of the world’s busiest airports, e.g., Heathrow Airport. Maintaining a single bridge has to be simpler than managing Heathrow.
Given the scarcity of bridges across the Hudson in the New York City area it would probably make sense to require that whoever buys the G.W. bridge can’t charge more in tolls than the current price, adjusted for inflation (the current price is already close to the highest in the world so this restriction should not prevent a sale).
Why not put the bridge out for bid and see what it is worth?