Private investment has financed a number of public projects in the last two decades, but the idea has had mixed success.
In the last 25 years, for example, there have been 36 privately financed road projects that are either completed or under construction, according to a report last year from the Congressional Budget Office. Of the 14 that have been completed, three of them declared bankruptcy and one required a public buyout of private partners, the report said.
But even when those public-private projects are financially viable, they represent just a tiny fraction of the funding needed to maintain and upgrade existing roadways and bridges. Those 36 projects generated total investment of just $32 billion, or less than 1 percent of the roughly $4 trillion in highway spending during that period, the CBO found.
That's just for highways. Much of the required infrastructure repair will involve public schools, water systems, power grids and other systems that underpin the U.S. economy.
One option for offsetting the impact on general federal tax revenues would be to raise additional "user fees" for specific infrastructure projects. In other words, charge people to use public infrastructure. But those additional fees would likely face political backlash as a tax increase that goes by another name.