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Public-Private Partnerships: Paving the Way for Infrastructure Revitalization

Many factors for infrastructure projects that are seemingly coming together could signal the dawn of a P3 Golden Age.
By: | March 1, 2017 • 5 min read

Public-private partnerships (P3s) are an effective way to get complex and expensive transportation infrastructure projects done at a time when political will to invest public funds fall short.

While the approach has been successfully utilized for many different projects, overall adoption remains limited. Out of the United States’ total annual infrastructure spend of $1.2 trillion, roughly $20-25 billion goes toward P3 projects, or about 2 percent.

Part of what has kept P3 to this niche is a dependence on toll-based revenue structures. But new revenue approaches such as Availability Payments could make the model work for a much broader scope of projects, including social infrastructure like hospitals and public schools.

“The insurance community, construction community, and finance community all have an interest here. These three industries could get aligned and work together to help promote P3s as a potential alternative solution for what needs to get built and rebuilt and improved in the next five to 10 years,” said Thomas Grandmaison, executive vice president, Energy and Construction Industry Leader, AIG.

P3s come with a set of both benefits and risks, but new financing approaches combined with an evolving political climate that seems to favor infrastructure investments could be the dawn of a P3 Golden Age.

New Revenue Structures

Developments in finance structures and insurance coverage make P3s more attractive for both public and private partners.

Roads built under a P3 model have typically generated revenue from tolls. The financing of these projects is therefore based on traffic forecasts that estimate the number of cars using the road every day, over a period of 30 to 50 years.

And when those forecasts are inaccurate, the entire project is put in jeopardy. In 2016, SH 130 Concession Co., the private entity that financed, constructed and maintained State Highway 130 — a 41-mile toll road connecting Austin and Seguin in Texas— filed for bankruptcy. The project cost $1.3 billion. SH 130 tried to attract drivers with a high speed limit of 85 mph and an alternative route around other gridlocked highways, but motorists ultimately opted for longer commutes that required no toll payment.

In California, the 10-mile South Bay Expressway suffered the same fate, declaring bankruptcy in 2011. Same for the privately operated Indiana Toll Road, which went bankrupt in 2014.

That’s why availability payments have become increasingly popular.

With availability payments, the public entity issues a periodic payment of a predetermined amount to the private partner as long as the project is available for its intended use at the expected performance level. In this arrangement, the public partner collects any tolls and retains the risk that revenue may not meet expected levels. These arrangements help to attract private partners who don’t want to take on traffic risk, but also allows public sponsors to retain some ownership and control over the road going forward. Availability payments can also enable non-transportation P3 projects, including water treatment plants, ports and public facilities like hospitals and schools.

“There is no shortage of interest in private financing,” Grandmaison said. “There’s plenty of capital out there, and now potential financiers can feel more secure in their investment. The availability payment option often provides the difference between investment grade, and non-investment grade debt, dramatically reducing the cost of debt and increasing the number of potential investors.”

Evolving Risk Management

Insurance coverage plays a part in that security as well, and carriers have been pushed to build creative and flexible solutions to accommodate the size and complexity of P3s. Current trends and P3 project structures need sureties providing alternative solutions that incorporate liquidity elements that can address both concessionaire and rating agency concerns.

“As P3s become more prevalent, builder concessionaire teams and brokers will be asking the insurance market to think more holistically about how separate coverages can be brought together in a coordinated and aligned fashion to make the buying process more streamlined,” Grandmaison said.

There may be multiple large contractors working on a P3 project, and none wants to take the entire program onto their balance sheet. Same goes for the mix of private investors involved. And then there’s the public entity that wants full insurance protection even though they take a back seat in terms of project management and execution.

“You’re creating a six-headed monster as the owner or sponsor of the insurance program,” Grandmaison said. “It’s a more complex risk assumption than the traditional setup where the public entity is responsible for insuring construction, but takes on operation of the project through a separate program.”

Complete and coordinated coverage for all of the risks involved in complex projects alleviates fears — held by both public and private parties — that one entity will be more exposed than their partners, or that risk will be allocated unfairly. For P3s to be executed smoothly, it’s critical to have insurers involved that have the full breadth of experience and capabilities to fill this need. In addition, not all insurers are comfortable with project terms that are often longer than 5 years (sometimes 8-10 years), and providing operational coverage during course of construction or post construction.

AIG is one of few insurers that can provide all of the coverages traditionally needed for construction projects like workers’ compensation, general liability, builder’s risk, inland marine, environmental, professional liability, surety and even some ancillary coverage like cyber and kidnap and ransom.

Political Considerations

Despite their big benefits, P3s also come with significant hurdles. Even with a shifting government agenda that prioritizes infrastructure, local political will can still be difficult to muster.

If a P3 project doesn’t pan out, taxpayers end up paying the balance. Local governments sometimes struggle to justify such costly projects that potentially place their constituents’ wallets at risk. To overcome that hesitance, political leaders want to be assured that their private partner has the capacity to stay with a project over its long lifespan.

“One of the challenges we’ve seen here in the States is that Departments of Transportation want to ensure that the companies that are contracted to keep the project running for up to 30 years actually remain in place,” he said. “There is hesitance to transfer that ownership over to a party that may want to cash out as soon the market shifts.”

Of course, having comprehensive insurance coverage alleviates fears for public sponsors as well.

“AIG is really a full service carrier that can provide everything a customer might need on a project-specific basis,” Grandmaison said. “AIG has been in the market of flexibility and creativity for years and will continue to be so.”

The future certainly looks promising for P3, and the insurance industry looks poised to face any new challenges it brings.

To learn more about insurance solutions for P3 projects, visit http://www.aig.com/business/insurance.


This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with AIG. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.


AIG is a leading international insurance organization serving customers in more than 100 countries.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Report: Marine

Crewless Ships Raise Questions

Is a remote operator legally a master? New technology confounds old terms.
By: | March 5, 2018 • 6 min read

For many developers, the accelerating development of remote-controlled and autonomous ships represents what could be the dawn of a new era. For underwriters and brokers, however, such vessels could represent the end of thousands of years of maritime law and risk management.

Rod Johnson, director of marine risk management, RSA Global Risk

While crewless vessels have yet to breach commercial service, there are active testing programs. Most brokers and underwriters expect small-scale commercial operations to be feasible in a few years, but that outlook only considers technical feasibility. How such operations will be insured remains unclear.

“I have been giving this a great deal of thought, this sits on my desk every day,” said Rod Johnson, director of marine risk management, RSA Global Risk, a major UK underwriter. Johnson sits on the loss-prevention committee of the International Union of Maritime Insurers.

“The agreed uncertainty that underpins marine insurance is falling away, but we are pretending that it isn’t. The contractual framework is being made less relevant all the time.”

Defining Autonomous Vessels

Two types of crewless vessels are being contemplated. First up is a drone with no one on board but actively controlled by a human at a remote command post on land or even on another vessel.

While some debate whether the controllers of drone aircrafts are pilots or operators, the very real question yet to be addressed is if a vessel controller is legally a “master” under maritime law.


The other type of crewless vessel would be completely autonomous, with the onboard systems making decisions about navigation, weather and operations.

Advocates tout the benefits of larger cargo capacity without crew spaces, including radically different hull designs without decks people can walk on. Doubters note a crew can fix things at sea while a ship cannot.

Rolls-Royce is one of the major proponents and designers. The company tested a remote-controlled tug in Copenhagen in June 2017.

“We think the initial early adopters will be vessels operating on fixed routes within coastal waters under the jurisdiction of flag states,” the company said.

“We expect to see the first autonomous vessel in commercial operation by the end of the decade. Further out, around 2025, we expect autonomous vessels to operate further from shore — perhaps coastal cargo ships. For ocean-going vessels to be autonomous, it will require a change in international regulations, so this will take longer.”

Once autonomous ships are a reality, “the entire current legal framework for maritime law and insurance is done,” said Johnson. “The master has not been replaced; he is just gone. Commodity ships (bulk carriers) would be most amenable to that technology. I’m not overly bothered by fully automated ships, but I am extremely bothered by heavily automated ones.”

He cited two risks specifically: hacking and fire.

“We expect to see the first autonomous vessel in commercial operation by the end of the decade. Further out, around 2025, we expect autonomous vessels to operate further from shore — perhaps coastal cargo ships. For ocean-going vessels to be autonomous, it will require a change in international regulations, so this will take longer.” — Rolls-Royce Holdings study

Andrew Kinsey, senior marine risk consultant, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, asked an even more existential question: “From an insurance standpoint, are we even still talking about a vessel as it is under law? Starting with the legal framework, the duty of a flag state is ‘manning of ships.’ What about the duty to render assistance? There cannot be insurance coverage of an illegal contract.”

Several sources noted that the technological development of crewless ships, while impressive, seems to be a solution in search of a problem. There is no known need in the market; no shippers, operators, owners or mariners advocate that crewless ships will solve their problems.

Kinsey takes umbrage at the suggestion that promotional material on crewless vessels cherry picks his company’s data, which found 75 percent to 90 percent of marine losses are caused by human error.


“Removing the humans from the vessels does not eliminate the human error. It just moves the human error from the helm to the coder. The reports on development by the companies with a vested interest [in crewless vessels] tend to read a lot like advertisements. The pressure for this is not coming from the end users.”

To be sure, Kinsey is a proponent of automation and technology when applied prudently, believing automation can make strides in areas of the supply chains. Much of the talk about automation is trying to bury the serious shortage of qualified crews. It also overshadows the very real potential for blockchain technology to overhaul the backend of marine insurance.

As a marine surveyor, Kinsey said he can go down to the wharf, inspect cranes, vessels and securements, and supervise loading and unloading — but he can’t inspect computer code or cyber security.

New Times, New Risks

In all fairness, insurance language has changed since the 17th century, especially as technology races ahead in the 21st.

“If you read any hull form, it’s practically Shakespearean,” said Stephen J. Harris, senior vice president of marine protection UK, Marsh. “The language is no longer fit for purpose. Our concern specifically to this topic is that the antiquated language talks about crew being on board. If they are not on board, do they still legally count as crew?”

Harris further questioned, “Under hull insurance, and provided that the ship owner has acted diligently, cover is extended to negligence of the master or crew. Does that still apply if the captain is not on board but sitting at a desk in an office?”

Andrew Kinsey, senior marine risk consultant, Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty

Several sources noted that a few international organizations, notably the Comite Maritime International and the International Maritime Organization, “have been very active in asking the legal profession around the world about their thoughts. The interpretations vary greatly. The legal complications of crewless vessels are actually more complicated than the technology.”

For example, if the operational, insurance and regulatory entities in two countries agree on the voyage of a crewless vessel across the ocean, a mishap or storm could drive the vessel into port or on shore of a third country that does not recognize those agreements.

“What worries insurers is legal uncertainty,” said Harris.

“If an operator did everything fine but a system went down, then most likely the designer would be responsible. But even if a designer explicitly accepted responsibility, what matters would be the flag state’s law in international waters and the local state’s law in territorial waters.


“We see the way ahead for this technology as local and short-sea operations. The law has to catch up with the technology, and it is showing no signs of doing so.”

Thomas M. Boudreau, head of specialty insurance, The Hartford, suggested that remote ferry operations could be the most appropriate use: “They travel fixed routes, all within one country’s waters.”

There could also be environmental and operational benefits from using battery power rather than conventional fuels.

“In terms of underwriting, the burden would shift to the manufacturer and designer of the operating systems,” Boudreau added.

It may just be, he suggested, that crewless ships are merely replacing old risks with new ones. Crews can deal with small repairs, fires or leaks at sea, but small conditions such as those can go unchecked and endanger the whole ship and cargo.

“The cyber risk is also concerning. The vessel may be safe from physical piracy, but what about hacking?” &

Gregory DL Morris is an independent business journalist based in New York with 25 years’ experience in industry, energy, finance and transportation. He can be reached at [email protected]