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Infrastructure Lesson 3

Lesson 3: Should Highways be Financed and Funded by Public-Private Partnerships?


The purpose of this lesson is to introduce the concept of public-private partnerships and to understand its potential to contribute to the financing and funding of infrastructure needs. The lesson begins with a student activity that spotlights value conflicts involved with infrastructure financing and funding decisions. Then, the lesson moves to a definition of public-private partnerships and an assessment of strengths and weaknesses for this approach to infrastructure financing and funding. The lesson concludes with a case study that asks students to look at four different approaches to the financing and funding of a new, 25-mile highway section of highway and then make a recommendation for the one that best serves the public.


Students should be able to do the following at the end of the lesson:

  1. Understand how infrastructure projects are financed and funded, as well as the distinction between these two concepts.
  2. Provide a general definition of a public-private partnership.
  3. Explain the major differences between traditional government approaches to highway infrastructure and that of public-private partnerships.
  4. Explain at least two potential advantages of public-private partnerships for highway infrastructure improvement.
  5. Explain at least two potential disadvantages of public-private partnerships for highway infrastructure improvement. 


  1. Complete Value Conflict Warm-Up.
  2. Brief lecture defining public-private partnerships and explaining current interest in public-private partnerships in the United States.
  3. Student brainstorm of potential advantages and disadvantages of public-private partnerships with the Public-Private Partnership Worksheet Draft.
  4. Completion of brainstorm list with ideas from the Final Public-Private Partnership Worksheet.
  5. Division of class into small groups for a Highway Financing/Funding Options Case Study.
  6. Class discussion of small group Highway Financing/Funding Options Case Study Recommendations.


  1. Full Lesson Plan - Includes Lesson Overview, Teacher Instructions, and Student Handouts.
  2. Teacher Instructions
  3. Student Handouts
The design, development, validation and publication of these infrastructure teaching modules was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, Grant #1334292, and the Global Projects Center at Stanford University. All opinions and conclusions expressed in this paper reflect the views of the author/s, and not necessarily the views of these sponsors.