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U.S. considering travel down private road

As governments get strapped for cash, they're turning to private industry to build toll roads and operate airports.

That has been a successful formula in many South American countries, but it has been slower to catch on in the United States.

"The bottom line is that we all recognize that we have limited resources," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Federico Pena. "We have a lot to learn from South America."

Privatization was a major topic Thursday at a meeting of Pena and transportation leaders from 12 nations in North and South America. The meeting, a prelude to President Clinton's Summit of the Americas in Miami, gave the officials a chance to exchange ideas and discuss new technology.

"They learned a lot about our problems and we learned a lot about theirs," said Claudio Hohmann Barrientos, the deputy secretary of transport in Chile.

The United States has tried privatization with mixed success for 200 years. Many early toll roads were privately owned but were eventually turned over to the government.

Private toll roads are under construction in California and northern Virginia.

Pena has proposed turning over the air traffic control system to a government corporation so it can modernize radar and other equipment more quickly. About 100 air traffic control towers, including the one at Albert Whitted Airport, are being transferred to companies that can operate them more efficiently.

"In the past, there was a sense that there were adequate government resources," Pena said. "People are now looking to the private sector for help."