Georgia: PPPs ‘unlikely in the near future’

Georgia governor Nathan Deal (pictured) characterised a late $2.3bn toll road public-private partnership as an ill-conceived sell-out in a Tuesday speech. A GDOT spokesman added that PPPs in Georgia are ‘unlikely in the near future’.

A damning rebuke of ‘West by Northwest’ as a ceding of fiscal selfhood was the highlight of a Tuesday speech by Georgia governor Nathan Deal. The state’s change of direction was underlined by a government spokesman who told Infrastructure Investor that public-private partnerships (PPPs) in the Peach State look “unlikely […] in the near future”.
 
Speaking in his ‘State of the State’ address, Deal said he opposed a project that would jeopardise the “sovereignty” of Georgia for a “60 or 70” year period.
 
“Recently, we called a halt to the PPP project for the northwest corridor,” Deal said Tuesday. “I am and will be opposed to contracting away […] sovereignty for a 60 or 70 year period over a transportation corridor that is so vital to our future.”
 
Deal pointed out that he remained “committed” to improving the road, but stressed “there is a better way forward”.   
 
The West by Northwest project, a 40-mile toll road expansion in Atlanta, Georgia, along Interstate 75 and Interstate 575, was hailed as a “historic” PPP within the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT).
 
The would-be toll road underscored a state-wide effort to install a PPP programme that came to fruition under a host of pro-privatisation legislation passed in 2009.
 
Now, with the termination of West by Northwest, the future of that PPP programme – which had positioned the Peach State as a possible leader in private investment in public infrastructure in the US – is in doubt.
 
“We just are not sure about the future of PPPs,” answered GDOT spokesman David Spear, adding the potential for a PPP programme “in the near future […] unlikely”.
 
Spear went on to explain no GDOT personnel have been dismissed as a result of the demise of the PPP effort. Brandon Beach, chairman of the GDOT PPP board, is an elected GDOT member, while Gerald Ross, charged with operating the effort, is the top GDOT engineer. 
 
Spear on Tuesday told Infrastructure Investor that a change in direction, “philosophically”, was behind the derailing of West by Northwest.
 
Deal became governor of Georgia in 2011. His predecessor, Sonny Purdue, had installed the PPP programme in 2009. The privatisation push seemed to be thriving under the auspices of then-GDOT commissioner Vance Smith, a one-time state senator.
 
But Smith resigned in September on the eve of a Request for Proposals (RFP) for West by Northwest amid a wave of criticism. GDOT was labelled as understaffed and suffering from high personnel turnover.  A month later GDOT, in an email statement, announced West by Northwest had been cancelled.