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Georgia solicits first PPP

The Georgia Department of Transportation has issued a request for qualifications for ‘West by Northwest’, a highway project aimed at easing congestion in the Metro Atlanta area. It is the first project being procured under a PPP bill signed into law last year.

The Georgia Department of Transportation has begun procurement for its first public-private partnership under a new law enabling the state to solicit the help of the private sector in developing its infrastructure.

The department issued a request for qualifications for bidders to submit their interest in developing 39.5 miles of tolled highway lanes in the northwest metro section of Atlanta, the state capital and largest city.

The so-called “West by Northwest” project is to be split into two separate sections that could together cost up to $2 billion, said Crystal Paulk Buchanan, a spokesperson for the department.

There is a Northwest Corridor segment that plans to add a total of 30 miles of managed lanes along two highways in the area, the I-575 and I-75, and a Western Corridor segment that would add 9.5 miles of managed lanes to portions of I-285 and I-20.

The managed lanes would be new, separate roadways where drivers pay tolls that rise and fall according to the level of traffic. The idea is to keep traffic moving at a steady pace, thereby easing congestion.

The Northwest Corridor’s managed lanes would also be reversible, meaning that they could be used for inbound traffic in the morning and then reversed to let commuters use them for their trips back home later in the day.

The two segments would connect to each other, creating one network of managed lanes in the northwest section of Metro Atlanta. However, because construction could start on the Northwest Corridor in 2011 while the Western Corridor would still need three years for environmental permitting, officials have split the network into the two segments. 

Buchanan cautioned that the timeline for the project is “based on our best estimates” and is subject to change.

Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Vance Smith said in a statement that the West by Northwest project “marks a significant change for Georgia, both in terms of how we deliver projects and what those projects look like”.

Vance added that “public-private partnerships allow us to advance much-needed solutions that simply aren’t feasible under traditional project delivery methods and the significant funding constraints our state faces”.

The state’s PPP programme was officially created in June 2009 when Georgia Governor Sonny Purdue signed into law a bill that called for the creation of a dedicated PPP division within the Georgia Department of Transportation. Since then, the department has been busy developing the programme’s guiding framework, Smith said in the statement.

Bidders interested in West by Northwest have until 3 May to submit their responses to the request for qualifications. A shortlist of qualified bidders is expected to be selected on 1 June and a private sector partner should be known in early 2011.