A conspicuously altered redraft of 'West by Northwest' is re-initiating a project – shot down in December – to modernise Interstate 575 (I-575) in Atlanta using a public-private partnership (PPP).
The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) is set to issue a request for qualifications in June for the PPP, rechristened the 'Northwest Corridor Project,' although spokesman David Spear admitted 'Northwest' differed from 'West by Northwest,' or WxNW, a vaunted transportation infrastructure project dating back to 2009.
Spear told Infrastructure Investor that Northwest, unlike WxNW, would not include a multi-year concession agreement, adding Georgia would also control tolling under Northwest, as well as handle highway maintenance.
He characterised Northwest as a “design, build, and finance” (DBM) contract, noting Georgia will put up $300 million generated from its state motor fuel tax, with additional funding coming from a $270 million low interest rate Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan.
Spear also said GDOT will contribute $200 million from its construction budget. The private partner will be asked to provide 10 percent to 20 percent of the project cost, expected to run to $950 million. He noted the Northwest Corridor Project would also differ from its predecessor WxNW for its repudiation of a reworking of the Interstate 285 interchange attached to I-575.
Like WxNW, Northwest is a 30-mile long, reversible managed lane project, Spear stressed, conceived with a similar intent to relieve congestion in a metropolitan area with a growing population and increasing traffic.
Importantly, Northwest signalled a remarkable about-face by state legislature, in particular Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, who in December terminated WxNW in a decision that cast doubt on the future of what was once a potent, burgeoning PPP programme in the Peach State.
WxNW had been installed under former Georgia Governor Sonny Purdue by GDOT commissioner Vance Smith, a former state representative and vocal champion of privatisation.
Deal assumed office after Purdue. Meanwhile Smith, facing criticism for his management of GDOT, was pressured to resign that fall. A week after Smith resigned, and after issuing a request for proposals (RFP) for WxNW, GDOT in an email announced the project had been cancelled.
Deal later publicly derided WxNW and in a speech in January was adamant the project would sacrifice state “sovereignty,” leading the department to renege on its envisioned privatisation blueprint. But Deal is now behind the Northwest project and re-establishing a privatisation of I-575. “It is a much better way forward,” he said.
Spear said he understood how the private sector might feel “concerned and frustrated” with the project, considering WxNW had been terminated amid a competitive procurement process. He also acknowledged Northwest, given both its mandate to keep tolling controlled by the Georgia Turnpike Authority as well as its lack of a lease, might not be as attractive to the private sector as WxNW.