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Contractors Eyed for Toll Road Gamble

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

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Psst, contractors: Looking for a billion-dollar-plus contract with a little adventure?

Boy, has the Georgia Department of Transportation got a deal for you.



The optional toll lanes are designed to relieve pressure on one of the most congested traffic corridors in Georgia.

GDOT is seeking contractors for its most expensive transportation project ever: optional 27-mile toll lanes that would run along Interstates 75 and 575.

The catch: The project is the Peach State’s first attempt at pursuing major highway improvements through public-private partnerships, and it involves a novel financing mechanism that puts some of the risk on the contractor.

‘Historic’ Proposal

The private road builders are to be paid back up to $300 million in taxpayer funds; the rest would come from toll revenues, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

State officials are gambling that the hundreds of thousands of motorists who jam the interstates each day will cheerfully pony up a toll to escape the traffic-choked regular lanes. Those revenues will then repay the builder, they say.

Gov. Nathan Deal called the idea “historic.”

"I think it will set a pattern as to whether or not you can go to this kind of cooperation with the private sector as a vehicle for advancing projects that state government does not have the money to do on its own," Deal told the Journal-Constitution.

RFP Approved

State transportation authorities approved the Request for Proposals for the so-called West by Northwest Project last week; Deal then briefly held up the project while his staff reviewed it. Then, on Monday, the Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission (GSFIC) green-lighted GDOT to issue the RFP.

The cost of the toll lane construction project is estimated at up to $1.1 billion.

The project represents two DOT milestones, Gerald Ross, director of GDOT’s public-private partnerships program, told the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

“First, we are utilizing a public-private partnership that allows us to deliver a project our state is not able to deliver on its own with the financial realities we face today,” he said.

“Second, the Georgia Express-managed lanes it will create bring an entirely new solution—one that will improve mobility and offer more reliable trip times in this vital commuter corridor.”

If the plan succeeds, it would be “the first time after eight years of trying that a Georgia law intended to attract private investment into public road-building yielded a finished project,” the Journal-Constitution reported.

Toll of the Tolls

Success is far from certain, however. “Such optional toll projects rarely pay for themselves” the Journal-Constitution reported. The state is about to open its most advanced optional toll project, on Interstate 85, at a cost of $50 million to $60 million.

The tolls on the new I-75/I-575 lanes would be charged electronically, rather than using toll booths, the newspaper said.

The toll fees would fluctuate with the traffic. The toll on the I-85 project is 90 cents per mile at maximum congestion, though the state tollway authority may increase that under certain circumstances, the newspaper said.

3 Teams Qualified

Still, contractors are lining up for the job. The state has already qualified three contracting teams to respond to the RFP. The teams represent 15 local, national and international engineering, construction and financing firms.

The teams are:

• West by Northwest Development Partners, led by the French company VINCI Concessions and the Spanish company OHL Concesiones;

• Georgia Mobility Partners, led by Cintra Infraestructuras, of Spain; and

• Northwest Atlanta Development Group, led by ACS Infrastructure Development, a branch of the Spanish company Grupo ACS.


Tagged categories: Contractors; Funding; Government; Roads/Highways

Comment from Robert Munn, (9/22/2011, 9:52 AM)

Odd isn't it that all three of the prequalified corporations are foreign?

Comment from James Johnson, (9/22/2011, 12:09 PM)

I sure hope not one dollar of the federal and state gas tax we pay ever goes to ANY toll project. If they choose to build a toll road or toll bridge it should be paid for completely with toll funding and not be a part of the state or federal highway system. To pay for it with gas taxes and then charge to drive on it is double taxation. I remember when the tollroads in the Chicago area were built. After X years the toll booths were to be removed. It didn't take long to change that law.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (10/3/2011, 9:41 AM)

IH-10 in Houston already has managed toll/HOV hybrid lanes between downtown(ish) and Katy(ish.) Toll prices are dynamic depending on traffic load.

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