While volunteering Saturday at MUST Ministries’ distribution center in Marietta, Deal spoke to the Journal about the Georgia Department of Transportation’s sudden announcement on Wednesday to put the brakes on the estimated $1 billion project, believed to be the largest transportation contract in state history.
The plan called for private investors and tolls to pay the majority of the cost, with the state paying up to $300 million.
“We’re re-looking at it in terms of whether or not we can do this with just state revenue, instead of having to be obligated to private investors for a very extensive period of time — initially up to 60 years with an additional 10 years on top of that,” Deal said.
“As the estimate of the cost of the project dropped, it appeared that with some good planning that perhaps the state, along with federal assistance, could build the project without having to turn over the tolling authority to a private industry.”
Since GDOT’s announcement was made, there has been speculation that the proposal was tabled because the private investors involved wanted non-compete provisions in the contract, such as limits on bus or rail along the same corridor. Deal said such provisions would not have been anything out of the ordinary.
“That would have been one of the conditions of a contract – is that basically the state and local jurisdictions would have had to give exclusive control over that corridor to the private company that would have invested in the project,” Deal said.
“I think we all know that over the next 60 to 70 years, hopefully, we will see growth that will demand that we do more than just what that project anticipates.”
The governor said he did not speak with Cobb County officials about not going forward with the proposed project. However, he said his office spoke with GDOT officials before the department pulled the plug on the plan.
“I certainly concurred with their opinion,” he said.
Some members of the Cobb Board of Commissioners have expressed bewilderment over the state’s announcement.
“I was a little surprised that they just, all of a sudden, came out and announced it was completely canceled,” said northeast Commissioner JoAnn Birrell.
Southeast Commissioner Bob Ott said he hadn’t discussed the cancellation of the project with anyone at the state level. Ott has opposed a transportation proposal to bring light rail line to Cobb, and introduced the privately funded Maglev train as an alternative. He said the long-term solution to transportation problems in the area would involve a variety of areas, including improving the Windy Hill Road/I-75/I-285 and I-285/I-20 interchanges.
“I’m not anti-transit,” Ott said. “I think it’s going to end up a collection of solutions.”
Birrell said it may be a positive that state officials stopped the reversible toll lanes project, because it could prevent anything from being done before the Alternatives Analysis study is released in 2013.
“When you look at what happened with the HOT lane issue in Gwinnett and the problems they’ve had with it, it’s not really surprising,” she said.
“I’m kind of glad in a way that there was a halt put to it. By not going ahead and implementing something like the HOT lanes, it will give us more options.”
The reversible toll lanes project, a partnership between GDOT and a group of developers, was the state’s first effort to fund public roads with private investors. GDOT had already put the project out to bid, with proposals due in February. The department also had already selected three firms as finalists.
The plan was projected to cost about $1 billion, with $200 million of that coming from normal state gas taxes, and another $100 million from revenue bonds. The private investors would have footed the remaining $700 million, with some of that eased by $270 million in federally subsidized loans. They were expected to be repaid with money from the tolls.
The project would have built 18 miles of toll lanes on I-75 and 11 miles on I-575.
In Cobb, the managed lanes would have run from Akers Mill Road to the Cherokee County line, just north of Hickory Grove Road. Of that, 11 miles, from the Interstate 285 interchange to the I-575 split, would have been two lanes, with one reversible lane covering the remainder of the project. I-575 would have had one reversible lane, running from I-75 to Sixes Road in Lebanon.
The toll lanes were to have been constructed alongside the interstates, separated by a barrier, rather than replacing HOV lanes, as was the case this past October in Gwinnett and DeKalb counties, where some motorists complained of more congestion in regular lanes.
Reporter Geoff Folsom contributed to this report.