Toll lanes project northwest of Atlanta GA on I-75, I-575 seeks PPP bids
By Peter Samuel
Georgia DOT are close to formally calling for proposals for toll or 'managed lanes' in the I-75/I-575 corridors northwest of downtown Atlanta. Their quiet procurement of a toll concessionaire has already selected three groups as qualified to make proposals. They are some of the biggest international groups in the toll concession business:
- West by Northwest Development Partners led by VINCI headquartered in Rueil-Malmaison France
- Georgia Mobility partners led by Cintra, headquartered in Madrid Spain
- Northwest Atlanta Development Group led by ACS Infrastructure, head office Madrid Spain
Two of the three have other equity members of their teams.
Proposed construction would be by a mix of international and US groups, while lead engineering firms are all US-based - Parsons Transportation, AECOM, PBS&J (ATKINS US-sub). see table nearby
"West by Northwest" bundles in later I-285, I-20 lanes out west
The project known as West by Northwest (WbNW) involves construction first-up of twin toll managed lanes on the southwest side of I-75 from the I-285 Perimeter Highway out some 10 miles, 16km to the I-575 split in Kennesaw.
see maps, diagram nearby
A single reversible toll managed lane continues another 8 miles, 13km on I-75 from I-575, and another single reversible lane another 11 miles, 18km up I-575 from the I-75 interchange.
These northern portions have the new toll lanes centrally located in the right of way.
The two-lane segment will have its own access and egress, but the central single lane segments will mostly join and leave through slip lanes with the general purpose lanes.
That is a total of some 29 miles, 47km of managed lanes or 58 lane-miles, 94 lane-km.
400k people live out this way
The Y-shaped roadways are the principal routes connecting the Atlanta area's northwestern suburbs and cities (pop 400k) to the rest of the metro area. I-75 from I-285 to I-575 is presently 5 lanes each direction.
The two extra lanes would add 40% to the laneage in the peak direction of travel (7/5), but given the greater capacity in peakhours of managed lanes they should add 65% or so to throughput.
Beyond the split I-75 is 3 lanes per direction and I-575 just 2+2 lanes. The extra managed reversible lane on each of these will add a third, and a half, respectively, to peak direction capacity in these outer portions of the project.
TOTLs toppled, GDOT cooled on HOTs
They've had different consultants studying this corridor since about 2005.
The present project involves a winnowing down of a whole array of innovative ideas.
At one point truck only toll lanes (TOTLs) were a major feature of the plan and HOT (High Occupancy free/Toll others). One scheme had a pair of TOTLs on the outside each direction, rebuild of general purpose lanes to 4 each direction and then 2 HOT lanes in the center - for a total of 8 lanes each direction, half tolled, half tax-supported. But the managed lanes will allow transit vehicles (buses) free, toll the rest. Tolls will be dynamic, linked to available capacity as measured by density of traffic, the aim being to maintain speeds above 45mph, 72km/hr regardless.
The initial grand scheme of building up from 10 lanes to 16 with those three categories of lanes, and each with its own dedicated access and egress, fell slowly by the wayside.
Only the more modest 2 lane scheme is financially supported by prospective tolls, and it faces far less NIMBY opposition.
Even so the concessionaire is expected to fund the needed land acquisitions, soundwalls and so forth. The two lane addition requires a lot of bridgework taking it over ramps to and from the general purpose lanes as well dealing with the cross streets and interchanges.
Interestingly the managed lane roadway has two intermediate interchanges and each is at a separate location from the freeway interchanges - of which there are five. That simplifies ramps and intersections. It will however complicate motorist's choices. They won't on the approach be able to see the currently signed toll rate and decide 'tollway or freeway.'
Later western portion - I-285, I-20
Bracketed with the northwest portion just described is a socalled Western portion. It will add managed lanes to the perimeter I-285 south from I-75 9.5 miles 15km as far as I-20, then out west along I-20 for some 6 miles, 10km.
This I-285/I-20 western portion involves 2+2 managed lanes for some 15.5 miles, 25km or 62 lane-miles, 100 lane-km. This western portion is behind in planning and permitting, so will go after the I-75/I-575 portion is well under way if not complete.
The schedule for the northwest corridor I-75/I-575 is:
- early June 2011: bidding opens.
- October/November 2011: proposals due
- November/December 2011: preferred bidder identified. DOT board to vote approval/disapproval
- May/June 2012 negotiate closing contract
- 2012 or 2013: construction starts
- 2015 or 2016: open to traffic
Yet to become clear is the term of the concession, how much freedom the operator will have in setting tolls, and the provisions for compensation in case of extra free capacity being added or concessionaire traffic otherwise diminished.
Assailed for "secrecy" by local reporter
A recent report in the local newspaper, the Atlanta Journal, by Ariel Hart assails GDOT for its 'secrecy' in this regard. But if this deal is like other competitive PPPs the truth will be that GDOT have made no firm decisions on these matters and they feel they need flexibility in negotiations.
Only when they know the trade-offs in confidential discussions with the three proposers would they want to firmly commit to the terms.
This will be the first involvement of the private sector in raising capital and taking traffic and revenue risk. Other toll projects in the Atlanta area so far are government business operations.
Involved in total is construction of some 120 lane-miles, 194 lane-km of urban expressway with a cost probably in the region of $3 to $4 billion.