Cobb County to fight for $2.3bn road PPP(3)

‘West by Northwest’ met an unceremonious end, with Georgia governor Nathan Deal panning the project in public. But a local county is bemoaning its demise – and pushing for its revival.

In December, ‘West by Northwest’ (WxNW), a proposed $2.3 billion public-private partnership (PPP) project seen as a major corridor improvement for Interstate 75 and Interstate 575 in Atlanta, Georgia ground to an abrupt halt – with no immediate explanation.

Then, a month later, Georgia governor Nathan Deal in his “state of the state” speech lambasted WxNW, taking credit for killing the PPP. But Cobb County, Georgia, did not take kindly to the cancellation and plans to try and revive the beleaguered project.

Complaining about “massive traffic congestion” on the existing corridor, the local government said it is “seeking to alter the ‘Metro Atlanta Regional Transportation Referendum’ project list by significantly reducing funding for transit service and putting funding toward [WxNW],” reviving the erstwhile PPP. The list outlines Cobb County's proposed infrastructure projects.

“When Cobb County went out into the community to determine [what was] most important for the future, the I-75/575 PPP project was a done deal,” said Tim Lee, county commissioner. Lee added the suspension of WxNW by Georgia “is a substantial and material change caused by the state after the project list process ended”.

In a statement, the county called WxNW “the leading project to combat traffic congestion along Interstate 75 and 575”. As a result, Cobb County wants to make WxNW a top priority, although a legislative session would be required to move WxNW to the top of the project list. The latter is up for an annual public vote in July.

WxNW was conceived amid a wave of PPP legislation in 2009. Hailed as “historic” within the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), WxNW was meant to be a flagship project for private investment in public infrastructure throughout Georgia.

But during the WxNW procurement process, GDOT underwent a staff shakeup, including the ouster of its commissioner, Vance Smith, last September. GDOT announced the nixing of the project after a request for proposals was issued in December.

Governor Deal, in his address, said he did not want to mortgage the “sovereignty” of Georgia via WxNW, which he claimed would amount to a 60-to-70-year concession. His axing of the project has led to doubt about the future of a once promising PPP programme in Georgia.