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I-75/I-575 toll project hits snag | Business

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I-75/I-575 toll project hits snag
I-75/I-575 toll project hits snag

ATLANTA -- A $1.1 billion proposal to add toll lanes to interstates 75 and 575 in Cobb and Cherokee counties won approval from two state agencies Thursday but hit a bump with the third.

The Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission (GSFIC) tabled consideration of the West by Northwest project after Gov. Nathan Deal expressed concerns over a contract associated with the plan.

However, the delay could be brief.

The governor's legal staff is researching a question Deal raised, said Stephanie Mayfield, a spokeswoman for Deal.

As a result, the issue was tabled until Monday.

The State Transportation Board and the State Road and Tollway Authority voted Thursday to issue a request for proposals for a contractor to add toll lanes along a 27-mile stretch of the two highways.

The toll project is slated to become Georgia's first to be financed, designed and constructed through a public-private partnership, eight years after the General Assembly passed a law authorizing the Department of Transportation to enter into such ventures.

"This is a historic day for Georgia and the DOT," said transportation board member Brandon Beach, chairman of the board's committee with jurisdiction over public-private partnerships. "This gets us to the point where we're finally going to get out an RFP."

Under the resolution approved by the two boards on Thursday, the DOT would work with SRTA and GSFIC to deliver the project.

The DOT would manage the construction of the new lanes and continue to maintain the highway after the work is completed.

SRTA would collect the tolls and handle the customer service component of the project, the same role the agency will fulfill for the toll lanes scheduled to open within the next couple of weeks on I-85 in Gwinnett County.

The GSFIC would issue revenue bonds to finance the project.

Up to $300 million in public funds would go toward the project, including up to $200 million in DOT money and up to $100 million in bonds.

Toll revenues would account for up to $10 million of the project funding, according to the resolution, which calls for the DOT to award the contract by next June 30.

DOT officials were enthusiastic to get started with an innovative method of financing transportation projects after the legislature passed a bill authorizing public-private partnerships in 2003.

But the program became bogged down when the first project selected -- converting Georgia 316 between Lawrenceville and Athens into a limited-access toll road -- was shot down by massive public opposition to paying tolls to use existing lanes of highway.