Q. Will the reversible lane concept be a prototype for other problem areas in the metro?
A. We are told that based on what has occurred in other parts of the United States that the reversible lanes generally work very well. … Many of the other projects that I’ve heard about around the country are going to the reversible lane concept because obviously this whole project is designed around the idea of reducing congestion, and as we know, congestion is time-sensitive in terms of traffic into and out of major metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, so the reversible lane concept I think does fit a pattern of the traffic flow.
Q. Why not try this going south of the Galleria on I-75 instead of the possible rail line or Bus Rapid Transit earmarked in the TSPLOST?
A. The northern leg appears to be where most of the congestion is located, even though that’s not to discount the fact that there is congestion on 75 from the south side coming into Atlanta. That is also a congested area, but this one I think in everybody’s mind had the highest priority.
Q. Any possible pitfalls that might hang this project up?
A. We hope not. Obviously we determined that the original (public-private partnership) concept was not something that I felt was in the best interest of the citizens of our state. … That’s when we looked at it from a different point of view as to how we can achieve this project without having to basically give away the sovereignty of the state of Georgia for a 60 to 70 year period of time. …What we came up with is a much more workable solution. It certainly gives greater flexibility in terms of the state having the ability to determine what the tolls will be.
Q. What if you don’t end up getting the federal loan?
A. Then we would have to determine alternative financing. Mayor (Kasim) Reed of course has been very helpful to us in that regard. That’s why he and I went to visit the Secretary of Transportation, Secretary (Ray) LaHood, several months ago, and that was primarily to emphasize the importance of the TIFIA loans to making this concept work, but as Sec. LaHood indicated, if the state of Georgia is willing to put $300 million of its own money into a project, it sounds like a pretty good program from the standpoint of the federal government making the TIFIA loan.
Q. Given budget constraints in Washington and the possibility of a new administration, if the federal money doesn’t come through, is this still a high enough priority that you would make sure the state would come up with whatever extra money is needed to make it happen?
A. We would make every effort to do that. Obviously that’s not something that we foresee. The TIFIA loan program is a very well-established method of federal assistance on projects of this type, and it is a loan, it is not a grant. It does have favorable terms on the repayment but if the federal government is going to pick places to cut and save money … there are a lot of those in the give-away category in the grant side of things.
Q. The state has talked for years about improving I-75 corridor to no avail. You didn’t talk about this project in your campaign. Why did you decide to back this?
A. We have to give credit to the members of the General Assembly who were willing to put this in the supplemental budget for 2012. That was a step of confidence by them to indicate their willingness to deal with issues that are by some peoples’ category could classify as regional, but I think it gives an indication that the members of the General Assembly are willing to look at the greater good for the greater good for the state of Georgia and to begin to free up — this I-75 corridor north is … not only for the metropolitan area, not only for Cobb County, but for the greater good of our state because it is a major corridor where goods that are manufactured are moving through it, goods that are bringing raw materials to our manufacturers are using that thoroughfare. I just simply have to congratulate the members of the General Assembly for being willing to do that, and I’m sure that there will be occasions in the future where they will be asked to make similar decisions.
This is a major departure, though, quite frankly, from the old business as usual. To be able to take $300 million of money that had accumulated from other projects that were either under budget or were not utilized for their initial purposes and to be able to shift those to a designated project is a major step for the members of the General Assembly and for the Department of Transportation to agree to that. I hope that it is a signal of a new era of cooperation. Not only between the General Assembly and the Department of Transportation, but also with local communities as well, and to me, that is the most long term positive result that we can have is to put aside local interests as being the only reason that you vote for or against something and look at the greater good of our state, and I think the members of the General Assembly and the DOT board are to be congratulated for being willing to do that.
Q. What sold you on this project?
A. What sold me on it is the importance of that corridor and the importance of relieving congestion. It’s not a political thing, it’s just one of the facts of life when dealing with the realities of a problem you’re presented with and trying to figure out the best solution to it. I couldn’t comment too much on it during the campaign … at that point in time the old contract was the way of life. That was the road that was being proceeded down. It was only after I was elected governor that I had the opportunity to take a detailed look at what that proposal really held for the future of our state, and as I indicated I did not feel that that was the best way to go. I thought we could do it in a more agreeable fashion that was more beneficial to the taxpayers of this state, and I believe the solution we’ve arrived at fits that category.
Q. Why do you think building these reversible lanes is the superior solution to say, something Atlanta Regional Commission Chairman Tad Leithead wants, which is light rail?
A. I’m not going to get involved in that because that was not something that I had any control over … I do support the TSPLOST. But I felt like from the standpoint of what was achievable and what we knew would produce positive results, this was the better place to put this money.
Q. If this project gets going and is a success, is there any chance that TSPLOST revenues to Cobb — should that tax be approved — be cut back as a result of the state saying Cobb’s already getting this reversible lane deal?
A. The way I read the legislative format that sets up the project list — I think there is a commitment that the revenue from the TSPLOST would be dedicated to the project list that voters would have approved. There is some flexibility, but it is very limited flexibility.
Q. You typically have to give something to get something, but what you’re saying is Cobb doesn’t have to give anything to this $1 billion project?
A. Why should they? It’s an interstate highway. … it’s a road that serves all the citizens of our state and in ever-increasing numbers citizens of other states who are traversing our state, so hopefully we can get away from that mindset that is a matter of you got to give something in order to get something. Now that’s not to say that you can take that totally out of the formula, but I think projects ought to stand on their own merit, and when you do that, this one had to be at the very top of the list.
Q. Do you expect it to do better than the toll lanes in Gwinnett?
A. Yes, for a very important reason: These are new lanes. The conversion of the HOV lane to a HOT lane on I-85 in Gwinnett County took an existing lane and simply converted it into a toll lane … I do not approve of the idea of taking an existing lane and converting it to a toll lane. I think toll lanes should only be new construction and new lanes.
Q. Do you know what the toll will be?
A. No, I don’t think we have anything penned down for sure on that, because obviously a lot of that depends on what the total cost of the project is going to be and how much has to be recovered.
Q. When does construction begin?
A. Toby Carr, GDOT planning director: You’re talking about that project moving into construction later next year early the following at the latest.
Q. Have you heard any objections about this project?
A. I think everybody’s a little bit stunned. Y’all don’t brag too much. Everybody else will get jealous now … I would point out too this is going to be a design-and-build approach, which means that the proposals may very well be different in terms of the way the design would be based on, who submits the proposal, so instead of having a one size, this is the way it’s going to be done and you bid on that project. We think it inspires innovation and cost-savings to the potential bidders because they’re going to be competing not only with total dollars but on ideas — how’s the best way to do this. And if you’ve got an idea that’s better and you can do it cheaper, that puts you a little bit of a leg up.
Q. Final thoughts?
A. I have to give credit to the General Assembly and to the DOT board for their cooperation and for their willingness to try something a little different and see if it works. I think it will. Every sign indicates that this is going to be perhaps a model for the way you do major construction projects, not only in the state of Georgia but probably all across the country.
(Deal points out that a similar but smaller project on I-75 is moving forward in Henry County as well.)
Please be sure and talk about the I-75 south because it will keep those people from getting mad at me about saying I’m doing everything in Cobb County.