What’s known as “The Northwest Corridor Project” will add two reversible lanes for vehicle traffic between the I-75/285 intersection at the Galleria northward to the 75/575 split. From there, one such lane will be added northward along 75 to Hickory Grove Road and another northward along 575 to Sixes Road in Cherokee County.
The 30-mile project has a $1 billion price tag and will be funded not by TSPLOST dollars but by a combination of $300 million in state gasoline taxes carried forward from prior years; $200 million in state DOT construction budget dollars; and an expected $270 million in low-interest loan federal dollars. In addition, a private partner or consortium, yet to be named, is expected to pick up between 10 and 20 percent of the cost, later to be repaid by the state. Construction could start by late next year and be complete by 2018 — long before most of the TSPLOST projects are finished.
“This I-75 corridor north is … not only for the metropolitan area, not only for Cobb and Cherokee counties, 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,” Gov. Nathan Deal told the Marietta Daily Journal. “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.”
The new lanes will be both managed and toll lanes, meaning they will handle southbound traffic in the morning and northbound traffic during the afternoon commute; and that those who travel on them will pay a small toll to do so. The toll will vary depending on time of day and traffic conditions. The lanes will only be open during peak travel times.
Having learned from past mistakes, the state is not converting existing (i.e., “paid for”) lanes to toll lanes. Rather, it will be constructing the additional lanes and requiring those who travel on them to pay for the privilege. Commute times are expected to be less on the managed lanes than in the non-managed lanes; hence, the expectation that some drivers won’t mind paying the toll to travel in them.
Among those strongly supporting the proposal is state Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-north Cobb).
“Any rational mind would realize that adding two lanes of interstate capacity in each direction at peak times, it’s kind of like killing rattlesnakes. I’m not sure there’s a wrong way to do that.”
To Deal also goes the credit for sidestepping a potentially ruinous pitfall in the original plan for the new lanes. That proposal would have given the private contractor(s) “sovereignty” over the new lanes until they were paid off, and would effectively have given them veto power over any other transportation improvements in the corridor that might have competed with their new lanes.
“What we came up with is a much more workable solution,” Deal said. “It certainly gives greater flexibility in terms of the state having the ability to determine what the tolls will be.”
To Deal goes as well the credit for avoiding the “business as usual” approach, but he credits the General Assembly and DOT.
“It was their willingness to try something a little different and see if it works,” he said. “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.”
Let’s hope this project proves him right.