By Guest Columnist MARK BURKHALTER, a board member of the Georgia Department of Transportation
In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, the stress on our nation’s infrastructure is now more pronounced than ever as collapsed roads and bridges in Texas and Louisiana make it impossible for many residents to get on with their lives.
Prior to this hurricane season, the American Society of Civil Engineers released its 2017 infrastructure report card, which gave our nation a D-plus for the quality of our country’s infrastructure.
The World Economic Forum ranks the United States’ infrastructure 12th behind Japan, Germany, France and the Netherlands. I travel the globe every month and often see how we have much we need to do to catch up.
President Trump is expected to push forth an infrastructure plan in the next few months. And to expedite construction, Trump is wisely suggesting a concept we have embraced here in Georgia to speed up the design, build and completion of much-needed highway projects at the state Department of Transportation.
The concept is known as P3, or public-private partnership, and we in Georgia are using it to fast track a host of highway projects to provide rapid congestion relief.
In his initial outline for promoting infrastructure investments, Trump said too many state and local governments have relied on federal monies to complete projects – something that has caused tremendous delays in everything from resurfacing roads to building water treatment plants.
Trump is expected to propose $200 billion in federal funds over 10 years for highly critical infrastructure investments. But to fund the balance of the nation’s infrastructure needs, he wants state and local governments to embrace the P3 concept – something the Georgia DOT is now doing with immense vigor.
With private companies bidding and then engineering, designing, building and operating these projects, companies can generate funds for projects that metro Atlanta commuters have needed for decades. For example, the 30-mile, $840 million express lane project along I-75 in Cobb County and I-575 in Cherokee County will open next summer thanks to GDOT partnership with the private sector.
Thanks to the leadership of Gov. Nathan Deal and GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry, the interchange at I-285 and Ga. 400 will be completed in 2020 with a public-private partnership, quickly rebuilding that interchange at a total cost of about $880 million. And the state is saving hundreds of millions of dollars in the process.
Georgia has a host of other important congestion mitigation projections on the drawing board for the metro Atlanta that will involve private sector participation.
- The Revive 285 project to create two new express lanes in each direction on I-285 from I-75 to I-85. At an estimated cost of $4.2 billion, the design and right-of-way acquisition is in process and construction could kick off in 2023 or sooner.
- Two additional express lanes on Ga. 400, from I-285 to McGinnis Ferry Road, and one express land in each direction from McGinnis Ferry to McFarland Road. The express lane project to McFarland Road will cost a total of $1.8 billion and construction can begin in about four years.
Reconstruction the I-285 interchange at I-20 east at a cost of $475 million. This project is in the design and engineering phase and construction will kick off in less than four years.
- Reconstruction of the interchange on the opposite side of I-285, at I-20 west. This project is also in the engineering phase. At a cost of $790 million, construction will begin in about five years.
- Add an express lane on I-285 between I-20 and I-75 on the west side of the Perimeter. The project will cost $655 million. would likely begin in about six years on this plan.
- Add an express lane on I-285 between I-20 and I-85 on the east side of the Perimeter. The project will cost $580 million. Construction is targeted to begin in about five years on this project.
Trump also just signed an executive order to streamline the environmental review process on highway projects. We have tried to accomplish that same goal here in Georgia by using public funds strategically – spending state dollars on capital projects and federal monies on maintenance and operations when possible to avoid the lengthy federal review process that slows down construction.
Any good business owner knows that traffic congestion impacts productivity. Metro commuters certainly saw that last spring when a portion of I-85 in Atlanta collapsed. Although it took only six weeks to repair thanks to the work of private contractors, the impact on this region was enormous.
Without a sound infrastructure – whether here in Atlanta or as we are now seeing with the ruins of Harvey in Texas and Louisiana – economies suffer. We now have a president who will set a visionary path forward to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure. And he can use Georgia as a model of how to make it happen quickly, efficiently and in the best interest of the taxpayers.
Note to readers: Mark Burkhalter is the former speaker and speaker pro tem of the Georgia House of Representatives. He is a senior advisor with Denton’s in London and Atlanta.