Political Notes — Georgia gets federal loan for toll project

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Georgia is in line to get a federal loan of about $270 million that will enable the Department of Transportation to move ahead with plans to add two toll lanes along the I-75 corridor in Cobb and Cherokee counties.

Gov. Nathan Deal announced the loan authorization Tuesday and said it will provide the final portion of funding needed for the “Northwest Corridor,” a public-private project that has been proposed for several years but has yet to get off the drawing board.

A “request for proposals” from highway contractors and engineering firms will be the next step in the project, Deal said, but added that “we don’t have a specific timeline yet.”

As envisioned by the DOT, the Northwest Corridor is a project that involves building two reversible toll lanes for a 29-mile stretch parallel to the current I-75 lanes extending from the I-285 perimeter northward to I-575.

The total cost of the project is estimated at roughly $1 billion, with the state providing about one-third of the money and the rest coming from private firms selected to build the toll lanes.  That private money would include the $270 million Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan, which the private firm would pay back out of the revenues collected from the toll lanes.

DOT Commissioner Vance Smith estimated the project will take about four years to complete once construction is started.

The loan was approved several weeks after Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed traveled to Washington and met privately with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

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Deal credited Reed, who attended the governor’s news conference Tuesday, with helping persuade LaHood and the Obama administration to approve the loan.  Reed quickly noted that Deal had formerly served with LaHood as a Republican member of the U.S. House.

The new toll lanes “are going to go a long way towards relieving the traffic congestion that others use against us” when Georgia and Atlanta officials are trying to persuade businesses to relocate here, Reed said.

If the Northwest Corridor actually proceeds to a contract award, it will be the first such contract to be executed by DOT since the General Assembly first passed the law authorizing public-private toll projects in 2003.

Water committee appointments

House Speaker David Ralston has appointed five Georgia House members to a joint committee on water supply that will review and analyze the current status of the state’s system of reservoirs.

The committee members include Reps. Lynn Smith (R-Newnan), Bob Hanner (R-Parrott), Rick Austin (R-Demorest), Randy Nix (R-Lagrange), and Mark Hamilton (R-Cumming).  Five state senators will be named to the committee by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.

MAG adds Southeast Permanente

The Medical Association of Georgia (MAG), the largest physicians’ organization in the state, has added to its membership the Southeast Permanente Medical Group, a group of more than 360 physicians who work exclusively with the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan.

“The addition of an icon like Southeast Permanente bolsters MAG’s role as the leading voice for the medical profession in Georgia,” MAG President Dan DeLoach said. “The larger and more diverse we become as an organization, the more effective we are as advocates for patients and physicians in the state.”

DeLoach said the addition of Southeast Permanente gives MAG more than 6,400 members, an 11 percent increase from a year ago.

© 2011 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Cherokee County , Cobb County , David Ralston , Kasim Reed , Medical Association of Georgia , Nathan Deal , Northwest Corridor , Ray LaHood , toll lanes , Vance Smith , water supply committee