DOT to seek bids for I-75/575 toll lanes

A massive project to add reversible toll lanes to a stretch of I-75 and I-575 in Cobb and Cherokee counties is moving closer to reality.

The Georgia Department of Transportation staff told the agency's board Wednesday that it plans to send out requests for proposal on the Northwest Corridor project Aug. 29, with bids due back late this year or early in 2012.

A builder likely won’t be under contract until late 2012, and DOT project manager Chip Meeks said contracts likely won’t be signed before the end of 2012.

“But this is a major milestone,” Meeks said. “We’ve been working on this a long time.”

Few other details were released about the project, which has been in development for six years and will include toll lanes that will charge according to the level of congestion.

The goal is congestion relief for the estimated 90,000 drivers who make the morning rush-hour commute into Atlanta along I-575 and I-75.

The total cost is estimated at $1 billion.

Georgia recently was approved for $270 million in Federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) funds. Meeks said those funds are a "benefit," but not a a key for moving ahead with the project.

While some of the cost will be covered by tolls, taxpayers will also pick up a chunk of the tab. Such private-public partnerships often contain clauses for the benefit of the private companies that prevent the state from making road improvements in the area that would ease congestion and compete withthe toll lanes.

But the detailed costs of the project and provisions of the contract  may remain secret from the public until after the final contract is signed.