When Yogi Berra advised “When you come to a fork in the road take it,” he may not have expected his words to apply so literally to navigating Atlanta’s traffic.  Georgia Department of Transportation’s (GDOT) has not quite reached the fork in deciding how it will finance an estimated $710 million highway project along the northern perimeter of Atlanta’s I-285 and Georgia 400.

GDOT’s recently issued Request for Qualifications (RFQ) (available here) is meant to develop a shortlist of bidders for a Design-Build-Finance contract (a form of public-private partnership) to revamp a critical corridor for Atlanta’s commuters.

GDOT estimates that $235 million in federal funds and state motor fuel taxes will be available, but requests each Respondent to provide a description of its “Preliminary Financial Approach” for financing the other $475 million (plus or minus). The RFQ limits Respondents to four pages in describing such a plan, but part of those four pages must “indicate the Respondent’s ability to react flexibly as the project and contractual structure evolve, and indicate the Respondent’s willingness to engage constructively as GDOT advances this innovative approach.”

In other words, GDOT wants Respondents to be concise and make suggestions, but GDOT is not nearing a fork in the road anytime soon as to how the project may ultimately be financed. GDOT will continue to keeps its options open after the shortlisting is complete. According to the RFQ, selected bidders will receive a draft Request for Proposal (RFP) for review and comment by the bidders, and a final RFP will only be issued to bidders after the comment process.

The process GDOT is utilizing – asking for financing approaches but leaving the door wide open as to how financing may actually be accomplished – demonstrates the reality that Public-Private Partnerships (P3s) can take a number of differing forms and that public entities rely on the private sector to bring creative solutions to public projects that are becoming increasingly challenging to finance. For sharing their creativity, GDOT’s RFQ contains a ‘payment for work product’ provision, which allows GDOT to pay unsuccessful bidders up to $1.25 million (in the aggregate) for their efforts in responding.