Georgia names new PPP director

Sandra Burgess, the general counsel of the Georgia Department of Transportation, will head the department’s PPP division. Her appointment comes in the wake of the retirement of former PPP director Earl Mahfuz, who is now serving as the deputy director of PPPs at engineering consulting firm Wilbur Smith.

Sandra Burgess, the general counsel of the Georgia Department of Transportation, has been appointed the Department’s new head of public-private partnerships, department Commissioner Vance Smith told InfrastructureInvestor.

“She has been totally involved in the process the last 11 months,” Smith said of Burgess’s participation in the state’s nascent public-private partnership (PPP) programme. So going to a new position “won’t be a hard adjustment for her,” he added.

Sandra Burgess

Burgess is already having a busy first full day of work in her new position. Smith said the PPP team is in the midst of holding meetings with the bidders for its first PPP, the West by Northwest toll road development in Metropolitan Atlanta. Three teams led by VINCI, Meridiam, and ACS are competing for the $2.3 billion project.

“We’re looking forward to Sandra carrying us forward,” Smith said.

Burgess was appointed to the position in light of the retirement of the department’s previous head, Earl Mahfuz.

“This is the person I felt he would go with,” Mahfuz said of Smith’s choice. “She’s probably got as good a knowledge of legislation, where we’ve come from and where we’re going, as you can find.”

“I think she makes an excellent choice,” he added.

Post-retirement, Mahfuz, a 34-year veteran of the Georgia Department of Transportation, has joined engineering consulting firm Wilbur Smith Associates, where he serves as deputy director of public-private initiatives, based in Atlanta.

“I went with them because I like their model, in which Wilbur Smith is looking like a Nossaman, where they mostly work with state DOTs,” Mahfuz said, referring to the California-based law firm whose infrastructure team does a lot of work with state departments of transportation.

At Wilbur Smith, he will focus on helping state DOTs set up and manage their PPP programmes, manage their projects, get second opinions on matters relating to PPPs and conduct toll and revenue studies for their projects.

Mahfuz added that a lot of state DOTs are downsizing their staff and have fewer human resources to dedicate to PPPs, for which there is often a steep learning curve for public-sector professionals.

“You just don’t build up that type of expertise and I’m not sure any DOT can afford to do it even if they want to,” he said. 

“It doesn’t hurt to have someone else come in with that expertise,” he added.