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Ex-transportation secretary recommends rise in gas tax

Lahood says 10 cent raise needed to fix crumbling roads, bridges

POSTED: August 6, 2014 1:14 a.m.
/Associated Press

Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood

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Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told Georgia lawmakers Tuesday he believes the U.S. needs to raise the gas tax by at least 10 cents to fix America’s crumbling roads and bridges.

“I know this is a hard one,” he told the Joint Committee on Critical Transportation Infrastructure Funding meeting in Atlanta in an effort to address transportation funding.

But Congress needs to be courageous and make the move, even if it means easing in the tax at the gas pump over three years.

“Then, you’re in the catbird seat, which is you what really care about,” said LaHood, who served under President Barack Obama 2009-13, referring to the flurry of projects Georgia could finally get done.

The gas tax has been set at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993.

In past months, Congress has looked at ways to pour money into the Highway Trust Fund, which is used to provide the federal portion in transportation projects.

Last week, the Senate passed a House bill that allocated $10.8 billion to keep highway and transit programs going through the end of May 2015. The bill was sent to Obama for his signature.

But officials are saying a long-term solution needs to be developed.

“We can’t just rip something off the shelf or throw a project together,” Josh Waller, the Georgia Department of Transportation’S director of governmental affairs, said last week.

Hall County is embarking on an update of a long-range transportation plan for the area, with officials frustrated about the lack of long-term funding.

“How do we plan for 25 years into the future when we don’t even know what will happen to transportation funding in summer of 2015?” said Sam I. Baker, senior transportation planner of the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Hall area’s main transportation planning agency,

Also speaking at Tuesday’s meeting were DOT Commissioner Keith Golden and Michael Sullivan, president of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Georgia.

The committee will hold seven other meetings Aug. 25-Oct. 29 in Columbus, Tifton, Macon, Augusta, Savannah, Rome and Blue Ridge.

The goal is to come up with recommendations to present to the General Assembly, which reconvenes in January.

“In order to maintain the kind of quality of roads we have in Georgia and to continue to expand some of our roads to handle the congestion, we’ve got to look for more dependable and long-term solutions for funding,” said state Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, co-chairman of the joint committee.

“We’re not necessarily looking to increase taxes, but we’re looking to create a dependable, steady revenue stream.”



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