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Eyes on the Road: GTA official says highway funding ‘is a huge issue’

POSTED: January 19, 2014 11:29 p.m.

The Georgia Transportation Alliance’s director said last week he believes the solvency of the federal Highway Trust Fund “is a huge issue for Georgia.”

“The message from the general business community to Washington on the reauthorization itself would focus on several core areas,” Seth Millican said in an email to The Times.

“First, the length of the reauthorization is critical. Longer is better, because a longer authorization brings stability and predictability to the transportation marketplace.

“Second, more separation from onerous environmental regulations while maintaining a reasonable level of accountability is critical so that states and local governments can deliver projects more quickly and efficiently.”

Finally, Millican said, “more flexibility and freedom for states is critical — both in designing their own funding options as well as being able to creatively use federal funds to deliver transportation infrastructure.”

Congress has started debating the future of the Highway Trust Fund, which is largely supported by an 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax and distributes money to states based on a formula. Road projects are frequently financed by federal, state and, in some cases, local money.

The fund has been teetering on the edge of insolvency for years. Officials have long said gas tax revenues are declining based on people driving fewer miles as well as more fuel-efficient vehicles.

The government has subsidized the current law, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, or MAP-21, pulling money from its general fund.

The law and the funding along with it expire Sept. 30.

Keith Golden, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation, cautioned lawmakers last week — the first week of the 2014 General Assembly — that “should a solution not be found by Congress, Georgia’s transportation lettings could essentially dry up between June and September,” Millican said, summarizing Golden’s remarks.

“Because some of Georgia’s projects receive up to 80 percent of their funding from federal dollars, this is obviously a huge problem,” Millican said.

Federal and state dollars make up $1.7 billion in revenues in the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization’s 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan.

The Georgia Transportation Alliance was founded as an affiliate of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce in 2011. It focuses on long-term transportation solutions related to economic development, traffic congestion, safety and the state’s logistics industry.

In a report issued last week, the Georgia Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers said it believes the state needs to increase funding to make needed improvements and “move from its rank as 49th in the nation in per capita transportation funding.

“All potential funding sources should be considered, including increasing the gas tax, user fees based on mileage, SPLOSTs, (high-occupancy-toll) lanes and public-private partnerships.”

In July 2012, residents in nine of 12 regions throughout Georgia rejected a special purpose local option sales tax for transportation, otherwise known as T-SPLOST.

“Along many major metro Atlanta region corridors, inadequate capacity and substandard interchanges have created congestion and safety issues,” states the engineers’ report.

Maintenance work includes vegetation trimming, restriping

A Georgia Department of Transportation crew is scheduled this week to trim vegetation near the right of way alongside Ga. 52 in North Hall County, as well as inspect pipes under the roadway.

The shoulder of the roadway will be closed during the work.

Crews also plan to restripe the Interstate 985 exit ramp to Ga. 369, or Exit 24, requiring a lane closure.

The maintenance work is set to take place Tuesday through Friday, weather permitting from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Jeff Gill covers transportation issues for The Times. Share your thoughts, news tips and questions with him:

jgill@gainesvilletimes.com

facebook.com/jeffagill

@JeffGTimes


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