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DOT may have $1.2 billion in road project overruns
New board member met Friday with government and business leaders in Gainesville
State Transportation Board member Steve Farrow, center, speaks with Russell McMurry, left, and Tracy Vardeman during a meeting held by the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce. Farrow takes the 9th District seat vacated by the resignation of Mike Evans. - photo by Harris Blackwood

Steve Farrow, the new 9th District member of the State Transportation Board, told government and business leaders on Friday in Gainesville that outside auditors have not determined the exact amount the Georgia Department of Transportation has overspent in road projects.

"I’m thinking that before it’s all over with, it will be more than $1.2 billion," Farrow said.

He said the agency had been using future federal and state funds to pay previous cost overruns. The DOT is funded largely through federal highway funds. The $1.2 billion deficit would not come out of the state’s budget; Georgia also is facing a separate $1.6 billion shortfall.

"By the end of fiscal year 2008, which ended in June, we suddenly had to come up with all the money on the books to fund all these projects that had been built in ‘05, ‘06 and ‘07," he said.

When Gena Abraham was named DOT commissioner of the last year, the agency’s accounting procedures left her unable to determine the extent of the state’s expenditures for projects. The transportation board hired an auditing firm to get a clear picture of the costs.

Farrow said the overages for 2008 will result in a major reduction in the funds available for the current fiscal year.

"Whatever we have to come up with for last fiscal year, we will not have that amount this year," he said.

Farrow’s comments followed presentations on the status of current and proposed road projects in Hall County.

Kit Dunlap, president and chief executive of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, outlined the strengths of the county’s diverse industrial base, the growing medical community and the number of people drawn to Lake Lanier.

"While Lake Lanier is providing economic stimulus, it presents a challenge that most cities of our size don’t face," Dunlap said. "That challenge is how to get over or around Lake Lanier. Traffic travels north and south on I-985 and multiple highways and byways, but that lack of connection from east to west is causing traffic concerns."

Dunlap said the chamber is also supportive of alternate transportation, including walking trails and commuter rail.

Representatives from Lake Lanier Islands and Northeast Georgia Health System made presentations encouraging completion of proposed roadways leading to their respective facilities in South Hall.

A former state senator from Dalton, Farrow defeated three challengers in the race to succeed Mike Evans, who resigned after he informed the board of his romantic relationship with Abraham. The couple is to be married this month. Farrow called Gainesville "the crown jewel of the 9th District" and praised local leaders for their organized effort to develop the transportation system in Hall County.