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Eyes on the Road: Green group says transit needs emphasis in new roads bill
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City and county government officials statewide aren’t the only ones upset about the General Assembly’s proposed Transportation Funding Act of 2015.

The Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club has called on lawmakers to make “substantial, ongoing funding for transit a centerpiece” of the bill, which has passed a state House committee and now is headed to a committee where House and Senate members can hash out differences.

“Although sponsors have made some changes to the bill, it currently does not include a significant funding stream for mass transit or other alternatives to sitting in traffic,” states a Sierra Club news release.

“Support for transit in Georgia is at an all-time high,” said David Emory, the Georgia chapter’s chairman.

He noted Clayton County residents voted to join MARTA with a historic 74 percent in favor, and recent polling in the 10-county Atlanta region “shows transit garnering more support than any other option, including road expansion.”

With the bill, “legislators have a critical opportunity to craft a truly balanced funding plan that reflects Georgians’ growing demand for real transportation choices,” Emory said.

The bill originally called for eliminating the fuel sales tax and replacing it with a dedicated excise tax of 29.2 cents per gallon, a move that drew huge protests from governments statewide, including ones in Hall County.

The bill, expected to generate some $1 billion in annual transportation funding, has been changed to allow local governments to continue collecting some sales tax on motor fuel, but the money would have to be used for transportation purposes, including school bus service.

The Sierra Club wants more changes, including opening the state gas tax so it is dedicated to all transportation purposes; establishing criteria for road spending that emphasize preservation and maintenance over expansion; and treating alternative-fuel vehicles fairly.

The bill now being considered would eliminate Georgia’s tax credit of up to $5,000 for electric vehicle purchases.

“While Georgia debates its transportation future, other states are actively building the multimodal networks that residents and businesses increasingly demand,” says the chapter.

“North Carolina, Texas and Florida have all made substantial investments in statewide rail that benefit both freight and passengers, connecting cities and rural areas and improving mobility for residents statewide.”

Georgia is considering a high-speed rail connection between Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C., with one of the three preferred routes running along the Norfolk Southern line through Hall County.

The Atlanta-Charlotte line would be an extension of the Southeast High-Speed Rail Corridor, which is under development from Charlotte to Washington, D.C.

A recent report from the Georgia Department of Transportation and Federal Railroad Administration compares the routes — projecting budget deficits if the railroad line is used — but doesn’t draw any conclusions. Final reports are expected between this fall and summer of 2016.

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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