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Eyes on the Road: New DOT official concentrates on upcoming hurdles
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 The appointment of Russell McMurry as Georgia’s roads chief turned a few heads last week.

And not just because of his area ties, as he’s a longtime Hall County resident and former Department of Transportation district engineer.

But also because McMurry, who replaced retiring commissioner Keith Golden, takes over the huge department when transportation is becoming a key issue on state and national levels.

In a phone interview Tuesday, he addressed his promotion from chief engineer to DOT head and the responsibilities the jump brings.

“We live in interesting times,” he said. “As a nation, the way transportation has been funded historically (by a gas tax) ... is something everybody is looking at.“

The issue hasn’t caused much of a stir yet in the legislature, which began Jan. 12.

But the session is young, with Gov. Nathan Deal and other lawmakers pledging ways to shore up funding.

A legislative Joint Study Committee on Critical Transportation Infrastructure Funding released a 23-page report Dec. 30 suggesting funding options for lawmakers to consider.

Options include a 1-cent statewide sales tax that would generate some $1.4 billion per year; increasing Georgia’s motor fuel tax, which has not risen since 1971; and establishing an annual road usage fee for alternative fuel vehicles.

The report states Georgia will have to cover a $1 billion to $1.5 billion annual transportation funding gap to stay economically competitive.

McMurry said he also expects to carefully watch Congress as it considers ways to authorize transportation funding beyond May 31, when the current act expires.

“That would give some certainty that we can plan and get projects out, buy property for projects and take care of the maintenance that’s needed all the time,” he said.

Otherwise, the transition has gone well for the 45-year-old McMurry, who began his DOT career in 1990 as a civil engineering trainee. In his new post, he will oversee a budget in excess of $2 billion and more than 4,100 employees.

“I was up to speed on a lot of the things going on,” he said. “Obviously, I’m looking at things a whole lot more holistically than I was before.”

Traffic signal planned at new hospital intersection

Weather permitting, a new traffic signal is set to begin operating Thursday on Ga. 347 at the entrance to the emerging Northeast Georgia Medical Center Braselton campus in South Hall.

The signal features flashing yellow arrows to help drivers better understand when to “make a left turn freely, when they should proceed with their turn cautiously and when they cannot turn left,” DOT district engineer Brent Cook said.

A similar light is in place on Ga. 347 at Spout Springs Road.

The long-anticipated 100-bed hospital, including an emergency room and inpatient services, is slated to open later this year, but officials have opened the 113,000-square-foot Medical Plaza B, featuring specialty practices and services. The campus is about 1 mile west of Ga. 211/Old Winder Highway.

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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