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Feds keeping road plans up in air
Inconsistency with funds keeps work month-to-month
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An eight-month extension here and two-month extension there in federal transportation funding isn’t doing much for Georgia Department of Transportation’s road plans.

“We do the best we can in moving forward with the months we have confidence in,” DOT  spokeswoman Natalie Dale said.

“But, because at the federal level they haven’t shown us confidence that there’ll be substantial long-term commitment to ... funding, we just sort of have to function in this month-by-month mode.

“And that’s not how the department should function or functions best.”

Federal transportation funding has long been an issue for states, particularly as the gas tax-supported Highway Trust Fund that serves as the main revenue source drains away.

A funding law Sept. 30 was renewed until May 31. And then President Barack Obama signed a two-month extension, dubbed the Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2015, on May 29.

“We’ve had (project contract) lettings up to June, and we are preparing for July lettings and tentatively for August,” Dale said.

A westbound bridge maintenance project on Ga. 53/Dawsonville Highway over Lake Lanier is in the July letting because of the latest federal extension, DOT district spokeswoman Teri Pope said.

“It will hopefully be awarded to a contractor in August, with work to begin late fall or spring,” she said.

Still, Dale said, “the two-month extension really is just a Band-Aid. It puts us in a posture, as a department, where we can’t have the type of confidence that we’d like to have in preparing and moving forward with projects.”

As an example of federal funding’s impact on state projects, DOT Commissioner Russell McMurry said in March, when facing the May 31 deadline, that the state would have to apply the brakes to 84 projects that should be in design and 57 projects primed for right-of-way acquisition.

The issue is likely to stir up again soon in Congress.

Brendan Thomas, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, said Collins would comment later, “when more of the highway fix is complete.”

The DOT did get a $900 million-per-year boost from a transportation funding law passed by the Georgia General Assembly this year.

The law becomes effective July 1, setting gas taxes at 26 cents per gallon.
State transportation officials have said the new revenue will go first toward a backlog of road and bridge maintenance.

Locally, a committee of top elected officials with the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization — the Hall area’s lead transportation planning agency — voted in May to OK a long-range, $1.77 billion plan.

As part of that, the committee asked MPO staff to work with the DOT to incorporate potential funding from the new law into the long-range plan.

In doing so, the plan should “include a significant regional project that would benefit our community,” Gainesville

Mayor Danny Dunagan said at the time.

Also, in May, the State Transportation Board voted to sell about $111.5 million in bonds, a measure that will help repair or replace 25 bridges across the state, including replacing Boling Bridge on Dawsonville Highway at the Hall-Forsyth County line.

That $13.5 million project could begin this fall.

“Nationwide, states are looking to the federal government to make a long-term commitment,” Dale said.

“We have road conditions that are deteriorating and we need to have confidence that the federal government sees transportation funding as a priority, and I don’t believe we’re there yet.”

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