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Georgia roads chief: Rise in funding helping to improve conditions
Some 1,000 people gathered at Wednesday’s 2016 Georgia Transportation Summit, an annual convention of private and public transportation officials.

ATHENS — Georgia’s roads chief told a transportation-minded crowd Wednesday he hopes new and improved state and federal funding will help shore up the state’s substandard roads and bridges.

Combining state and federal funding amounts “gives us the level of investment” recommended by a Georgia legislative committee a couple of years ago, or before state lawmakers approved the Transportation Funding Act of 2015, Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry said.

The committee had said that Georgia needed an additional $1 billion per year “just to take care of its existing assets,” he said.

McMurry was speaking at the 2016 Georgia Transportation Summit, a gathering of nearly 1,000 transportation officials in the public and private sectors.

He told the group he’s suggesting an amended 2016-17 budget of $1.9 billion — or about $1 billion more than before lawmakers passed the transportation bill, which basically eliminated the state fuel sales tax and enacted a 26-cent excise tax.

The state is budgeting $440 million in maintenance projects alone, up from $118 million two years ago.

“We’re going to make strategic investments” based on road conditions, McMurry said.

“That translates into more resurfacing, more construction and more orange barrels and orange cones on the roads, so get ready for that,” he said. “We apologize in advance, but we’re going to smile when we see all that work going on out there.”

McMurry painted an unflattering picture of current road conditions, including that 20 percent of Georgia’s interstates are in poor or worse shape.

“That’s certainly not acceptable,” he said.

Also, the average age of Georgia’s bridges is 43 years old.

“Most of those bridges were designed for a (life span) of maybe 50 years,” McMurry said.

And 12 percent of Georgia bridges have low weight restrictions, “which has an impact on business throughout this state, no doubt about it,” he said.

Several Hall County area bridges, particularly those crossing Lake Lanier, are being targeted for replacement.

There are other ways to improve “connectivity” in Georgia, including transit and private ridesharing services such as Lyft and Uber.

With such a blend, “we truly have personal mobility that (people) want,” McMurry said.

Overall, the state “is well positioned for success,” he said. “It’s not utopia, but it’s still very nice.”

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