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Legislators say road funding will be big issue in 2015
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Fixing Georgia’s roads and bridges will be a top priority for the General Assembly when it reconvenes Jan. 12, Hall County delegation members said Thursday morning.

“We are losing jobs to other states because of gridlock,” said Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Eggs & Issues Breakfast at the Gainesville Civic Center.

Among the difficult challenges ahead, “No. 1 is, no doubt, transportation issues,” Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, said.

But how to fund transportation needs is the hard part, lawmakers said.

Miller said officials could look at raising the gas tax, but motorists using alternative fuels or energy sources are “paying no fees” and should share in the burden.

“We need to spread the expense over all the people traveling; (that would) be far better for the state,” he said.

Rep. Timothy Barr, R-Lawrenceville, said legislators could work to keep the budget down and apply the growth in revenues — some $360 million over last year so far — to transportation.

“This (idea) might be unpopular at this table or even in this room,” he said.

Rogers brought up the 2012 referendum voted down in nine of 12 regions statewide on a 1-percent sales tax for transportation, in referring to work now being done by the legislature’s Joint Study Committee on Critical Transportation Infrastructure Funding.

The panel is set to issue a report by the end of this month on possible transportation funding methods.

“It’s estimated we need $1 billion to fix our transportation system,” Miller said. “That’s the good news, I suppose. The bad news is we need $1 billion a year. We have been remiss in updating our roads and bridges.”

Rogers said Georgia has the 10th-largest road system in the nation and has 14,666 bridges, as well as one of the busiest ports in the nation.

Transportation “is a huge responsibility,” he said.

Plus, Miller said, “we’re having more people move into Georgia because of our quality of life, because of our climate and because of our business climate, so transportation is going to be very important.”

Many state worries about roads are and have been directed at Washington.

The main source of roads funding is the barely solvent Federal Highway Trust Fund, and the federal law authorizing transportation projects expires in May after an eight-month extension. Congress is likely to start debating reauthorization in early 2015.

“The federal gas tax program is broken,” Miller said. “It’s kaput. It’s bankrupt. We cannot go forward (relying) on the federal government to support transportation in the state of Georgia.

“We have to be open to new funding sources.”