After weeks of speculation, Gov. Sonny Perdue, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker Glenn Richardson announced a bill Thursday that will strip away much of the power of the State Transportation Board.
Under the proposal, an 11-member board, five appointed by the governor and three each to be named by the lieutenant governor and the speaker, would form the State Transportation Authority.
Under the legislation, state motor fuel funds will remain dedicated to roads and bridges as required by the state constitution. However, all transportation funds will be deposited into a state public transportation fund and appropriated annually by the General Assembly.
"Georgians deserve a transportation network that functions as a whole, not 13 gerrymandered parts," said Perdue. "We need to abandon the scattered approach that spreads resources too thin, and instead focus investment on projects that actually move the needle on congestion, job creation and take full advantage of the investments we have made in our ports, rail lines and airports."
The legislation would merge the current powers of the State Road and Tollway Authority and the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority into the new board that will be responsible for developing a statewide multimodal transportation plan and making budget requests from that plan each year to the governor and General Assembly.
The authority would ensure that both long-range and short-range plans are developed in collaboration with the Metropolitan Planning Organizations around the state and continually updated and approved by the legislature.
The plan must pass both the House and Senate to go into effect.
"We’ve been hearing rumors of this proposed change in the transportation system for several weeks and this confirms that there may be some truth to the rumors," said Steve Farrow, a Dalton attorney who was elected last year as the 9th District representative on the DOT board.
"It will be interesting to watch how this legislation develops in light of the seeming intractability between the House and Senate for any future funding mechanism for transportation."
House and Senate leaders have been at odds over versions of a proposed sales tax earmarked for road projects. However, the transportation authority bill, with the blessing of Cagle and Richardson, will be introduced by the two top leaders in the respective chambers, Rep. Jerry Keen, R-St. Simons Island and Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons.
Farrow, a former state senator, pondered whether rank-and-file lawmakers will be willing to give up their one constitutional appointment.
State Sen. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, said he had not seen the bill but was aware of it.
"It looks good to me," Hawkins said, calling the current funding mechanism "a mess."
Perdue’s announcement said the DOT and Transportation Board will continue to serve a role in managing highway infrastructure. GDOT, according to Perdue, will retain many of its current operations and maintenance activities, and the department also could be involved in the delivery of new construction projects once they are selected and funded by the authority.
The appointments made to the authority by the speaker and lieutenant governor would by confirmed by their respective chambers. The terms would run concurrently with the term of the person who appointed them, meaning Richardson’s would only be for a two-year term.
The governor would appoint the secretary of transportation, the top administrator for the new authority.
"It is very clear that the current delivery of transportation in Georgia has not produced the results we need," Cagle said. "Our goal is simple: To create a strategic statewide method by which projects are planned, financed and implemented with true transparency and accountability."
His sentiments were echoed by Richardson, R-Hiram.
"Improving transportation is important to all Georgians whether that means passing a transportation funding plan or reforming the agency that carries out the state’s transportation duties," Richardson said.