A new Interstate 985 interchange between Flowery Branch and Oakwood is behind schedule because of uncertainty over federal highway funding — a debate that’s expected to drag on this week in Congress.
“With only short-term extensions of transportation authorization, it is hard to plan projects of this magnitude,” said Sam Baker, senior transportation planner for the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization, the area’s main road planning agency.
“We’ll just have to wait and see how the transportation legislation at the federal level pans out for this project to move forward,” he said.
The MPO’s recently approved Regional Transportation Plan calls for construction of the interchange in the Martin Road area of Ga. 13/Falcon Parkway by 2023.
The $43.3 million Exit 14, as it has been called, is expected to relieve traffic at the Spout Springs Road and Ga. 53/Mundy Mill Road interchanges south and north of it, respectively.
Area officials aren’t the only ones frustrated by the lack of a long-term authorization bill in place for transportation. The current bill in place is a two-month extension that ends Friday.
“If Congress does not find a solution to extend transportation funding, we will be looking at greatly reduced monthly (project awards), beginning in September,” said Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Natalie Dale.
Projects involving state and federal money would be short “a substantial portion of funding” if the federal Highway Trust Fund can no longer reimburse states, she said.
The trust fund is supported by a federal fuel tax of 18.4 cents per gallon.
Georgia gets back 80 cents for every dollar it puts into the fund, but the DOT must have all funding in hand to go forward on a road contract, according to Georgia’s constitution, Dale said.
“Current federal funding uncertainty results in project delays and interruptions in the planning process due to this factor,” she added.
The House passed a bill in mid-July providing $8 billion to keep transportation aid flowing through Dec. 18 while lawmakers work on a long-term bill.
Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, voted against it.
“I’m for long-term transportation solutions,” he said in a phone interview last week. “What I am not for is simply kicking the can down the road.”
The Senate is looking at a six-year bill, setting up what could be a debate between House and Senate leaders.
Ultimately, Collins said he supports “a long-term viable transportation plan that provides federal funding for projects but also provides states the flexibility in using the federal funds they get.”
Dale said Georgia leaders, meanwhile, “have already shown their commitment to long-term, sustainable transportation funding” with the July 1 start of a new funding structure, which includes a 26-cent-per-gallon excise tax at the gas pump.
“We are hopeful that Congress will take similar steps to support our nation’s vital infrastructure,” she said.