Top 5 big projects that may actually get done
U.S. 129 widening
Details: 6.7 miles from Gillsville Highway to Pendergrass Bypass
Price tag: $38.5 million
Details: Replacement of Ga. 53/Dawsonville Highway bridge at Chestatee River
Price tag: $13.2 million
Details: New exit on Interstate 985 at H.F. Reed Industrial Parkway on the west and Martin Road on the east
Price tag: $27 million
Details: Replacement of bridge on U.S. 129 at Chattahoochee River
Price tag: $10.8 million
Details: Replacement of Ga. 369/Browns Bridge Road bridge at Chattahoochee River
Price tag: $16.1 million
*All timetables are subject to numerous factors including weather, funding and political will.
Dwindling federal road money means the Georgia Department of Transportation is applying the brakes statewide to 84 projects that should be in design and 57 projects primed for right-of-way acquisition, DOT Commissioner Russell McMurry said Thursday.
Hall County projects certainly are affected by the funding slowdown. Nearly $60 million in planned work, including right-of-way acquisition and construction, is being held up by the law’s uncertainty.
“We have to spend Georgia’s dollars first and send the bill to Washington to get reimbursed,” he told a group at the University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus. “We have to sort of pay it forward and we’re not able to ... with the (current) scenario.”
Georgia and other states are facing the May 31 end of a federal law authorizing transportation spending. The law had been slated to end Sept. 30 but was postponed last year when a more permanent funding solution couldn’t be worked out by Congress.
“There are 80 days left before the federal transportation funds go to zero,” said McMurry at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce’s annual transportation forum. “And that’s a real concern.”
McMurry said he’s confident Congress “will act at some time to extend ... funding, but the question is when. Our indication is it probably will be close to the end of May.”
A little more than half of the DOT’s budget comes from federal funding, with $1.2 billion having been expected this year. Georgia’s actual share is $764 million.
“So, when you plan for $1.2 billion, there are a lot of people who aren’t happy when you don’t achieve what you planned for,” McMurry said.
Most major projects require federal money, while much of state funding goes “to mowing the grass, picking up the litter, patching the potholes, things that aren’t federal eligible,” he said. “It’s still a lot of money, but it doesn’t go far.”
McMurry said the DOT has met with Georgia’s congressional delegation about the funding issue, and he said he believes “they’re trying to work hard to try and figure out what’s the right thing to do.”
But “timing is always key,” he added. “It’s always important for us to try to advance things sooner than later.”
McMurry also talked about House Bill 170, a transportation funding bill that passed the House last week and is winding its way through the Senate.
The bill converts the state’s mix of taxes on gasoline to a 29.2-cents-per-gallon excise tax dedicated for transportation needs. It also eliminates Georgia’s tax credit for electric vehicle purchases and an exemption on jet fuel purchases for airlines.
If approved by the General Assembly, the bill would generate about $800 million per year, McMurry said.
“That makes an investment in Georgia,” he said. “When you take that federal share and make it less, then you’re basically freed up to do a lot more good things with state dollars, which would be advancing projects and taking care of infrastructure.”
When a project does not involve federal money, it does not have to follow federal requirements, so each phase of work can go much faster and cost less.
The House also proposed $100 million in bonds for state bridges that don’t meet structural sufficiency ratings and $100 million in bonds for transit improvements, McMurry said.
“So, between HB 170 and these two bonds, it puts us at about $1 billion for new investment in transportation, which is a significant shot in the arm,” he said.
The DOT forum also featured updates by District Engineer Brent Cook on area road projects.
Two are well under construction: a new Clarks Bridge over the Chattahoochee River on Ga. 284/Clarks Bridge Road and widening Ga. 347 between Interstate 985 and Ga. 211/Old Winder Highway.
Another nine are in some phase before construction, such as right-of-way acquisition.
Perhaps Hall County’s next big project will be the $38.5 million, 6.7-mile widening of U.S. 129/Athens Highway between Ga. 323/Gillsville Highway and the Pendergrass Bypass. Property acquisition is almost complete, with construction possibly starting this year.