Gainesville’s fledgling Transportation Master Plan could go through a long, competitive and financially uncertain process of getting plugged into Hall County’s list of long-range transportation projects.
Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization committees, including the decision-making policy committee, made up of top area elected officials, are slated to review and approve a draft plan during October and November, said Sam I. Baker, the MPO’s senior transportation planner.
However, “for the city projects to receive any federal funds, the first requirement is that they be included in the MPO’s financially constrained long-range transportation plan,” he said.
The MPO — Hall’s lead transportation planning agency — already has a long-range plan in place, the 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan, which features $2.2 billion in funded projects and another $775 million in projects “without an identified funding source.”
The planning group will begin the next update of the long-range plan early next year, with a federal requirement that the update be completed by Aug. 8, 2015, Baker said.
The city is producing a draft master plan, expected out this month and set to go before a transportation focus group appointed to give public input on the process. Pond & Co., the city’s Norcross-based consultant, is scheduled to give an update Tuesday to the policy committee.
City projects not only will compete with those now on the 2040 list, but also new ones that come up during the update, Baker said.
“The planning process, specifically public outreach (and) input from the MPO committee members, will assist in developing the final project list for our region,” he added.
State and local officials are concerned about future federal funding, which comes through last year’s congressional passage of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act.
The federal law provides funding through most of next year. However, in an April report, the Congressional Budget Office said the “current trajectory of the Highway Trust Fund is unsustainable” and that starting in fiscal year 2015, “the trust fund will have insufficient amounts to meet all of its obligations, resulting in steadily accumulating shortfalls.”
Todd Long, the Georgia Department of Transportation’s deputy commissioner, said as much last year, after the funding bill passed.
”There’s this general attitude (in Washington) that eventually (Congress is) going to say, ‘Whatever the gas tax brings in is what we’re going to spend on transportation,’” he said, speaking in Flowery Branch. If that happens, in 2015, Georgia “will probably see a 25 to 30 percent decrease” in transportation funding.
Srikanth Yamala, the MPO’s director and Hall County’s planning director, said he believes “the next plan update will be a challenge, unless a new or increased funding source for transportation projects becomes available.”
At current funding levels, Baker said, an updated long-range plan that doesn’t schedule for all of Hall’s projects, including new ones being developed by the city, “is a strong possibility.”
The city’s study began because officials, particularly Mayor Danny Dunagan, were concerned about the inclusion of only one city project — improvements at Jesse Jewell and John Morrow parkways — on Hall County’s list of projects in last year’s transportation sales tax vote.
Dunagan said at a recent transportation focus group meeting that he believed the sales tax issue, which was bludgeoned by voters at the polls, “is coming back.”
“And when we sit down at the table with other communities, we’ve got projects to put in that T-SPLOST, instead of one little intersection improvement and (the fact that) we generate over 52 percent of the revenue in Hall County,” he said.
“We’ve also talked to our legislators about doing a local T-SPLOST,” he said. “So, if you went to your citizens and said this is what we’re going to do with it, we’ve got a plan in place.”
So far, the master plan features 55 potential road and intersection improvements, from adding a left-turn lane to building a new interchange off Interstate 985.
The MPO’s 2040 plan includes projects from throughout Hall but just a few city ones, such as the Jesse Jewell/John Morrow improvements and the widening of South Enota Drive between Park Hill Drive and Downey Boulevard.