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State begins new road aid program for governments
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Flowery Branch City Manager Bill Andrew speaks to the state’s new Local Maintenance & Improvement Grant program for roads.

LARP, as it was commonly called by local governments around Georgia, faded into history this week.

The state has exchanged the Local Assistance Road Program and a “state aid” program for the Local Maintenance & Improvement Grant program, which, like its predecessor, is geared to helping local governments with the potentially budget-busting upkeep of their roads.

Unlike the old program, however, the new LMIG, as it is being called, has “a dedicated funding source,” said Teri Pope, spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Transportation’s Gainesville-based District 1.

A new state law requires between 10 and 20 percent of the annual total for the state motor fuel tax to bankroll the program, Pope said.

This year’s state budget contains about $96 million, or 13 percent of the total state motor fuel tax. “It’s only funded for one year right now (and) ... is part of the state budget,” Pope said.

Money will be distributed to local governments based on paved and unpaved center line miles and population.

Under the old program, funding considered only paved mileage and could only be used for paving.

The new program, which started Thursday, allows for other road work, including relocation, widening, additional turn lanes, and culvert or bridge repair or replacement, according to the DOT website.

“Any sidewalk/bike lane improvements must lie within the roadway right of way to be an eligible request,” the website says.

In addition, “each local government is encouraged to develop a transportation plan or priority list of their needs.”

A big plus for governments is they can roll over unused money to the next year. At the same time, however, the DOT can reduce an award amount if a project costs less than estimated.

Governments must submit requests between July 1 and April 30 to be eligible for that fiscal year’s program.

“We should fare fairly well,” said Glenn Austin, engineer inspector with the city of Gainesville.

Under LARP, the city received between $50,000 and $150,000 annually. In the first year under the new program, the city should receive about $150,000, Austin said.

“We should get maybe a third more of the funds we had in the past — maybe 50 percent more — which is an improvement,” he said. “What it’s really going to do is make the city more responsible for maintaining its streets, keeping a good maintenance program going. Unfortunately, with the recent economy, we’ve fallen behind, as everything has.”

Flowery Branch City Manager Bill Andrew said he believes the new program represents “just a small portion of what we need to have done.”

The newly approved 1-cent transportation tax that districts around the state can put before voters for their approval “is what’s really going to be important,” he said.

“And I think ... a lot of the local governments aren’t sure how that’s going to actually get out of the gate, because there are so many hurdles with it.”