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Stimulus package could pump billions into roads
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As part of President-elect Barack Obama’s proposed economic stimulus package, Georgia is seeking about $3.4 billion for transportation needs.

But if current policy holds, state or local governments, or some combination of both, would have to come up with a 10 to 20 percent match in funding for road and bridge projects, said David Spear, press secretary at the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Road and bridge projects make up $2.2 billion of the requests — including nearly $40 million for work in Hall County — as submitted to the Federal Highway Administration.

Transportation Commissioner Gena Evans has said that if Georgia receives "all or even a substantial portion of the $2.2 billion, we would not be able to come up with the matching funds due to our own current fiscal constraints," Spear said.

"We have indicated to the state’s congressional delegation that we would need the waiver," he added. "I’m sure (that) when there is a formal proposal or such, we will formally ask for it as well."

U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Gainesville, couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.

The state match is usually 10 percent for work on interstates and 20 percent on other U.S. and state routes, Spear said.

Evans "has indicated that, for a possible stimulus package to be as fully beneficial as designed, it would be necessary that it include a waiver of the matching requirement," he said.

In an e-mailed statement, Evans said of the overall endeavor, "We are excited about this opportunity for an investment into improving Georgia’s infrastructure as well as contributing to putting many Georgians back to work."

A failing economy has prompted Obama to push for a massive stimulus measure of some $850 billion. He is pushing Congress to pass the package early next year to limit the severity of the downturn.

The news grew gloomier Tuesday when the U.S. Commerce Department reported that the gross domestic product, the broadest measure of economic health, declined at an annual rate of 0.5 percent in the July-September quarter, while corporate profits fell 1.2 percent.

The Georgia DOT, faced with its own budget shortfalls, has put projects statewide on hold while it goes through a reprioritization process.

That has affected local projects, including improvements to five intersections along McEver Road in West Hall and the realignment of Ga. 52 in Northeast Hall that also features the replacement of a 1,000-foot, 53-year-old bridge spanning the Chattahoochee River.

Teri Pope, a DOT spokeswoman, has said the state’s prioritizing of projects "should be completed shortly after the new year."

She said the Hall County projects listed in the state’s requests are the resurfacing of Mount Vernon Road from Thompson Bridge Road to Dahlonega Highway, a 9.3-mile stretch; Athens Highway from Monroe Drive to Gillsville Highway, 2.9 miles; and Ga. 365 from Lula Road/Ga. 52 to the Habersham County line, 12.2 miles.

The Ga. 365 resurfacing is estimated to cost $24.6 million.

The other Hall project, Pope said, is concrete slab replacement, grinding and guardrail work on Ga. 365 from Jesse Jewell Parkway to Ga. 52, a 12.2-mile, $11.3 million project.

In addition to the $2.2 billion, Georgia is seeking $45.3 million for aviation projects, $1.1 billion for Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, nearly $62 million for transit, $8 million for the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority and $22.6 million for commuter rail.

"Most of the projects we submitted are of a resurfacing, bridge repair, maintenance nature, primarily because (the Highway Administration) asked us to submit only those projects for which work could actually be under way within 180 days," Spear said.

Those kinds of projects normally "don’t have the environmental, utility, design, planning, engineering and right- of-way requirements and issues of, say, a widening or a new road," he added.

The U.S. Department of Transportation "calculates that for every $1.25 billion spent in such a package, approximately 35,000 jobs are created," Spear said.

"I think the principal motivations for such a package (is the) jobs creation and putting money into the economy," he added. "For us, of course, there is the added benefit of addressing our aging transportation infrastructure."