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Transportation bill saves Gainesville planning group
Authorization maintains current funding
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A 27-month transportation bill passed in Congress last week officially has spared the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization from elimination.

Area officials were confident the transportation group could survive, through some political maneuvering, but the federal Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act sealed the deal.

Srikanth Yamala, the organization’s transportation planning manager, said Monday the bill “retains the designation of MPOs as urbanized areas with a population of 50,000 (or more), contrary to the Senate version.”

The Senate version called for MPOs in areas with a population of less than 200,000 to dissolve in four to five years unless they gain the support of the governor in their respective state and approval by the U.S. secretary of transportation.

That bill required those MPOs to “certify to the secretary of transportation within three years of enactment of the bill that they have the staff, resources and technical expertise to conduct the necessary modeling for air quality and other issues as required by law,” according to Michael Quiello of Georgia U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s office.

Gainesville-Hall County’s population hit nearly 180,000 in the 2010 census.

“The dialogue has already begun with the governor’s office and ... we’re in a good place, but nothing is done until we have final approval,” Yamala said in a March 12 meeting of the MPO’s Policy Committee.

He sent an email to various MPO committees and others Monday announcing the new federal reauthorization.

“Thank you to everyone who contacted our senators and representatives ... requesting to preserve small and medium-sized MPOs, like ours, to retain a transportation planning mechanism at the local level,” Yamala wrote.

He said the agency would continue working with federal agencies and the Georgia Department of Transportation to carry out the reauthorization bill once it is signed by President Barack Obama.

MAP-21 replaces the previous authorization, known as the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, which expired on Sept. 30, 2009, and was buoyed with a series of short-term extensions.

“MAP-21 will modernize and reform our current transportation system to help create jobs, accelerate economic recovery, and build the foundation for long-term prosperity,” states a 91-page federal document summarizing the bill.

Yamala said the bill “maintains the current level of funding with a slight bump for inflation,” or $54.6 billion per year nationwide compared to $50.1 billion under the previous measure.

Georgia expects to keep getting the same amount, or $1.1 billion to $1.2 billion annually, for transportation, said Teri Pope, spokeswoman for the DOT’s District 1, which includes Hall County.

The DOT “is delighted Congress is on the verge of finalizing a new highway reauthorization bill,” she said.

“While the customary six-year reauthorization would have been preferable from our perspective, the two years of this bill will provide us more certainty on available federal funds and programs,” Pope said.

It also will “allow us to better plan and implement programs and projects for the next 24 months.”

The funding bill comes one month shy of a historic transportation funding vote in Georgia.

Residents across the state will decide July 31 whether to add a new 1 percent tax for road and transit improvements. The issue will be decided in each of 12 designated regions, with Hall County in the 13-county Georgia Mountains region.

If the tax is approved, the Georgia Mountains region would receive about $1.25 billion over 10 years, over and above funding from the federal and state governments.

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