After decades of waiting, road work ahead

Credit: Vivian Hansen / SCAD-Atlanta

Very soon, a group of grandees tasked with parsing reams of data and debating themselves into a consensus solution to a perennial dilemma will report its findings.

No, I am not talking about the College Football Playoff committee.

I refer instead to the task force legislators created earlier this year to study ways to increase funding for Georgia’s transportation needs. If that sounds rather less exciting, just wait until the group’s recommendations hit.

Credit: Vivian Hansen / SCAD-Atlanta

Credit: Vivian Hansen / SCAD-Atlanta

These folks were told to be “big and bold.” Based on what I heard during — and on the sidelines of — a hearing they held Wednesday in Blue Ridge, that’s what they intend to do.

While we await the details of their recommendation, which House Speaker David Ralston told them Wednesday he would make “a priority” during the 2015 legislative session, it’s worth reviewing why “big and bold” is in order.

A graph prepared for a 2008 Georgia DOT report about the same subject (“Investing in Tomorrow’s Transportation Today,” or IT3) tells the tale of a state that has spent three decades falling behind on roads, rails and bridges. From the early 1960s until the mid-’80s, our state and local transportation spending as a percentage of state GDP was consistently higher than the national average. Since then our population has continued to grow quickly, but our infrastructure funding hasn’t kept pace.

The result is what DOT Commissioner Keith Golden presented Wednesday as a massive backlog.

Over the next 20 years, Golden said, Georgia is projected to fall short of its list of “needs” by $29 billion. That means no money in the next two decades for alleviating bottlenecks, including both intersections of I-20 and I-285 as well as I-16 and I-75 in Macon. These choke points, and others, will only get worse with the increased freight traffic going to and from a deepened Savannah harbor. More than a third of the $29 billion is deemed routine maintenance: $6.4 billion for roads, $5.5 billion for bridges.

Making matters worse, Congress has yet to come up with a long-term plan for federal highway funding. A solution from Washington won’t be easy. “They would have to raise the federal gas tax by 12 cents a gallon today” — from the current 18.4 cents a gallon — “just to keep (federal) funding at the current level,” Golden said.

Golden’s bottom line: We can’t rely on Washington to fulfill our needs.

A solution from Atlanta won’t be easy, either, even if the math is simple. Filling that $29 billion hole would mean doubling the DOT’s capital and routine maintenance expenditures from their $1.5 billion level in 2012. Two-thirds of that came from the feds; any new money will have to come from the state. Again, that’s just to get the current system in better working order, not to build anything new.

If your first inclination is like mine, you wonder if the current spending is as efficient and effective as possible. And I’ve no doubt there’s room for improvement. But consider the scale of the problem. Even if we could put half the current funding for capital and maintenance to better use, we’d still be short by hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

This is what making up for 30 years of neglect looks like. It’s a problem that didn’t begin with the GOP takeover in 2003, but nor have Republicans solved it. Yet.

Reader Comments 0

43 comments
JAKilgoreBrunswick
JAKilgoreBrunswick

I guess Sonny Perdue"s "fast forward" program of completing 10 years worth of DOT projects in 2 years, which prompted issuing bonds to fund the increased volume of projects, has all been forgotten by the geniuses at the AJC.  "Thirty years of neglect" would have to include the Perdue years, which makes that a false statement.  The only question is whether the AJC is being compensated for performing as the de facto PR firm for GDOT.  Nobody is discussing the 18 wheel trucks and whether maybe the motor freight folks should pay a significant portion of whatever revenue increase is required, since the federal government has already determined that ONE 18 wheeler causes as much wear and tear on the highways as 9,600 passenger cars.  And, by the way, Georgia has NEVER ranked 49th in the amount of gas tax per gallon, and it certainly did not rank 49th in 2009.  Mr. Wingfield would do well to check with the American Petroleum Institute before he writes his GDOT "puff" pieces. 

Plumb Krazy
Plumb Krazy

The chamber nuts want a tax increase for everybody else ? Didnt they just insist on a tax cut for themselves? Tax airlines and railroads for their fuel like everybody else. Go back to sales taxing businesses for their energy use like everybody else has to pay. Do away with GATE cards. Then come tell me I need to pay more taxes on my gasoline.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

This shortfall has been known for YEARS.  All of the anti-tax Republicans couldn't bring themselves to do anything on their own when they got voted in, because they know the solution is higher taxes.  

Eventually, they got the idea to kick the can to different regions, creating a new level of oversight and said "let the voters decide!"  Of course, the people want the legislature to actually DO THEIR JOB! said "No" to the transit funding. 

So, the state creates YET ANOTHER task force that will say the same thing. 


Raise Revenue. 

Raise Revenue. 

Raise Revenue. 


Duh.  Legislators, get on with it! 

Finn-McCool
Finn-McCool

About 2 years away from the DOT finishing the widening of my road. Two lane divided road with a sidewalk on 1 side and a bike path on the other.


woot, woot, woot.

stogiefogey
stogiefogey

Right now is the opportune time to increase the state motor fuel tax by a few pennies per gallon. With gasoline prices at the pump nosediving hardly anyone would even notice.

AvailableName
AvailableName

This is indeed a problem that needs solving, just as is healthcare.  Maybe another group of Georgia grandees could direct their attention to the hole created by the rejection of Medicaid expansion.  Same parameters - can't trust the feds for funding (so says the Governor) and local funding will be a bear.


Meanwhile, the AJC reports another hospital filed for bankruptcy.  


The clock is ticking on a state government that prefers to kick cans down the road rather than lead.

RantNRave
RantNRave

"nor have Republicans solved it. Yet."


THERE ARE MANY THINGS IN GEORGIA REPUBLICANS HAVEN'T SOLVED YET..............MEDICAID EXPANSION.


FORT OGLETHORPE HOSPITAL FILES FOR BANKRUPTCY PROTECTION

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

Stop building HOT lanes, they are a constant reminder we cannot trust Government to spend the people's scarce resources responsibly, in particular transportation funding. Until that happens there is NO trust from this corner, none whatsoever.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@RoadScholar Not sure how this relates to the HOT lanes, since they are carrying more traffic than before, not less.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Kyle_Wingfield @DawgDadII What happens when congestion on the Interstates gets so bad that motorists start abandoning the Interstates to the surface arterials? Toll surface streets also?

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Kyle_Wingfield @RoadScholar Because all cannot afford the Lexus lanes! As the GP lanes fill traffic will be diverted to surface streets.


In the interstate study for I 285 in the early 2000's, as more lanes were added to the models of the Interstate, more and more traffic was reassigned to the new interstate lanes from the parallel arterials. So when no more lanes/room is available on the Interstates, where does the traffic growth go? Esp with the dislike by many not to enhance transit service here!

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@RoadScholar "Because all cannot afford the Lexus lanes! As the GP lanes fill traffic will be diverted to surface streets."

One of these days, you will read what I wrote before responding. Let me try to say it more slowly:


More. Cars. Are. Using. The. HOT lanes. Than. Used. The. HOV lanes.

So it would stand to reason there aren't a bunch of cars spilling out of the interstate into the arterials. And in future managed lanes, the lanes will be new, additional capacity. So no problem there, either.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Kyle_Wingfield @RoadScholar And a single lane has a capacity of 2000 veh /lane/hour. The price of a managed/HOT lane goes up with congestion/their usage. So when they are heavily used, and the price is high, maybe beyond what most people will spend, and they're stuck in the GP lanes which are crawling if any movement is happening, what alternatives do they have? Surface Arterials! DUH! So when the arterials go slower, what's next? Helicopters?

bu2
bu2

@RoadScholar @Kyle_Wingfield 

Well then you are taxing the users, the people who can afford it.  You have a choice, like with the lottery.  You don't have to buy tickets.


I don't like regular lanes converted to HOT lanes, but am all in favor of new capacity.  For the people on regular lanes, its something for next to nothing as users pay for most of it and they get off your lanes.

RantNRave
RantNRave

"nor have Republicans solved it. Yet."


Hmmmmmmmmm


NATHAN DEAL ??

RantNRave
RantNRave

"All we ever get is fancy recipes for gourmet pudding, when vanilla would suffice, if it was ready to serve."


RAFEHOLLISTER



TOO MANY "CONS" SPOIL THE PUDDING.

RantNRave
RantNRave

"nor have Republicans solved it. Yet."


YET ?


YET ?


THERE IS NO NEVER...............................JUST LONG PERIODS OF NOT YET

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

"If your first inclination is like mine, you wonder if the current spending is as efficient and effective as possible."

What? Under a repub administration that had the Transportation Board members and the GDOT Director of Planning hand picked by the Repub Governor (Perdue and Deal)? Whose Commissioner was vetted and then approved by this same T Board? And whose projects, budgets, priorities, staffing levels, etc. have to be approved by this said Board?When will the repubs take responsibility?

 Remember all the bonds that were sold for the GRIP system causing GDOT to have $4-500 M in yearly debt payment for the next 15 years? How about the $2 B in money to be used on the I285/SR400 interchange projects including Abernathy Road? This project hurdled many others in priority; so what happened to those projects? Deal removed the tolls on SR 400 that could have been used on this interchange, but NNNNOOOOO! they couldn't even try to talk to the general project as to the need to extend the toll to pay for a concurrent project that was ignored since the 1990's?


This same Administration that has failed to invest in jobs versus tax cuts for specific businesses. Increasing transportation funding will create jobs no matter how much the repubs refute it. Jobs for construction workers, material suppliers, consultants to design and inspect the work (GDOT staff is down to 4300 from 12500 15 years ago...all work is now done by consultants!) (Oh with no public analysis of cost effectiveness!) And guess what ? These new workers buy goods, food, and pay rent or buy houses and cars and...Which brings in even more tax revenue.


Did you watch 60 minutes last night and its report on the demise of infrastructure in the US? Federal Cons suffer from the same disease! NO BALLS! But lots of mouth and accusations! I'd swear they are trying to destroy America! (Funny that most if not all claims by the repubs can be used to accuse them of the same thing ain't it!)

Back to the quote: Is everything a conspiracy theory for the repubs? Seems like it! Do what is not working and blame someone else! Ah that should be the repub mantra here and in Washington!

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@RoadScholar Dude...

You are so eager to lay into "repubs" and "cons" that you are getting hysterical ... and missing the point that, even if there's a great deal of ineffectiveness, there's also a large shortfall of the funding needed. (FWIW, I don't think there is "a great deal" of it; the department has become pretty darn efficient relative to its peers in other states.)

quickworkbreak
quickworkbreak

@Kyle_Wingfield @RoadScholar   On a less hyperbolic reply...

The seeds have been sewn by the "all taxes are bad taxes" cabal for a few decades now to the point that because all spending is dependent on tax revenue, any spending is bad ("We don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem").  60 Minutes nailed it, and it's worth a read if you haven't seen it:  http://www.cbsnews.com/news/falling-apart-america-neglected-infrastructure/   We've become arrogant by what we created in the last decade, only to let it rot by not continuing the required investments to expand and maintain.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@MHSmith There are a number of ways to do it, but yes, it's going to involve more money. Asphalt doesn't buy itself.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@Kyle_Wingfield @RoadScholar Cons have been in power in Ga for 14 years. Most were Dems before they switched, but the problem has existed for more than 20 years. So who's fault is it? Tooth fairy?


Efficient? Have you been to any project staff meetings when 10-15 consultants show up (on GDOT's dime) where only the Project manager an a few are needed. Padding their hours?


Funding shortfall? In 2001, the same research was done contacting all states and some local government that had some novel ways to increase revenue for transportation. Results...20 some ideas reduced to 5 with only the local infrastructure bank being implemented. That is fed and state monies set aside to finance local projects paid back to the fund by locals over time.


In the early 2000's strategic analysis of state routes and Interstates were done statewide and around Atlanta (2 phases I 285 and then the radial freeways) which provided a snapshot of the problems existing and ahead. Add to that the annual bridge maintenance reports systemwide.


These framed the problem in the early 2000's. Who was in power then ? who controlled GDOT? Who controlled the Board? What I have stated above is fact. I oversaw the studies!


Hysterical? No! Frustrated with the same old BS of not taking responsibility....yes!

MHSmith
MHSmith

@Kyle_Wingfield @MHSmith 

A "good number of things don't buy themselves". Too bad that message doesn't resonate with the Republican In Name Only - libertarian crowd that is taking over Congress!   


The rest of us know better.

bu2
bu2

@RoadScholar 

How about the demise of social security and medicare?  And the Democrats demagogue any attempt by the Republicans to make those financially secure.

PinkoNeoConLibertarian
PinkoNeoConLibertarian

Yeah, this is one that can't be laid at the feet of any single party, although I've no doubt many will try. It's been kicked down the road (pun intended) by everyone for decades now. Eventually that piper is going to demand payment. Is that time now?


FIGMO2
FIGMO2

Did Ms. Hansen intend for her graphic to look like a mushroom cloud?

Clayton County's all in on bus and rail. Who knows...perhaps it will increase the value of my property so I can move further...

O-U-T!

I prefer small town life. Rural's good too. 

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

The proof is in the pudding, and we have been without pudding so long we have forgotten what it tastes like.  All we ever get is fancy recipes for gourmet pudding, when vanilla would suffice, if it was ready to serve.



straker
straker

30 years of wanting more and more Govt. services and "no new taxes" has taken its toll.


Worse, as Kyle mentions, there is a public suspicion that our current tax dollars are not being spent properly.


So, in time, our bad roads now will look like "the good old days" in the not too distant future.

Yes_Jesus_Can
Yes_Jesus_Can

Great attention needs to be paid to this infrastructure issue.  Ultimately, Georgia's economy can only be as good as its infrastructure, and the solution needs to come from the entire state, not just the DOT.  As we can see, the issue is far bigger than GDOT alone, involving funding and revenue sources and projects which will quite frequently alert the public at large and require their approval. 

InTheMiddle2
InTheMiddle2

"Making matters worse, Congress has yet to come up with a long-term plan for federal highway funding. A solution from Washington won’t be easy. “They would have to raise the federal gas tax by 12 cents a gallon today” — from the current 18.4 cents a gallon — “just to keep (federal) funding at the current level,” Golden said."


Less than half of the Federal Highway budget is spent on highways. A good portion of it is being used to make improvement to BART, proving once again that massive public transportation systems are a failure.


I have no problem paying an extra penny or two, but before that happens. I would like to see a plan that isn't chock full of favors and sweetheart deals and actually does some good.



LHardingDawg
LHardingDawg

I've always wondered WHY an interstate highway was not built from I75 west of Chattanooga, down to maybe Rome, then to Carrolton, to LaGrange, Columbus, Albany, and finally hooking up with I10 in North Florida. This would take all of the truck traffic out of the Atlanta area for the trucks not going to Atlanta, but to Florida. It would also revitalize West Georgia from the Tennessee line to the Florida line.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

@LHardingDawg That route was a part of the 4 laning in the GRIP system. Unfortunately it has at grade intersections along the way...not really conducive to tractor trailers, eh?

bu2
bu2

@LHardingDawg 

The people in Cartersville wanted a western bypass that would do much of the same thing.  The people in the rural counties screamed bloody murder and the state didn't take it seriously and just said it would be too expensive.

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

 If your first inclination is like mine, you wonder if the current spending is as efficient and effective as possible.


My first and last inclination.