Transportation funding was the headline issue in this year’s legislative session months before it even began. So far, the talk has been mostly about dollar signs and numbers that rhyme with “zillion.”
Those are the sorts of words that usually make Republicans cringe when the idea is to increase spending instead of cutting it. That includes Gov. Nathan Deal, who, throughout his re-election campaign and in the run-up to his second inaugural, was content to nod toward the problem of traffic congestion and leave details and lofty rhetoric alike to others.
But that changed substantially this past week. During his annual State of the State address to legislators, Deal offered the most arresting image yet in the transportation-funding debate.
“We are currently operating,” Deal noted, “at a (funding) rate that requires over 50 years to resurface every state road in Georgia. So, if your road is paved when you graduate high school, by the time it is paved again you will be eligible for Social Security.”
There’s some perspective for your potholes.
Here’s what that looks like altogether: The Georgia Department of Transportation estimates an annual need of $340 million for repaving state routes and highways. Currently, we spend about $125 million.
Add other aspects of roadway maintenance, from filling cracks to replacing guardrails, along with bridge repairs and replacements that won’t be in the budget anytime soon, and the total comes to almost $12 billion over the next two decades. And we aren’t even talking yet about county roads, or building anything new.
But as I already mentioned, we’ve heard lots of numbers. What has been missing from this debate are illustrations, like Deal’s high school-to-retirement paving gap, of what needs to happen but isn’t.
Legislators are loath to commit to a hard and fast project list, and I understand why. The politics of making a statewide list are daunting, no matter how much additional money they commit to spending. In any case, letting politicians decide what to build is a mistake from the past we don’t need to repeat.
Still, some examples would help. Such as these, which I’ve based on information GDOT gave the task force that spent last year studying the funding issue:
Absent more money, beyond that for repaving and other maintenance, the long-delayed deepening of the port at Savannah could be finished for a decade and a half before the state even begins rebuilding I-16’s interchanges with I-95 and I-75. Both are already choke points for freight and passengers, even before the expansion boosts truck traffic by a projected 50 percent within 10 years.
A rookie on this year’s Atlanta Braves team could break Cal Ripken’s record streak of consecutive games played — 2,632 of them, or more than 16 seasons’ worth — before even seeing ground broken for improvements to the congested top end of I-285, from near the new ballpark at I-75 across to Doraville at I-85.
I don’t know about you, but that’s a future I’d rather avoid.