At first glance, House transportation plan looks good

House Transportation Chairman Jay Roberts, R-Oscilla, makes a point during a press conference Wednesday. (AJC Photo / Bob Andres)

House Transportation Chairman Jay Roberts, R-Oscilla, makes a point during a press conference Wednesday. (AJC Photo / Bob Andres)

The big transportation-plan reveal came Wednesday, and on first glance it appears to be a clear step in the right direction. We still haven’t seen a bill — that will come later Thursday — so I’ll refrain from delving too much into the details until they’re in black and white. But from what we have heard so far from House Speaker David Ralston, House Transportation Chairman Jay Roberts and others, this much seems clear:

  • At $1 billion per year in new, dedicated funding for transportation projects, the plan would get the state back on track for maintenance (e.g., repaving roads and rebuilding bridges) and allow for a couple of small to medium-size projects a year, based on what the Georgia DOT told lawmakers in presentations over the past year. That’s much more solid footing than we’re on now, but this money alone won’t do much to add significant new capacity. Assuming GDOT’s annual figure of $600 million per year for road and bridge maintenance, that leaves roughly enough money to pick one of the following new projects each year: rebuild the interchanges at I-16 and I-75 in Macon ($300 million), I-285 and I-20 west ($450M) or I-285 and I-20 east ($250M); widening I-85 from Atlanta to the Alabama line ($450M); complete half a dozen projects in rural Georgia ($674M for the whole list of 13); extend Sugarloaf Parkway in Gwinnett ($300M); or finish the U.S. 27 corridor running north-south near the Alabama line ($375M). Those are all fine projects, needed projects. But we’re not talking about anywhere near enough money to tackle such major initiatives as “Revive 285” on the top end of the perimeter ($3 billion-plus) or other interstate-widening projects ($800M to $3B). So this likely isn’t the last word on transportation funding.
  • The structure of the new funding’s sources will cause some heartburn among local politicians, because about half of it (roughly $550M) comes from current local sales taxes on motor fuel. But the hit they’ll take might be overstated a bit. Because sales taxes imposed by referendum such as SPLOSTs and E-SPLOSTs are grandfathered in, it would appear local governments will continue to receive most of what they do now — until those taxes are renewed, at which time motor fuel sales simply wouldn’t be included in the tax base and the project lists they fund would be adjusted accordingly. The exception is the standard local option sales tax, or LOST, which most Georgia counties levy. Currently, a 1 percent sales tax is roughly equivalent to the 3 cents/gallon excise tax the bill would allow local governments to levy without a referendum. So while local governments might have to take the political hit for enacting a tax increase so that “the state” avoids raising your taxes, we’re probably talking about only 3 cents per gallon. (NB: I reserve the right to change my view on this point especially if the facts turn out otherwise; this is my best evaluation at this time.)
  • Transit advocates ought to be happy. For the first time, the state is spending $100M of its money on transit (to be divided among 128 transit providers, not just MARTA). While that bond package in this year’s budget may or may not be repeated in the future, and while the revenues from a new tax on some alternative-fuel vehicles are envisioned but not constitutionally mandated to be used for transit, the mere presence of a new line item for transit is historic. Roberts said leaders intended for the bond proceeds to have some “flexibility” so that they might be used for infrastructure or for operations and maintenance. I’d quibble with that a bit: At a time when transit agencies are looking to expand their networks, I’d prefer to see state money go into infrastructure. If MARTA wants flexibility, do that by lowering the 50/50 restriction on how its sales tax revenues are divided (which, over the past decade-plus, has been most often observed in the breach anyway).
  • One idea I heard today before the plan was announced was to arrange the revenues so that federal funds go toward maintenance and any new projects are built with state money; I’m told this is the way Florida handles its transportation budget. Why? Because federal money for new construction comes with all sorts of stipulations that make projects cost more and take longer to complete. It’s been estimated Georgia would have as much as $180M more per year to spend if it didn’t have to follow federal rules on new construction. That would be equivalent to increasing the addition to the capital budget (see first bullet point) by more than 50 percent. If it can be done, it seems like a no-brainer.

More to come as further details emerge.

Reader Comments 0

61 comments
JackClemens
JackClemens

Speaking of Jay Roberts, have you been through Ocila lately? Downtown is more like Rome, Ga. with shops and restaurants where empty storefronts used to be.

Don't Tread
Don't Tread

"...Because federal money for new construction comes with all sorts of stipulations that make projects cost more and take longer to complete."


Really?  Did anyone not realize before now that federal money for anything (not just Medicaid or schools) comes with a boatload of strings attached?


It should be very simple to allocate federal highway money to maintenance, and only use it for new construction as a very last resort.  If Florida can do it, we can do it.

concernedoldtimer
concernedoldtimer

I do not like it.....payed my taxes on the car.....forever....till I sell it. Payed for the roads we have through gas taxes.....the state miss-managed the money...so now I pay more? These republicans are not making me happy. Maybe I will move to TN.....much lower taxes, even with in erased sales tax...

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator


@concernedoldtimer In fact, you and everyone else in Georgia have been paying less and less in gas tax over time, as your vehicles have become more fuel-efficient and the value of a dollar has shrunk. Had the gas tax been adjusted for those factors over time, we wouldn't be having this conversation now.

Finn-McCool
Finn-McCool

Here you go Kyle:

5. Public schools, in some communities, are doing just fine. The idea that our schools are falling behind and our students will not be able to compete globally is, according to a number of education experts, off base. Diane Ravitch, among others, has written that the notion that American students’ scores on international tests have declined is a mythA recent article by Ken Bernstein highlights the point that poverty is the real issue, noting that, “US schools with less than 25% of their children in poverty perform as well as any nation [on international comparisons], and those with 10% or less of their children in poverty outperform Finland.”


http://www.alternet.org/education/5-devastating-facts-about-charter-schools-you-wont-hear-national-school-choice-week

IReportYouWhine
IReportYouWhine

Anybody really believe dekalb will spend it's 3 cents a gallon on roads?

LikeMadison
LikeMadison

Is the DOT auditable yet?  Why give an agency that can't keep books more money?

Do they have any projects that actually reduce congestion?  I've been told by a high-level DOT exec that it's not one of their priorities.

Does "transit" mean rail?

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

More cars is all you will see, not a plan for the future.

MANGLER
MANGLER

I'd be curious what extra regulations a project that uses Federal funds has vs. one that doesn't.  Is that coming from background checks, certain insurance requirements, and paperwork type items?  Or are there physical design requirement variations.  I'd rather a bridge be over designed, for example, considering we're in the habit of letting them stand well beyond their designed life spans.  Obviously $180M is a lot.  But that all can't be regulatory B.S., can it?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@MANGLER As it has been explained to me: Even though the state requires environmental reviews, and even though those reviews largely overlap with what's done for the feds, the two have to be done separately. There are also requirements about the level of wages paid (i.e. prevailing union rate). There may be others, but those are the two I hear the most about.

MANGLER
MANGLER

@Elvez Looked it up.  So a Federal project must pay anyone working on it the "prevailing wage", and overtime, and other labor protections granted by the Federal Gov't.  So in not including the Federal Gov't in a project, it kind of sounds like a way to pay workers less and give them fewer benefits should the local municipality see fit.  Double edge sword there - save money, but by paying workers lower wages.  Not sure how I feel about that.

Stephenson_Billings
Stephenson_Billings

@MANGLER  Complying with the multiple federal regulations (EEO, DBE, etc) adds a lot more time and money to new construction projects. One dedicated person per project is almost needed to just keep up with all the paperwork and audits. Federally funded projects also "encouraged" to use more consultant firm instead of DOT personnel which may save the state money on the back end (pensions, health care, etc.), it costs more on the front end (wages, etc.)

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Finn-McCool You think they should continue to use the infrastructure without paying for it?

Don't worry; there won't be many of them left after the state repeals its tax credit.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Kyle_Wingfield @Finn-McCool You think they should continue to use the infrastructure without paying for it?


Don't most hybrids use gasoline ? Arent they usually lighter and do far less damage to the roads ?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Finn-McCool I'm not sure why we should have a credit that benefits one particular model (Nissan Leaf) over everything else in the market, including the Prius and others. Especially at a cost of $40-60M a year.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@Finn-McCool I've advocated for a "speeders license" that goes for about $5000.  It goes with a special driving course that teaches how to drive safely at higher speeds.   Cops would still have discretion to pull you over for unsafe driving, but just driving faster would not be a reason to be pulled over. 


The $200 AFV tag is likely similar, where they are trying to recoup costs that are lost from the gas tax. Pay $200 up front for it instead of the daily fee for the HOT lane.  It'll pay for itself soon enough. 


The tax credit should also remain until Georgia / Atlanta has no more Red Alert smog days in the summer.  Incentives for cleaner air need to,  you know, result in cleaner air. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@LogicalDude "The tax credit should also remain until Georgia / Atlanta has no more Red Alert smog days in the summer."

So it's better to burn coal than gas? After all, where do you think most of the electricity for those plug-ins comes from?

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Finn-McCool

I just think if they're earnest about assessing fees for costs incurred, this appears to be a blanket, no sliding scale based on the weight of the vehicle.

Heavier vehicles are harder on roads than lighter ones; the fees should reflect that.

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Kyle_Wingfield @LogicalDude

So it's better to burn coal than gas?

Well, we're working on that too.

Also, swappable batteries for vehicles, so we could charge 'em up during the day at home with solar panels, swap them in the evening for the spent ones. Please, inventors? make it so?

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@Kyle_Wingfield @LogicalDude gas burning in town at 20% efficiency is not as good as 40% efficient electric plants and a near 90% efficient electric motor. 

When do these cars charge?  Usually at night when base load is generated by coal and nuclear plants that don't shut down anyway.  Plus, as we move forward, coal plants are becoming less and less while renewable and cleaner plants provide more and more energy to the grid. 

The argument is to clean up both auto emissions AND energy plants.  As "dirty" as you think Electric cars are because of coal, it is actually much cleaner and continues to be cleaner as the years go on. 


Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Finn-McCool Not sure about the credit for flex-fuel vehicles, but they will not be subject to the $200 fee.

Finn-McCool
Finn-McCool

@Kyle_Wingfield Flex Fuel vehicles (burning E85 gas) can use it too! I'll gladly pay the $200 to use the HOT lanes without paying its fees.

Finn-McCool
Finn-McCool

@Kyle_Wingfield @Finn-McCool The tax is on the AFV tag so, yeah, they are. I just paid $80 for mine and then it's currently $75 a year for renewal. An AJC article said the annual fee for that tag may go up to $200.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Finn-McCool The new language from the bill: "'Alternative fueled vehicle' means any vehicle fueled solely by alternative fuel," which the bill defines as "electricity, natural gas and propane."

"Solely" is added to the definition in this bill. Roberts specifically said at the press conference that flex-fuel vehicles were exempt, as this text suggests. OTOH, my reading of the bill is your flex-fuel vehicle won't qualify for an AFV tag -- or HOT lane toll exemption -- anymore.

ATLnative72
ATLnative72

"No-brainer"?  Does that mean GDOT hasn't had a brain all these years?

TaxiSmith
TaxiSmith

You can't build if you don't tax. That is just common sense. I would hope some of you "No Tax" people might use your common sense to see that simple fact. I drive I-285 and I-75 daily, and we need to make improvements. I-285 on the northern arc needs to be resurfaced today, and the intersections mentioned are horrendous. I'm for it and will vote for politicians who are for it.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

"$1 billion per year in new, dedicated funding"  I was hopeful when you said this. 

"half of it (roughly $550M) comes from current local sales taxes on motor fuel." - well that's not new, dedicated funding, now is it???  It's a juggle of funds that hits locals and makes THEM pay for a state cost. (but as you explain, kind-of pays)

"federal money for new construction comes with all sorts of stipulations that make projects cost more and take longer to complete." Wait, what??   You mean those people in congress want to make a jobs program instead of a streamlined process? (sorry, bad sarcasm for this early in the morning.) :) 

The bonds sound good, but do not sound like nearly enough to do much at only 100M (hopefully when the bill is produced we'll know more. 

But as it is, this is a HUGE step for legislators as they actually, you know, try to get dedicated funds for transit. 

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

It’s been estimated Georgia would have as much as $180M more per year to spend if it didn’t have to follow federal rules on new construction.


That seems sketchy.  Im all for the savings but if those rules are fairly important ala safety I don't want them ignored either. 

ByteMe
ByteMe

  I’d quibble with that a bit: At a time when transit agencies are looking to expand their networks, I’d prefer to see state money go into infrastructure.

How is transit not "infrastructure"?

TheRealJDW
TheRealJDW

So let me get this right, we are celebrating the state government stealing the tax money from the local governments to just barely keep up with the annual maintenance requirements( Kyle the $600 million is low...transit study estimated $1 to $1.5 billion just to maintain properly)....wow such progress. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@TheRealJDW "Kyle the $600 million is low...transit study estimated $1 to $1.5 billion just to maintain properly"

And "maintain properly" included upgrading interchanges, widening interstates, etc. -- the kinds of projects I've listed as other than "maintenance." Click through the link to the GDOT presentation, which is where I got my figures.

TheRealJDW
TheRealJDW

O you mean properly maintain...duhhhhh...so what about the part where we improve? That's what I thought. Let's Go Fish.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@TheRealJDW As I said, some of what you and I would consider "improvements" are included in the bucket you initially called "maintenance."

Now, if you're talking about new roads (or transit routes) from scratch, that's where we go above $1B-$1.5B.

Plumb Krazy
Plumb Krazy

The Republican shell game. Do away with the "birthday tax" then come right back and get the money again with a fuel tax increase. Throw the bums out!

Jefferson1776
Jefferson1776

I have no faith on the GOP state gov't to deliver,  they never do unless you are a businessman wanting a handout.