When is $900 million not enough? Not this time

032415 lead illustration atlanta forward Credit Mirza Khushnam S

There are some noses upturned at the state’s new transportation-funding plan, panned as a half-measure that doesn’t do what’s needed.

If your definition of “needed” is anything within any plan for roads or rails that’s ever been conceived, sniff snootily away. But you may be surprised at how much ends up being built right under your schnoz.

Some pooh-poohing of the plan to boost transportation spending by at least $900 million a year comes from confusion about the shortfall. Industry consultants put the figure for “the maintenance of (current) roads and bridges” at $1 billion to $1.5 billion a year — with another $2.1 billion to $5.4 billion a year needed to actually boost capacity.

Folks who ordinarily wouldn’t dare trumpet a cost estimate by a third party that stands to profit from more spending have, in this instance, latched onto it like the long-lost Gospel of Asphalt. That alone should give one pause.

If not, consider the ranges in play. Current maintenance spending is less than $500 million a year, including federal funds. Is the minimum needed for “maintenance” really triple that? Or even quadruple?

And the whole package really needs to be an increase of at least one and a half times today’s total DOT budget? Or as much as a 300 percent increase? All at once? Really?

No, not really.

In fact, the Georgia DOT has publicly said, repeatedly, that maintenance — from resurfacing roads to mowing the grass alongside them — needs another $600 million a year. Privately, transportation experts concede the figure is closer to $400 million.

That leaves over a half-billion dollars per year to spend enhancing capacity. Over the next 20 years, that means as much as $12 billion more for construction.

That won’t build every project on the shelf. But it’s almost enough money, for example, to widen every stretch of interstate besides I-285 in Georgia (DOT cost estimate: $13.4 billion).

Alternatively, it’s almost enough to finish the Governor’s Road Improvement Program network that criss-crosses the state ($6.8 billion) … and build out a managed-lanes network throughout metro Atlanta ($2.8 billion) … and rework the top end of I-285 ($3 billion) … and complete a dozen other “urban mobility” projects ($1.2 billion).

More likely, it means some combination of these projects and others. And there has never been more of a chance for the state to put money into mass transit projects, as some $300 million of the new money isn’t legally restricted to roads and bridges.

The bill also gives DOT much-needed flexibility in how it manages its various programs, mixing and matching federal and state money. Georgia is better positioned now to leverage investors’ dollars through public-private partnerships.

In fact, the biggest challenge going forward may be how to avoid driving up costs for labor and material. That’s a real possibility when an agency that normally spends a little over $2 billion a year suddenly has some $3 billion a year at its disposal. It would be a near-certainty if the increase were even larger.

No legislation is perfect. But don’t buy the idea that $900 million won’t fit the bill.

Reader Comments 0

58 comments
lvg
lvg

Kyle needs a Math course. $1.06 billion was projected cost last year of I-285 and 400 interchange replacement. How much does that leave for mass transit if all there is is $900 million dollar buget for the whole state?  And there was a non tax revenue source from commuters on 400 but Shady tore it down.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@lvg That project is already paid for. And it's not a $900M budget; it's a $900M increase in the budget. If you think I need a math course, may I suggest you look into remedial reading courses.

straker
straker

Kyle - "county money rather than state money"


But, doesn't the State distribute the money to the counties?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@straker The state spends state money on state routes, but counties also levy their own taxes for county roads. The latter is what I'm talking about.

straker
straker

Kyle - "it's because they're using county money"


That's county TAXPAYER'S money.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@straker Yes, but you were implying money from, say, Atlanta is being spent in rural Georgia. And I was merely pointing out that, if the nice roads you noticed were county roads, that's not the case because it's county (taxpayer, as you note) money rather than state money.

IReportYouWhine#1
IReportYouWhine#1

To be sure, the U.S. cities with the worst traffic last year saw robust growth in employment, like #4 Austin, TX at 2.8%, #7 San Jose, CA at 3.4%, #8 Seattle at 2.6% and #9 Boston at 2.1%. Not coincidentally, these areas also saw their populations swell as additional workers relocated to help fill the additional jobs, with Austin topping the list at a 6.6 percent increase. Otherwise, the usual big-city suspects complete the 2013 worst-traffic list, including Honolulu, San Francisco New York City, Washington D.C. and Bridgeport, CT.


You can't even think about driving expeditiously through DC, you spend all your time avoiding monster traffic jams. Would anyone like to suggest DC is run by Republicans? All of the worst, most hopelessly congested cities in the United States are run by democrats. So when you hear a democrat talk about "being behind," ask yourself, why do they want to harm you to? 


Why can't they just leave us alone?


http://www.forbes.com/sites/jimgorzelany/2014/03/04/the-most-traffic-jammed-cities-in-the-u-s/

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

@IReportYouWhine#1 "All of the worst, most hopelessly congested cities in the United States are run by democrats."


Oh. My. God.  You mean that these Democrat run cities are SO SUCCESSFUL that people are jamming into each other trying to live and work there! 

If only Georgia could be so. . . Democratic. 

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@LogicalDude @IReportYouWhine#1 Oh. My. God.  You mean that these Democrat run cities are SO SUCCESSFUL that people are jamming into each other trying to live and work there! 


And they do a MUCH better job solving transportation problems.

IReportYouWhine#1
IReportYouWhine#1

@LogicalDude @IReportYouWhine#1



Otherwise, the usual big-city suspects complete the 2013 worst-traffic list, including Honolulu, San Francisco New York City, Washington D.C. and Bridgeport, CT.


Why do you think I bolded that excerpt? Success has nothing to do with it, the only cities that made the top ten list are run by democrats. You are on an entirely different subject now.

TicTacs
TicTacs

Sounds to me like you too cannot trust the republicans running the state.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

Well it appears the proggies would have only been satisfied with a "Comprehensive" transit bill, including massive tax increases, plenty of pork for unrelated causes, a failed website detailing all the project details, and legislation so complex we would have had to pass it  to find out what was in it.  


Well thankfully we have conservatives in charge, and therefore their fantasy of an "Obamacar" bill will have to wait until they are back in power.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@RafeHollister  Well it appears the proggies would have only been satisfied with a "Comprehensive" transit bill, including massive tax increases, plenty of pork for unrelated causes, a failed website detailing all the project details, and legislation so complex we would have had to pass it  to find out what was in it.  


Hyperbole much ?


How about lets actually address the problem ? Insteading of raising the rent on poor people by 150 bucks a month for modest change.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

@HeadleyLamar @RafeHollister Did you see where in Maine they have had a drastic reduction in folks asking for foodstamps, once they required 6 hours per week voluntary work for all able bodied unemployed recipients?  So maybe a tax on poverty might help, ha, you know you get less of things you tax, so it might be good, less poverty..

MHSmith
MHSmith

Public-private partnerships is the way mass transit should be funded - NOT MORE STATE OR TAXPAYER NON-TRANSIT USER'S MONEY - and the source for transportation funding - "Roads and Bridges" - should move quickly - or more quickly than it has, which is at a dead stop - to a vehicle mileage traveled tax.



PinkoNeoConLibertarian
PinkoNeoConLibertarian

I tend to agree with this. Personally, I think one of the issues we face in solving problems these days is that people have an all or nothing attitude. Just because this doesn't fix all of our problems in one fell swoop doesn't mean that it's not worthy of consideration. We didn't get in this predicament in one session of legislature, nor will we get out of it in one session.


PinkoNeoConLibertarian
PinkoNeoConLibertarian

@HeadleyLamar @PinkoNeoConLibertarian No, it's the attitude that if we can't have everything we want NOW, we don't want anything. So, nothing is exactly what you get. There's a reason there are so many truisms that address this (a bird in hand is better than 2 in the bush, half a pie is better than no pie, etc.). That's because it's true.


Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@PinkoNeoConLibertarian @HeadleyLamar No, it's the attitude that if we can't have everything we want NOW, we don't want anything.


No one is saying that. Would I rather have this than nothing. Yes ( Although I would have financed it differently ) 


Do you feel like halfway addressing problems will lead to solving them ?


I dont.



LogicalDude
LogicalDude

"Current maintenance spending is less than $500 million a year, including federal funds. Is the minimum needed for “maintenance” really triple that? Or even quadruple?"

Yes.  Current fiscal insanity has led to a drastic underfunding of transportation maintenance. 


"And the whole package really needs to be an increase of at least one and a half times today’s total DOT budget? Or as much as a 300 percent increase? All at once? Really?

No, not really."

Agree with you that it does not all need to happen "All at once".  But be realistic.  How many times will the legislature say "Hey, Georgia!  We're gonna raise your taxes this, year, next year, and the year after that!"  (Yes, they'll need to repeat this every year for 5-10 years to match the needs of the state.) 


The transportation budgeting wasn't perfect.  The $5 per night hotel "fee" was an out of left-field blow to the lower and middle class. (Lower class who stay at extended motels, middle class for their holiday plans, etc).  The rebate for electric cars should have remained until there were no more Red Smog days (or whatever they call it this year) in Atlanta for 2 or 3 years straight.  It can be argued the $5000 rebate was rather generous and a lower rebate offered, but its total removal helps a transit budget, but not a state budget that is to help cover healthcare costs that balloon when bad air irritates those with asthma or other breathing problems. 


Hopefully, Kyle, you are right and that the "maintenance" funding is not the 1-1.5 Billion but closer to 400-600 million dollars.  That will hopefully allow the expansion of roads and mass transit with the funds that are coming in without new funding increases in the near future.  Otherwise, we're going to see the need for "Georgia, just one more  time, we need to raise your taxes to fully fund transit in this state." from the government. 


Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@LogicalDude "Yes.  Current fiscal insanity has led to a drastic underfunding of transportation maintenance."

Sorry, but the much-higher maintenance "need" numbers simply don't square with what GDOT has said publicly.

"But be realistic.  How many times will the legislature say "Hey, Georgia!  We're gonna raise your taxes this, year, next year, and the year after that!""

Not often, if ever. But the point is that the higher numbers aren't reasonable and don't reflect reality. They were negotiating points no one ever pushed back on, and which people accepted uncritically.

MHSmith
MHSmith

@Kyle_Wingfield @LogicalDude


Reality Kyle is why a VMT  works where and when the fuel tax fails. The VMT increases the revenues without the necessity of the legislators raising taxes: The more we use the transportation infrastructure the more we tax ourselves. Our actual road use per-mile per-vehicle size and weight adjusted is a more accurate indicator and better predictor of the proverbial "NEED".


But hey, here we are again debating about what is really needed when our actual transportation infrastructure use settles the arguments. 


But I'm with my fellow conservatives who are against the idea of giving the government more money is better: That dog won't hunt.


independentiii
independentiii

Would be nice to be able to add in that $100+ million wasted on Kasim's streetcar.  Really a 'needed' project?

JaperJones1918
JaperJones1918

@independentiii I guess we could have wasted it by widening roads or building another interchange that will be congested again in a few years. You bumpkins just don't understand that people in cars are the problem.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@JaperJones1918 1) If you want to post comments on this blog in the future, leave out the insults. 2) One doesn't have to be a transit-phobe to believe the streetcar was a waste of money that could have gone to, among other uses, better transit projects.

sbatl
sbatl

@Kyle_Wingfield @JaperJones1918 The street car project is only in its first phase and it will eventually become part of a city wide plan for alternative transportation. It will eventually connect to the beltline, which most people do not see as a waste of money. It is also laughable that Kasim Reed is vilified for attempting to grow and enhance downtown Atlanta, while many applaud the Braves for ditching a 20 year old stadium, that is still in great shape I might add. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@sbatl All that may be true. But it may also still be the case that people view the streetcar as the wrong transit project to pursue at that time.

Mostly, I'm just tired of the reflexive "you bumpkins just don't understand" attitude. It's awfully presumptuous coming from people defending a project that's over-budget and low on ridership (to the point the free-ride period has been extended). Transit advocacy could really use more people who are willing to differentiate between transit projects and their value.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

Reminds me of a Breaking Bad episode


Half Measures


Because that is what this is.


Oh and getting some of the money on the backs of poor people ( 5 dollar hotel tax....ahem fee ) was a nice cherry on top for the GOP.  


For poor people living in motels month to month that is a 150 dollar per month tax on them


Nice going guys !!!!

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Kyle_Wingfield  For instance, the renter of a $35-per-night hotel room is charged the same $5 as someone renting a $1,000-per-night room, representing 14 percent of the $35 room and half a percent of the $1,000 room.

Jeri Barr, the CEO of the Marietta-based Center for Family Resources, said she was surprised to hear the fee would also be applied to extended-stay hotels and motels, which are often used by people who are living in poverty and trying to avoid

homelessness.

“That’s $35 a week,” Barr said. “That’s huge and certainly an issue that each family is going to have to deal with when the money is tight already.”

While the fee is no longer charged after 30 days, Barr said $35 per week adds up and some families simply may not be able to afford it, as the fees for a 30-day stay in a hotel or motel would total $150.

Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal - Some say $5 hotel tax unfair to poor

Again pesky facts Kyle.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Kyle_Wingfield @HeadleyLamar Oh


So to be clear you were disagreeing with my general commentary but not with the specific facts I presented when you dismissed me as a "fact less naysayer"


Some of your best work Kyle.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@HeadleyLamar You have no facts to back up your commentary about "half measures." No one is disputing there's a $5/night hotel tax.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@HeadleyLamar On a per-incident basis, that's true. $5 is more to a poor person than a rich person. But I have yet to see any numbers about how many poor people are affected because they stay in hotels -- and how it might compare to the number of poor people who pay, for example, gas taxes.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Kyle_Wingfield @HeadleyLamar On a per-incident basis, that's true. $5 is more to a poor person than a rich person.


For instance, the renter of a $35-per-night hotel room is charged the same $5 as someone renting a $1,000-per-night room, representing 14 percent of the $35 room and half a percent of the $1,000 room. 

Sad to say but many do stay in cheap motels because they don't have credit nor a deposit for an apartment. It happens more than you would imagine. 


If they wanted to be fair they should have made the tax a percentage of the bill. Not a flat rate.


A poor person pays a 14 percent tax on their room. The rich man half a percent.


How is that fair ?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@HeadleyLamar "It happens more than you would imagine."

And my point is that it may happen less than you would imagine -- we simply don't know. If it's a significant problem, it's worth addressing.

Hillbilly Keg
Hillbilly Keg

The GDOT should have never laid down the cheap asphalt over the concrete just to boost a lagging Georgia economy that was on life support during the great real estate crisis.


With nearly a trillion dollars to repair the bridges and roads for the GOLD DOME PLAYERS is a lot to be asking for. The concrete roads did not need much repairs. It needed just a little patch up. Look at I-20, from I-285 to I-75 connector downtown, the concrete are just fine from all the many years of bad weather and heavy traffic conditions. If any, little repairs maybe needed.


The Gold Dome players just played the tax players to their last dime and the Junk Yard King is always trying to fine a vehicle to tax to death.


For many years, our roads have been a model for our nation and thanks goes to the previous governors prior to the Chicken Master Perdue. Our taxes have been moving upward since the election of these so called conservative governors.

Our cars is the JUNK YARD MASTER newest commodity and he will make sure that he, his family and friends will have a gold road to travel on that will lead them to a large pot of gold at their local bank.


We will pay dearly in the near future with no end in sight.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@mrob a) It's billion, not trillion. b) As I pointed out, it's not all for repairing bridges and roads. Only about 40% of it is for those purposes.

Hillbilly Keg
Hillbilly Keg

@Kyle_Wingfield @mrob 


You're right. But I figure that the price will sky-rocket once you add in all the material cost and current labor cost over years of construction.

DawgDadII
DawgDadII

They can STOP widening Interstates altogether if they persist with the abomination of HOT lanes. I will not vote for a tax increase or support any legislator who votes for a tax increase or funding for this misguided use of public funds. For the taxpayers: Let us suffer with under capacity for years, inconvenience the heck out of us during construction, send us the bill, then charge us again, repeatedly, to use what we just paid for??? No, sorry, politicians, this program does not have my support.

bu2
bu2

@DawgDadII 

HOT lanes (except in one instance on 85) are not "just paid for."  They are new capacity that is tolled.  Its an HOV that people not using mass transit can pay to use.  They're the best bang for the buck.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@bu2 @DawgDadII Not to mention that these "just paid for" lanes have to be repaved at some point, which costs money. 

straker
straker

Go to some of the small to mid-size town and counties many powerful Georgia politicians live in.


Notice how the roads are so good you could land a good sized airplane on them.


That tells you where the transportation money goes.