Metro Atlanta’s transportation funding clobbered by recession, dip in federal support, ARC study shows

By David Pendered

Some truly jaw-dropping numbers that reveal the harrowing impact of the recession on transportation funding in metro Atlanta were presented Wednesday to the board that oversees GRTA.

Property tax digests are down an average of 18 percent since a peak in 2008. Credit: ARC analysis of Revenue Department information

Property tax digests are down an average of 18 percent since a peak in 2008. Credit: ARC analysis of Revenue Department information

All the numbers relate to the amount of money that will be available to build and maintain roads and bridges, and transit. The revenue figures are down – across the board – from federal to state to local dollars.

Here’s a wry observation of Georgia’s expected share of the federal transportation bill that President Obama signed  in 2012: “We were excited to see it, until we began to look at the money in it,” said John Orr, a senior planner with ARC who made the presentation to GRTA’s board.

These figures matter because they will drive the planned transportation improvements to be included in the Plan 2040 Regional Transportation Plan. This document is the long-range vision for regional mobility that ends up being included in the statewide transportation improvement plan that Georgia delivers to the federal government.

Orr’s presentation began with this telling remark: “Core transportation funding sources are not keeping up with population growth and needs.”

The numbers in Orr’s report speak for themselves:

Local level property tax digests are down an average of 18 percent from peak 2008 levels. Why it matters – counties pay for local road projects and transit systems with property tax revenues.

  • The 18 percent figure is the average for the 18 counties that comprise the Atlanta region.
  • The counties hit hardest include Paulding (down 35.2 percent); Newton (34.1 percent); and Clayton (30.2 percent).
  • The counties hit the least hard include Spalding (down 4 percent); Coweta (down 8.3 percent); and Bartow and Forsyth (tied at down 9.6 percent).

Statewide sales tax receipts are down 14 percent from peak 2007 levels. Why it matters – local governments use sales tax revenues to match federal aid projects, and MARTA uses sales taxes to pay for operations and capital improvements.

  • 2007: $5.95 billion;
  • 2008: $5.78 billion;
  • 2009: 5.34 billion;
  • 2010: $4.78 billion;
  • 2011: $5.11 billion.

Motor fuel sales down 18 percent from peak 2007 levels. Why it matters – taxable motor fuel sales is the basis of transportation spending at federal and state levels.

  • 2007: 6.76 billion gallons;
  • 2008: 6.46 billion gallons;
  • 2009: 6.26 billion gallons;
  • 2010: 6.47 billion gallons;
  • 2011: 5.52 billion gallons.

State motor fuel taxes are down 8.9 percent from peak 2008 levels. Why it matters – state motor fuel taxes are Georgia’s major source of money for transportation funding, and to match federal funds.

  • 2008: $1.01 billion;
  • 2009: $861 million;
  • 2010: $828 million;
  • 2011: $921 million.

Federal funding for transportation is declining. Why it matters – federal funding pays for the biggest proportion of expansions in Georgia.

The following funding cycles show the difference in funding projections between the existing Plan 2040 and the federal transportation budget:

  • 2014-2019: down $72.8 million;
  • 2020-2030: down $482 million;
  • 2031-2040: down $1 billion.
  • Total decrease: $1.56 billion, or down 6.7 percent.

The only item not expected to decrease is cost. The latest adopted alternatives included in Plan 2040 drive forecasted costs up from $2.77 billion to $4.64 billion.

The $2.77 billion figure is from July 2011. The later figure is from October 2012 and includes the Clifton corridor; I-20 east corridor; Atlanta BeltLine and Atlanta Streetcar; and the multimodal center in downtown Atlanta. The costs of the multimodal passenger system are not included in the forecast.


David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

There are 2 comments

What are your thoughts?