By David Pendered

The Atlanta Regional Commission’s board of directors voted Wednesday to ask the state’s congressional delegation to resolve the impasse over the nation’s transportation funding program and keep transportation money flowing to Georgia.

U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Savannah), a candidate for U.S. Senate in the GOP primary election, addresses the Atlanta Regional Commission's board of directors on Wednesday. Credit: David Pendered
U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Savannah), a candidate for U.S. Senate in the GOP primary election, addresses the Atlanta Regional Commission’s board of directors on Wednesday. Credit: David Pendered
U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Savannah), a candidate for U.S. Senate in the GOP primary election, addresses the Atlanta Regional Commission’s board of directors on Wednesday. Credit: David Pendered

The ARC board acted in advance of the July 1 deadline imposed by the state for approval of new transportation projects. The Georgia Department of Transportation swiftly endorsed the resolution approved by ARC’s board.

“We support the action of the ARC,” said Natalie Dale, GDOT’s liaison for government relations. “We’ve had similar conversations with our congressional delegation.”

U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Savannah) happened to visit the ARC board on Wednesday after the vote. ARC Chairman Kerry Armstrong invited Kingston to say a few remarks from the podium. Kingston is seeking the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate in the May 20 primary election.

Kingston named the various House committees he serves on and hit a few campaign highlights – the Savannah harbor deepening project; potential military base closures; the “underutilized” role of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the state’s matrix of research and technology.

“Thanks for letting me interrupt you and come say, ‘Hello,’” Kingston said.

As Kingston left the podium, Cobb County commission Chairman Tim Lee stopped Kingston to say the ARC board had just approved the transportation resolution. Lee appeared to provide the congressman a copy of the resolution and invite him to say a few words.

Kingston took the papers Lee had offered and left without further comment.

The resolution approved by the ARC board is the latest development in the years’ long debate over the nation’s transportation funding. The board also approved a transmittal letter to each of Georgia’s congressional members.

The drone about a financial cliff that will halt transportation projects all across the country has gone on for so long it’s hard to imagine the nation really is running out of money for roads, rails, sidewalks and other transportation infrastructure.

Evidently, the day of reckoning has arrived.

“The [federal] Highway Trust Fund will go into a negative balance unless Congress decides to take some kind of action to resolve the situation,” said Jane Hayse, the ARC’s longtime transportation manager who now directs the ARC’s Center for Livable Communities.

Hayse said GDOT Commissioner Keith Golden spoke to an ARC committee two weeks ago about the funding problem.

Hayse outlined the transportation funding issue in Georgia and how it’s being affected by the imbroglio in Congress:

  • In normal times, Georgia provides all the funding for a transportation project and then is reimbursed by the federal government;
  • The U.S. Department of Transportation recently informed Georgia that it will slow down its reimbursement payments to the state, in order to protect the balance available in the federal Highway Trust Fund;
  • The Highway Trust Fund will be insolvent in August;
  • GDOT chose July 1 as its internal cut-off date for new projects because the date coincides with the start of the state’s fiscal year.

“The issue was not caused by the state. It’s a funding issue caused by Congress,” Hayse said. “The Highway Trust Fund with go into a negative balance unless Congress decides to take some kind of action to resolve the situation.”

Dale, the GDOT liaison, said the state cannot continue to approve projects as usual. To do so would be to commit state dollars at a time there is no assurance of when the federal government would repay the state, or even how much money the federal government will pay.

The current funding match for many projects is 80 percent federal and 20 percent state, or local. The rate used to be higher, which suggests that Congress could lower the rate in the future.

Dale said the congressional calendar calls for recess in late July. Thus, if the funding situation isn’t resolved before the recess: “We’re not in a good position.”

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...

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  1. The impasse over transportation funding in Washington signifies that it is time for Georgia and other states to grow up and stop being so seemingly almost completely-dependent upon the federal government for almost all of our transportation funding.
    With her immense and very-valuable transportation assets, Georgia does not need the bankrupt Feds to fund her roads, her ports and her rails.  All that Georgia needs to do to fund her transportation infrastructure is to start utilizing a robust combination of private real estate investment, inflation-indexed user fees and an inflation-indexed state fuel tax.
    On the private market, Georgia could probably fetch close to $20 billion for her superhighway network (both Interstate-signed and non-Interstate signed freeways) and could possibly fetch many billions more for any future statewide passenger rail network.
    It makes absolutely no sense to beg a bankrupt and highly-dysfunctional federal government for money when we are completely capable of paying for our own transportation needs ourselves with private investment and user fees.

  2. It’s not an impasse – but sheer refusal to preform the task at hand. How could the longe range plan to 2040 already be approved by ARC/GRTA without public input from last weeks regional meetings (Dalton, Atlanta, Valdosta) in re the long term(to 2040) state of Georgia passenger rail plan? I smell a rat, or at the very least, some “strawman” meetings, to placate those of us “in the know” but, unlikely to accept this continuing bamboozlement by the state of Georgia DOT, Intermodal Division. A critical question of Mr. Boxler, it’s director, was asked recently – if his department was ready to immediately assume operation of the passenger train services currently being operated by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources? His confused and inexplicable response to me was to curtly hang up(the phone). I’m certain we were problematically disconnected? Perhaps as problematic as it was for a U.S. Senator (Bleumenthal D-Ct.) attempting to convene a station platform “safety” critique of Metro-North’s lack of operational safety, when he is nearly literaly snagged by a passing passenger train…..(! What would a Gov. Carter do about this? Punt, perhaps?

  3. The Last Democrat in Georgia The problem has absolutely nothing to do with money.  The problem is that the Republican party has propagandized this false notion that we are going broke in their effort to dismantle all aspects of the New Deal and their war on the poor.  Its that simple.  As a nation that has its own currency, that it and only it can issue, and that owes any debts in that currency, it is impossible to go broke.  In other words, we print money and can continue to do so and spend freely in the absence of inflation.  The pressures now are deflationary not inflationary so the debt doesn’t matter…period.  Anyone that says different either doesn’t grasp the concept of fiat currency or is lying to you on purpose.  As long as there are more sellers trying to sell goods than money chasing goods to buy, debt is irrelevant.  This debt fetishism is a big lie.  Its easy to hoodwink people into believing this fallacy because it sounds like it should be true.  I cant spend money I dont have why can the government?  Well…if I could print money, I could spend all I wanted.  Now if there aren’t enough goods to buy and you keep printing money…you get inflation and the value of currency goes down.
    Now the republicans have been so successful with their propaganda, its hard to justify the real spending that needs to happen.  In other words their chickens have come home to roost and they either have to be seen as hypocrites or liars.  I wont even go into the fact that infrastructure spending is a net positive investment…it doesn’t really matter if you take the above into consideration…so in other words LDG…your whole premise is wrong.  Georgia does indeed have limited assets (GA doesn’t print money)…the feds do

  4. writes_of_weigh You know…you can post that comment in every single thread and its just as stupid as the first time you did it…give it a rest, nobody seems to really care about whatever point you think you are making

  5. ScottNAtlanta The Last Democrat in Georgia If the problem has nothing to do with money then why is the State of Georgia begging the Federal Government for hundreds-of-millions to expand the Port of Savannah?
    If the problem has nothing to do with money then why is the State of Georgia begging the Federal Government for money just for simple and routine maintenance of the state’s road network?
    I agree that the Federal Government has a seemingly-unlimited ability to print as much money as it wants, which comes in handy particularly during emergency periods. 
    But with a US National Debt of nearly $18 TRILLION, a total debt of over $61 TRILLION and with tens of trillions of dollars more in unfunded liabilities, that ability to print money is not completely-unlimited, particularly since it costs money to print money (the cost of paper, ink, machinery, manpower/labor, transport, etc).
    I agree with your excellent point that infrastructure spending is a net positive investment.  But severely-heavy amounts of borrowing and/or printing money (and/or extremely-unlikely tax increases) are not the only ways to make that critical investment in transportation infrastructure. 
    Nor are borrowing, printing money and tax increases the best ways to make that critically-necessary investment in transportation infrastructure, but far from it.
    When it comes to controlled-access superhighways and high-capacity transit, public user fees and private investment are the best ways to proceed forward in making those critically-necessary public investments in public multimodal transportation infrastructure at this point in time.

  6. The Last Democrat in Georgia ScottNAtlantaYou will have to ask your congressional rep why…I dont read minds.  If you read my comment you’d have the answers to the questions you asked…as I said people have been taught to think these questions are a valid concern now.  Again…one more time
    Low inflation…debt doesn’t matter…period.
    As long as there is more supply of goods than money available to purchase there isnt inflation.  To have inflation, wages would need to be rising across the board (they are not).
    Take some time and do some research (unbiased is preferred).  Google ‘Fiat Currency’.  Its sad what the propaganda machine has done to Americans.  In their all consuming wrath against the poor, they are hurting us all in the process.
    One more thing to ponder.  Why in the past have we always seemed to have the resources to build things but suddenly not now…we did after WW2…its propaganda that makes sense so people buy into it…
    Oh, and tell me how that debt is going to impact anyone in a future generation…it wont.  As the economy improves debt will go down on its own…in fact, its going down too quickly now…it doesnt sound logical but its the truth

  7. The Last Democrat in Georgia ScottNAtlantafyi…they dont really “print” money for the most part…its done on a computer where they credit the money to the reserve bank.

  8. ScottNAtlanta The Last Democrat in Georgia I don’t really have much of a problem with the Feds spending money to get the economy back on track, when absolute necessary.
    My problem was the massive budget deficit and debt spending on the two wars (both Afghanistan and Iraq, but ESPECIALLY Iraq).
    I also have a very-major problem with continued unnecessary massive budget deficit and debt spending on transportation infrastructure, particularly on superhighways and interstate passenger rail lines that are more than capable of paying their own costs with revenues from user fees and private investment for the overwhelming most part.
    Why continue to pump-up the debt to pay for something (in the Interstate superhighways and intercity/interstate passenger rail lines) that is more than capable of paying for itself?
    As for the Federal and National Debts and liabilities….You’ve got to understand that when people see debts amounting to tens-of-trillions of dollars and debt liabilities amounting to hundreds-of-trillions of dollars that people are going to be freaked-out when they see those kinds of extremely eye-popping numbers…eye-popping numbers that are the largest-ever known debt amounts in recorded human history.
    It’s a very-good thing and a very-healthy thing about our democracy that people are very-concerned about the nation’s public debt.
    Frankly something would be very-wrong if people were not concerned this society’s tens-of-trillions and hundreds-of-trillions in public debt spending that, while it might be sustainable and while it maybe even might be necessary now, will not continue to be sustainable indefinitely into the future.
    When people see debt amounts like $18 trillion and $61 trillion and liabilities of $129 trillion, people are understandably going to have some very-loud objections.

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