By David Pendered
Gov. Nathan Deal has put his imprint on GRTA, and the agency’s board is to meet Wednesday for two “first times:” First time since voters rejected the proposed regional transportation sales tax, and first since Deal appointed to the board the chairs of three county commissions who helped shape the project list for the transportation tax.
Deal seems to be generally satisfied with the agency’s direction. The governor this year has reappointed the executive director and four of the board’s 15 members – all of whom serve at the will of the governor.
Still, GRTA’s future is unclear, if not as an agency than certainly as a service provider. The agency needs close to $200 million over the next decade to maintain its Xpress bus service, according to figures discussed last summer when the project list for the sales tax was cobbled together.
The three chairs of the county commissions, whom Deal appointed in July, bring a depth of knowledge of any local resources that may be available to maintain regional bus service.
Meanwhile, GRTA does have a crucial – and ongoing – job in securing the future of transport in rural communities for those who need transportation to health care and other human services. The board is slated to approve one such item Wednesday.
Deal said the day after the referendum that he would focus the state’s resources on priorities such as the interchange at Ga. 400 and I-285. He did not say anything specifically about GRTA, but did have this to say about MARTA:
“On public transportation, yesterday’s vote slams the door on further expansion of our rail network anytime soon. Neither I nor the Legislature has much of an appetite for new investments until there are significant reforms in how MARTA operates.”
Into this environment arrive three new GRTA board members who know the intimate details of how the project list for the sales tax was assembled. They are:
- B.J. Mathis, chairman, Henry County Board of Commissioners. Mathis replaces Mike Byrd, former chairman of the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners;
- Charlotte Nash, chairman, Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners. Nash replaces Jerry Bowman, president and CEO of Cardinal Logistics Management;
- Tom Worthan, chairman, Douglas County Board of Commissioners. Worthan replaces John Sibley, an Atlanta lawyer whose public service includes appointments by four Georgia governors.
The members reappointed by Deal include:
- Walter “Sonny” Deriso, a lawyer who serves as board chairman of Atlanta Capital Bank, and several other boards;
- Martha Martin, the former owner of a trucking company who serves on the board of the Georgia Motor Trucking Association, and several other boards;
- Narender Reddy, who works in commercial real estate and is a leader in Indian-American organizations;
- J.T. Williams, chairman and CEO of Killearn, Inc., a major developer of commercial, residential and golf course projects.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the board is slated to approve a report on ways to fund rural health transport. The report is to be delivered to the governor’s office and state budget writers for consideration in drafting the state’s next budget.
The cost of maintaining status quo is expected to rise by 64 percent by 2030, and the state simply can’t afford to maintain that program, according to both GRTA and service providers.
The report will show that GRTA is heading toward a recommendation, as early as next year, that Georgia create a system in which the agencies that provide rural health transport are bundled.
Right now, three separate state agencies have a hand in helping the poor, elderly and disabled get from home to health care, and other human services, in rural Georgia – the departments of transportation, human services, and community health.