GDOT keeps $80 million in federal highway funds by minding calendar

By David Pendered

Editor’s note: Later data showed Georgia will be able to reduce its planned borrowing by $80 million through an amendment to the transportation plan.

Attention to the calendar will enable Georgia to shift to the federal government about $80 million of the cost of the managed lane project along I-75 south.

Georgia’s Department of Transportation had planned to borrow the $80 million. But the state and ARC were able to able to shift the funding source by tweaking the region’s long and short transportation plans before the state’s fiscal year ends June 30.

Click on the image for a larger view.

Click on the image for a larger view.

In the scheme of things, $80 million is a small sum. But the endeavor does indicate how far the state will go to stretch its transportation budget. The GRTA board on Wednesday provided the last approval that’s needed.

“This is a good story to tell, of not adding debt to GDOT’s balance sheet, of moving those bonds off to the side,” said Toby Carr, GDOT’s director of planning, who reports to and is appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal.

GRTA’s Vice Chairman Dick Anderson observed: “Lower cost, no debt needed on a mission critical project, on a faster time frame. This is great news, not just good news.”

Carr said the $80 million has not been earmarked for another project and remains available to be used where it’s needed. Proceeds from the motor fuel tax will repay the bonds after they eventually are issued.

The genesis of the cost-shifting effort started a few months ago, Carr said.

“The back story is that this doesn’t happen every day,” Carr said. “This year, in the spring, GDOT determined we have resources through regular program projects to essentially pay cash for this project, which was envisioned to require state bonds.”

What GDOT determined was that the amount of the reserve funds for the project, coupled with some bids coming in lower than expected, resulted in a sum that could be shifted from the state’s bond program to an existing allocation from the Federal Highway Administration.

Click on the image to see a larger view.

Click on the image to see a larger view.

The federal highway funds had to be allocated before the end of the state’s fiscal year on June 30. Otherwise, the money would have reverted to the FHWA.

In order to allow the money to be juggled within GDOT’s budget, an amendment had to be made to both the Regional Transportation Plan and the associated Transportation Improvement Plan.

These two plans are federally required to comply with the state’s overall plan to improve air quality.

GDOT took its first official step in May to amend the RTP and TIP, by advertising the proposed funding shift in a legal organ.

The first approval came May 22, from the board of directors of the Atlanta Regional Commission. The ARC’s vote was needed because the state has designated it as the entity that sets the transportation agenda for an 18-county area of metro Atlanta.

GRTA’s board of directors provided the final approval that’s needed when it met Wednesday. GRTA represents the state’s seat at the transportation table in metro Atlanta.

The managed lane project consists of a 12.24-mile stretch of I-75 in Henry and Clayton counties. The completion date is December 2016.

“The project is mostly in Henry County, with some in Clayton,” Carr said. “Two reversible lanes. It’s a high priority project for the state and the governor to implement managed lanes.”

 

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.

3 replies
  1. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    {{““The project is mostly in Henry County, with some in Clayton,” Carr said. “Two reversible lanes. It’s a high priority project for the state and the governor to implement managed lanes.” }}
    …We know it’s a high-priority project for the state and the governor to implement managed lanes on I-75 south the I-675 split/merge in Henry County.
    That’s because Governor Deal absolutely needs the support of Republican voters in Henry County and the other places with severely-congested stretches of radial interstate where these managed lanes projects have been recently announced in Cobb County and Gwinnett County to get through the GOP Primary and earn a second-term as governor.
    And what better way to gain the support of the suburban Republican voters who decide general election outcomes than to appear to be addressing their worsening rush hour commutes with targeted roadway expansion projects in those three politically-powerful counties of Henry, Cobb and Gwinnett.Report

    Reply
  2. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    The managed lane projects that are proposed on the very-busy and often severely-congested stretches of radial interstate that run through Henry, Cobb and Gwinnett counties are not only critically-important to Governor Deal individually, but are also critically-important to the Georgia GOP because
    Despite having a legislative supermajority and seemingly having complete control of the state’s political scene with Republican occupation of all statewide offices, the Georgia GOP critically needs Republican voters in those three large suburban Metro Atlanta counties to turnout in large numbers in the 2014 General Election.
    That’s because of the state’s rapidly-changing demographics that are increasingly threatening to make the non-Hispanic white voters who make up the base of the Georgia GOP’s support a numerical minority within the next decade, particularly in those three very-large suburban Atlanta counties which have traditionally provided the Georgia GOP with much of its margin of dominance during its decade of virtual absolute rule over the state’s political scene.
    The continuing demographic changes afoot in the three suburban Atlanta GOP strongholds of Henry (48% minority population…up from 12% in 1990), Cobb (44% minority population…up from 14% in 1990 and 6% in 1980) and Gwinnett (57% minority population…up from 10.6% in 1990 and 4% in 1980) counties are increasingly threatening to severely undermine the Georgia GOP dominance.
    Hence the attempts to keep the crucial Republican voters in those rapidly-diversifying suburban Atlanta GOP strongholds passified with the managed lane proposals in their counties.Report

    Reply
  3. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    Are we as Metro Atlanta commuters really supposed to be excited about these proposed managed lane projects?
    These managed lane projects that are really nothing more than variations of HOV-2 lane projects that likely should have been completed over 2 decades ago, particularly in regards to the stretch of I-75 South in question in Henry County and the stretch of I-75 Northwest in Cobb County.
    That’s because the stretch along I-75 South in Henry County has been experiencing very-explosive growth since the early-mid 1990’s while the stretch along I-75 in Cobb County underwent a major reconstruction and expansion in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s which is the LATEST time that reversible HOV/managed lanes should have been added to both stretches of I-75 north and south of Atlanta.
    Heck, with the explosive growth of both areas that I-75 travels directly through north and south of Atlanta, both of those areas (Cobb County and Henry County) likely should have received some type of regional commuter rail service NO LATER THAN 2 decades ago.
    At this juncture, after several decades of exceptionally explosive growth which at times made Metro Atlanta the fastest-growing settlement on the planet during the course of the late 1990’s-mid-2000’s, all three fast-growing and highly-populated suburban counties (Henry, Cobb and Gwinnett) which are slated to eventually see construction of managed lanes on extremely-busy stretches of radial interstate should likely have some type of high-capacity rail transit service (light rail transit or regional heavy rail transit) operating between their furthest outer stretches and inside the I-285 Perimeter.
    …High-capacity rail transit service that still does not yet exist throughout much of the Atlanta region and high-capacity rail transit service that is in severe decline where it does operate mostly inside of the I-285 Perimeter.
    …High-capacity rail transit service that is severe decline despite a very fast-growing population that continues to increase at a very-high clip and spawn increasingly-severe traffic congestion.
    Instead all we get are some proposals for reversible managed lanes that should have been constructed and in operation no later than 2 decades ago at the latest.
    I guess the development that the State of Georgia is just now moving on constructing HOV/managed lanes that should have been constructed 2 decades ago somewhat perfectly epitomizes Georgia’s virtually completely non-existent transportation policy at this point.Report

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