GDOT’s 10-year plan for road, bridge upgrades is ‘well balanced,’ commissioner says
By David Pendered
Georgia’s new formula for funding road projects has enabled the state to create, and more importantly to fund, a 10-year plan of improvement that will improve safety and mobility throughout the state, Georgia Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry told state House lawmakers.
“You can see this plan is well balanced,” McMurry told the House Transportation Committee on Jan. 28. “It fulfills the promise of what the joint [House/Senate] study committee did last year, with $1 billion to update maintenance and freight corridors. And it’s a way to start moving on some major mobility projects.”
Committee members agreed. They voted unanimously to approve the plan and send it to the House Appropriations Committee.
Transit is one mode the plan doesn’t address.
State Rep. Pat Gardner (D-Atlanta) asked McMurry where transit is evident in the 10-year plan he presented to the House Transportation Committee.
McMurry said transit is not in the 10-year plan. This plan addresses only the surface road projects identified in the sweeping overhaul of state transportation funding the Legislature approved last year, he said. This overhaul is the one that added a $5 a day tax on hotel rooms and eliminated the subsidy for electric vehicles, among other things.
“The buckets [of money] we talked about [today] are for surface transportation,” McMurry said. “Another is transit, which flows through [GDOT’s] intermodal [division]. None of that is represented here because it’s not articulated under the law.”
Likewise, the plan doesn’t address Georgia’s aged rail corridors, or airports.
“It’s been a great effort for transparency,” McMurry said of the website. “It’s a great way to advance this in a very transparent fashion.”
For example, the 10-year plan provides relief for congestion along I-285 in metro Atlanta as well as at the juncture of I-95 and I-16 near Savannah. It provides funding to fix potholes permanently, rather than the current practice of filling the holes with material that won’t stay in place for long, McMurry said.
The 10-year plan builds on existing plans to improve mobility.
The plan maintains the managed lanes concept in that Gov. Nathan Deal prefers for addressing traffic congestion in metro Atlanta. More than 150 miles of managed lanes are envisioned in the long-range transportation program developed by the Atlanta Regional Commission and its planning partners.
The additional revenues collected for road projects appear in two budgets lawmakers are considering. One budget is an amended version of the current FY 2016 budget, which expires June 30. The other is the FY 2017 budget, which takes effect July 1.
GDOT’s amended FY 2016 budget request, dated Nov. 4, 2015 provided an additional $200 million for routine maintenance; $519 for capital projects; and $36 million to the Local Maintenance Improvement Grants program.
The governor’s proposed FY 2017 budget provides $825.7 million in what it says are “new state general and motor fuel funds for transportation resulting from HB 170.” House Bill 170 was the law that overhauled transportation funding in Georgia.
A major upgrade reflected in both budgets is the money provided for maintenance. The budgets provide a four-fold increase in funding for maintenance over the 18-month period – up from $118 million to $461 million.
The additional money is to pay for the following work the first 18 months of the new collection program, according to GDOT:
- Over 2,500 miles to be resurfaced;
- 118 bridges to be replaced, including 25 that were jump-started in the FY 2016 budget through bond funding;
- More than 300 bridges to be rehabilitated
- 36 widening projects, taking roads from two to four lanes;
- 109 intersections with signal upgrades and other improvements.
Incidentally, resurfacing does more than just upgrade a road. The road is restriped and the new paint reflects light better than the old paint. This improves safety at night and during inclement weather, Russell said.
The extra revenues have enabled Georgia to speed up construction projects. The plan calls for Georgia to shoulder the cost of some projects. The timeline of these projects would be longer if Georgia paid for them with federal funds because of the “bureaucracy” associated with federal funds, McMurry said.
”The State Route 20 corridor is the best example,” McMurry said. “We were trying to follow that circuitous corridor. We’re now able to move money around a little bit, moving some federal money to the capital maintenance arena, which takes less of federal bureaucracy, and use the state funds toward that capital project [SR 20].”