Georgia prepping to provide $75 million to fund transit needs

By David Pendered

Georgia is preparing to sell $75 million in bonds to fund transit needs statewide, and the state is devising the criteria by which the money will be disbursed, GRTA’s executive director said Wednesday.

Chatham Area Transit is likely to compete for a share of $75 million in transit funding Georgia is preparing to provide. CAT opened this station in 2013. Credit: Wendelcompanies.com

Chatham Area Transit is likely to compete for a share of $75 million in transit funding Georgia is preparing to provide. CAT opened this station in 2013. Credit: Wendelcompanies.com

“We are formulating the structure and talking with transit operators around the state,” Chris Tomlinson said at Wednesday’s meeting of the board that oversees GRTA. “At the June meeting, I hope to outline a bit of the framework.”

It’s significant that the state is moving ahead with plans to sell the bonds and distribute the money.

That’s because, in the past, it was not uncommon for the Legislature to agree to sell bonds to build or buy something, only to have the state entities decide against actually building or buying the items.

Competition for funding is likely to be fierce.

Georgia has four transit systems with more than 2 million boardings a year: MARTA; Cobb Community Transit; and Chatham Area Transit, in Savannah, according to the American Public Transportation Association. In addition, other transit systems have needs, such as Gwinnett County Transit, and Macon-Bibb County Transit Association.

Gov. Nathan Deal had proposed selling $100 million in bonds to support transit. The Legislature reduced the amount to $75 million, in order to free dollars for other projects and keep a lid on the annual debt service.

The transit bond is to be repaid with $9.96 million a year that was specifically appropriated from state General Funds. The bonds must be repaid within 10 years, according to the state budget as adopted by the Legislature. The state anticipates paying an interest rate of 5.52 percent on the taxable bond issuance.

MARTA Clayton

In 2012, MARTA identified more than $500 million in expenses necessary to maintain a “state of good repair.” File/Credit: Maria Saporta

The transit bonds will be managed by the State Road and Tollway Authority. SRTA may be best known for managing the Peach Pass and the toll booths that once stood on Ga. 400. In addition, SRTA serves as Georgia’s transportation financing arm and is authorized to raise money for transportation projects through bonds, loans, notes and equity partnerships.

Tomlinson made the announcement in his capacity with GRTA. Tomlinson also serves as SRTA’s executive director.

Deal’s goal in having one executive oversee both authorities was to promote more cooperation between SRTA and GRTA.

GRTA is the state entity that operates a transit system in order to improve air quality and reduce traffic congestion.

SRTA is helping to implement the state’s program of managed lanes – the toll lanes being built in the Northwest Corridor and along I-75 in Henry County. Eventually, managed lanes are to be built along 150 miles of roadways in metro Atlanta.

The $75 million in transit bonds is in addition to any transit funding that may be allocated through the state’s new $1 billion transportation funding program.

A portion of that money can be spent on transit, provided that the state collected the revenue from the new sources of transportation funding including a $5 a night tax on hotel/motel rooms, and fees associated with electric vehicles.

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.

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