By David Pendered
A consequence of the transportation funding bill approved in 2015 by the General Assembly has prompted archaeologists to present their opposition Monday at the Capitol to a measure they say would cripple historic research and preservation.
The issue boils down to the how the state is spending its new transportation dollars.
Georgia now is able to fund road construction projects without federal funding. This enables the state to avoid any need to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act as it builds roads.
Senate Bill 346 would waive any compliance with the state version of NEPA on any state-funded road project priced at less than $100 million. The Senate approved the measure and Monday at 2 p.m the House Transportation Committee’s Highways Regulations Subcommittee is to consider it. The bill is one of two on the agenda.
Opponents of SB 346 hope their supporters will provide responses to Senate Bill 346 before noon Monday. That will enable opponents of the bill to print copies and deliver them for the meeting.
Opponents of SB 346 describe the Georgia Environmental Policy Act as a “watered down” version of NEPA. As a result, new road projects in Georgia can be moved forward without much review of what may be just under the ground’s surface.
The bill has an interesting history.
SB 346 was introduced by Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) and Sen. Jeff Mullis (R- Chickamauga).
Beach is known as an advocate of regional transit, and has spoken broadly of his support for a regional system.
Mullis co-sponsored SB 200 in 2009; it was an early step in the process of reorganizing transportation planning and spending in Georgia, a process that culminated in 2015 with passage of HB 170, which allocated more than $1 billion in state funds for transportation projects.
HB 170 provided the Georgia DOT with considerable flexibility, according to Georgia Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry.
McMurry told the House Transportation Committee in February that the funding shift was occurring. He did not mention any consequences.
Speaking to a group that’s well familiar with traffic congestion in metro Atlanta, McMurry said:
- ”The State Route 20 corridor is the best example. 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].”
This funding scenario sets the stage for Georgia to build roads without complying with the spirit of the national NEPA program, whose website describes it as:
- “The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was one of the first laws ever written that establishes the broad national framework for protecting our environment. NEPA’s basic policy is to assure that all branches of government give proper consideration to the environment prior to undertaking any major federal action that significantly affects the environment.”