Georgia’s transportation funding law helps win additional federal funds: Chamber

By David Pendered

The transportation funding bill enacted by the Georgia Legislature this year has helped the state draw down additional federal funding in the transportation bill now being negotiated in Congress, according to the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

Columns, Northwest Corridor

Georgia is on track to get additional federal funding for road projects, such as the Northwest Corridor along I-75. This photo is from late 2014. File/Credit: GDOT

“It is clear that the passage of the Transportation Funding Act of 2015 is quickly bearing fruit for Georgia’s commuters as GDOT prepares to make much needed improvements to roads and bridges across this state,” Michael Sullivan, chairman of the Georgia Transportation Alliance, said in a statement. “We’re fortunate to be able to celebrate this historic achievement for all Georgians.”

GTA is an affiliate of the state chamber.

The Georgia Department of Transportation has said the House version of the transportation bill contains additional funding for Georgia. The amounts are $757 million in the amended budget for the current year, fiscal year 2016, and $820 million for fiscal year 2017, which begins Oct. 1, 2016.

The theory is that Congress is inclined to provide additional funding to states that are taking steps to address their transportation funding challenges.

The current federal transportation authorization and funding programs expire Nov. 20. Lawmakers have said they expect to meet the deadline.

Plenty of work remains for federal lawmakers to reach a compromise between the bill approved in the House and the one approved in the Senate. Both chambers have appointed conferees to a committee that is to resolve differences.

Both versions of the bill are long-term appropriations of six years. This is in stark contrast to the short-term transportation bills that became the new normal as lawmakers were unable to come to terms over funding sources to build and maintain the nation’s roads, bridges and transit.

Chris Clark, chamber president and CEO, endorsed the long-term approach.

MARTA train

The American Public Transit Association is lobbying for $86 billion in past state-of-good-repair projects to be funded in the pending federal transportation bill. Credit: en.wikopedia.org

“I’m extremely grateful the congressional leadership chose to step up, after 10 years of short term band-aids, and pass a long term, bipartisan transportation bill. I’m also particularly proud of the strong support the STRR received from members of Georgia’s delegation,” Clark said in a statement. “As a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Georgia’s Congressman Rob Woodall provided critical leadership during this process and we are grateful.”

Woodall, a Republican from Lawrenceville, said the bill is significant, according to a Nov. 5 story in thehill.com.

“‘By any measure, this is the best transportation process and the best transportation rule that this body has seen in a decade,’ said Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.), who is a GOP floor manager for the highway bill.”

However, the proposed spending plan is funded for just the first three years of its six year horizon. It does not envision raising the fuel tax and does contain some fairly optimistic projections.

For example, according to usnews.com, the legislation envisions raising $9.1 billion by selling oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve at $89 a barrel. Oil prices fell Thursday, to $42.29, according to wsj.com. Another usnews.com finding is that the legislation presumes having the IRS hiring contractors to collect $5 billion in back taxes, which the story said has been done in the past and proved to cost more than it raised.

Special interest groups also are pressing for funding for their projects.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition that represents more than 200 organizations has identified these issues:

Rob Woodall

Rob Woodall

  • “[T]he House’s inadequate baseline funding for transit, the Senate bill’s inclusion of a discriminatory drug testing policy, and the lack of performance measures that would require the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to account for connectivity and accessibility for people of color, people with disabilities, and low-income populations. These issues must be addressed in conference.”

New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio has called on congressional leaders to prevent a proposed $80 million cut to the city’s transit program, according to observer.com. The amount is part of a much larger sum, $1.6 billion, the House cut from seven Northeastern states in order to fund projects across the country, according to a story on wrvo.org.

The American Public Transit Association has said the legislation should include $86 billion in past state-of-good-repair projects. This sum is in addition to current and future needs, APTA president and CEO Michael Melaniphy said in a statement.

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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