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David Pendered

Gov. Deal tees up transportation debate as federal funds wane

By David Pendered

Gov. Nathan Deal sought Wednesday to cast a hopeful tone over the future of transportation funding.

Gov. Nathan Deal, State of State, 2015

Gov. Nathan Deal delivers his State of State address. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle stands on the governor’s right; House Speaker David Ralston stands on the governor’s left. Credit: photos.gov.georgia.gov

The current reality is grim. For starters, as of June 1, Georgia is facing a $367.2 million shortfall in necessary federal transportation funds in the federal fiscal year that ends Oct. 1, the state’s chief engineer told GRTA’s board of directors.

Deal, in his State of the State address, suggested Georgia become less dependent on federal funds to pay for its transportation infrastructure. The governor didn’t mention a source for these new funds.

Deal’s prepared text outlines the transportation funding situation in terms aimed at every Georgian:

  • “We are currently operating at a rate that requires over 50 years to resurface every state road in Georgia. If your road is paved when you graduate high school, by the time it is paved again you will be eligible for Social Security.

Georgia will fix and improve transportation infrastructure by raising its own money for projects, the governor said – as opposed to continuing to rely on federal assistance. From the prepared speech:

  • “For those of you who believe as I do that there are certain powers left to the states and their citizens—a principal set forth in our nation’s 10th Amendment—here is one way we can put our belief into practice. If we become less dependent on federal revenue for our transportation projects in Georgia, we will avoid the regulations and extra costs associated with federal involvement; we will get more for our money in new roads; and it will be one of the best signals that the state of Georgia is willing to spend our money to solve our problems. Four years ago, we decided that our state needed to develop its own reservoirs to be less dependent on federal water resources. Maybe it’s time we apply that same logic to transportation.”
Federal transportation funding slide

GDOT Chief Engineer Meg Pirkle presented this slide to GRTA’s board to explain current transportation funding woes in Georgia. Credit: GRTA

Other than saying Georgia should raise more of its own transportation funds, this was as close as the governor came to recommending how the state can come even close to raising the $1 billion or so, per year, that a consultant reported is needed to begin addressing the state’s transportation woes.

As Deal was delivering his remarks at the state Capitol, the GRTA board was receiving a detailed report on federal funding woes as presented by Meg Pirkle, chief engineer for Georgia Department of Transportation.

Pirkle described the federal funding process and concluded with information on the impact on Georgia of the congressional impasse on transportation funding.

The country is now operating with a federal transportation funding program that expires May 31.

Congress has disagreed for years on a way to pay for transportation infrastructure. The latest showdown ended in July 2014 with a short-term resolution that allotted nearly $11 billion.

President Obama has delivered a $302 billion proposal that would extend four years. Congress can’t agree on Obama’s source of transportation funding – corporate tax reform – and deferred a decision until after the 2014 elections.

Georgia has new reason to hope the state’s affairs will get more attention in Congress, according to Matt Markham, GRTA’s chief of external affairs.

Markham noted that U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) was appointed in December to the House Transportation Committee. Woodall serves the 7th District, which covers portions of Gwinnett and Forsyth counties, from Norcross to Cumming to Dacula.

“Having a Georgian on the federal Transportation Committee … will be a very valuable asset for Georgia,” Markham told the GRTA board. “There are a lot of important issues and topics that it’s important for our voice to be heard on.”

Woodall has not yet been assigned to a subcommittee, according to the Transportation Committee’s website. Subcommittee chairmen were announced Tuesday.

Woodall’s communications director did not return a phone call seeking comment. The Transportation Committee did not respond to an email seeking comment.



David Pendered

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.


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1 Comment

  1. writes_of_weigh January 22, 2015 1:45 pm

    Why not use what we already have?
    Georgia transportation funding (at least for transit and commuter rail purposes) has an easy solution. In 2019, the lease of the State of Georgia owned Western & Atlantic right-of-way is up for renewal. The 50 yr. lease (worth little more than a $million/yr based on 1969 dollars/estimates) is currently held by CSX Corp., which has incorporated the property into it’s system maps, and utilizes the line of railroad to link it’s mid-western routes/traffic floes to it’s southeast (Atlanta connected) network, over a more level(and thus much lest costly) routing, than utilizing it’s only alternative train routing via the more “mountainous” Birmingham, AL (ex-Louisville & Nashville RR)mainline. Outside investor groups may well be in a position to increase the value of the W & A  right-of-way by starting a bidding war on the route, or conversely, the State Properties Commission could negotiate in extracting urgently needed transit route upgrades/tradeoffs(think adding Marta/commuter rail operations(to Cobb/Cherokee/Bartow/(Athens)Clarke/Walton/Fayette) linking downtown Atlanta to any of the aforementioned counties/destinations on the rest of CSX ‘s north Georgia network. The W & A lease renewal(not unlike NS ‘s lease of the (State owned) North Carolina Railroad) should reap a windfall for Georgia’s dollar and rights-of-way impinged transit budgeteers. One wonders if either Gov.Deal or GDOT’s Mr. McMurray is up to the task? 
    To iterate, once again – Why continue to beat this flea-bit “dog”? Amtrak has been in the Atlanta “transit” game since 1979. In addition to inter-city services it operates, it contracts (with legislative prejudice)with transit entities, as well, with nationwide authority, in the operation of regional and commuter operations, elsewhere.  In Georgia, Norfolk Southern predecessor, Southern Railway(and Central of Georgia) both “joined” Amtrak in order to “manipulate” commuter, regional and inter-city services, over much of Georgia’s rail infrastructure. Funding transportation/transit in the state of Georgia is “reportedly” a “problem”. Inviting Norfolk Southern and Amtrak to a transportation “conference” which could actually be held aboard either of the railroads “track inspection” cars(Amtrak’s American View or Norfolk Southern’s Buena Vista) along with Gov. Deal, GDOT’s Golden(oops he’s announced he’s “bailing” at the end of January(’15)), NS’s Moorman and Friedman, and CSX’s Ward could join this trip as well, while actually reviewing “live” the state’s rail infrastructure, would probably, in short order, lead to a financially viable solution to the state’s “transit” problem. Because of Norfolk Southern’s Central of Georgia member “connection” and Southern Railway’s “membership” in Amtrak there were legal, financial and most important OPERATIONAL common carrier obligations “assumed” when the Nancy Hanks (Atlanta-Macon-Savannah) (and v.v.)  and City of Miami (Albany-Columbus-Birmingham) (and v.v.) routes were discontinued, and when the Southern Crescent ( now just Crescent )(New York-Washington-Atlanta-Birmingham-New Orleans)(and v.v.)operation was conferred to Amtrak. The FINANCIAL aspect of this relationship should save Georgia taxpayers trainloads of money, in initiating regional, commuter and transit services over Norfolk Southern (and predecessor) railroads. Basically, the “historic” rights-of-way are mostly “in place” and in service, operationally. And the State already owns a passenger train operating regularly between Cordele, Americus and Plains. It really is quite simple. Georgia tenders it’s train(s) to Norfolk Southern to operate(at Amtrak’s behest), and Norfolk Southern complies with it’s common carrier obligation(s) to move those trains between points A and B on it’s rail network. For some “strange” reason, this occurs easily on the Norfolk Southern “system”(tracks) in Virginia and North Carolina, but with (much greater) some say baseless, difficulty, when proposed, in the State of Georgia.  
    For levity, as both Amtrak and Norfolk Southern have transportation operational “issues” which have precipitated a review and redress from SCOTUS(the Supreme Court), perhaps DOJ could provide a “facilitator” on board, to keep those who might tend to stray from the complete and damnable truth about the transit conundrum being “faced”/discussed……to remain…..”on track”…..so to speak…..Report


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