Local opposition to state transportation bill illustrated in Fayette County proposal
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that the transportation bill is eligible to be voted upon Monday.
By David Pendered
State lawmakers who are still counting votes on the proposed transportation funding legislation may also be watching for opposition such as that which is mounting on the Fayette County Board of Commissioners.
Fayette County Commissioner Steve Brown has introduced a resolution that essentially opposes House Bill 170, the current transportation funding measure. The next scheduled commission meeting is Thursday at 7 p.m.
Monday may provide the next indication of appetite in the state House to vote quickly on HB 170. The bill is on the calendar and eligible to be voted upon.
There was some expectation the House would vote on HB 170 last Thursday or Friday, Feb. 19 or Feb. 20. The speculation was that the House would act quickly on the proposal in order to get it to the Senate and eventually to a conference committee. HB 170 sailed through the House Transportation Committee on Feb. 18.
Brown sent a copy of his resolution to House Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Roberts (R-Ocilla) late in the afternoon of Feb. 19.
Brown begins his letter by saying he wishes for, “some way to ensure accountability at the state level on transportation.”
Brown then contends:
- “Not a single state agency has yet to calculate an official matrix on what constitutes an acceptable and affordable mass transit project based on ridership, cost-per-rider and total impact on traffic congestion.
- “This is vitally important, especially now that taxpayers are being asked to fund transit projects statewide such as the 2.7 mile, $98 million Atlanta Streetcar boondoggle (could not even meet its ridership projections with FREE fare), and only 3 percent of the metro Atlanta population commutes by transit according to the Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey.”
In a related issue, WSB-TV reported last week that operating costs of the streetcar are now forecast to be 50 percent higher than the forecast last year – rising to $4.8 million to $3.2 million.
Brown concluded the letter by stating:
- “The average GRTA Xpress bus rider earns around $75,000 a year and we state taxpayers subsidize their commutes with fares ranging from $5 to $7 round-trip? You are opening the door to taxpayer subsidization of mass transit to future levels that will be extremely painful with an extremely poor return on investment.”
Roberts and at least one other member of the House Transportation Committee said at the Feb. 18 meeting that they were receiving quite a bit of communication regarding HB 170.
Brown’s resolution opposes the elimination of “boondoggle projects such as transit rail.” It also calls the state to conduct itself in a way such that, “there is no harm inflicted upon county governments, city governments and school boards across Georgia.”
The resolution also states:
- “WHEREAS, There is general recognition that road and bridge maintenance along with upgrading infrastructure to keep pace with congestion is necessary and should be funded, but we also acknowledge the Reason Foundation’s 21st Annual Report on the Performance of State Highways showing Georgia’s rural roads ranked first in the nation, urban roads ranked fourth in the nation and the State ranked thirteenth in the nation overall; and
- “WHEREAS, We also recognize that the crisis is not as much about funding as it is about how the funding is spent, and vague proposals with no specifics about what constitutes the state’s “full universe of transportation needs” is a drawback; and
- “WHEREAS, HB 170 in its current iteration is not revenue-neutral at the State or local levels, and also significantly impacts local school funding; and ….”
Roberts said at the Feb. 18 meeting of the House Transportation Committee that he cannot guarantee that no local governments or entities will lose money if the state revamps the way it pays for transportation improvements.
“We’ve heard from government officials and hope we’re at a point where we’ve addressed a lot of concerns,” Roberts said.