By David Pendered
Georgia is likely to provide money in the future to support transit, in addition to the $75 million the Legislature provided this year, Jay Roberts, the governor’s recently appointed transportation planning director, said Wednesday.
In other transit news, Georgia’s transit agencies should be notified in January as to whether they will get a share of that $75 million, according to GRTA Executive Director Chris Tomlinson. In addition to Tomlinson’s work at GRTA, he serves as executive director of the state entity that’s administering the transit bonds – State Road and Tollway Authority.
“This is a historic first,” Tomlinson said at Wednesday’s meeting of the board that oversees GRTA.
Roberts made just one reference to transit during his brief remarks to GRTA’s board. His total presentation took less than a minute. His purpose was to greet GRTA’s board in his new capacity as the governor’s chief transportation planner.
“Transit is moving forward in the state budget,” Roberts said. “That’s only going to get better.”
When Roberts (R-Ocilla) served as chairman of the House Transportation Committee, he shepherded the major initiative that is to provide a nearly $1 billion a year in funding for the state’s transportation system. When Deal signed House Bill 170 into law, he heralded it as a major step toward improving mobility and enhancing economic development.
In addition to funding roads, bridges and airports, the initiative will provide a level of transit funding that has yet to be determined. This funding will come from sources other than the motor fuel tax, including the end of a tax break on electric cars.
“This was a great year for us,” Roberts said. “It took a team effort to get what we call reliable, sustainable funding for transportation.”
Turning to the existing $75 million funding initiative, Tomlinson said all efforts are being made to deliver the money to transit agencies as soon as possible.
“The governor has been very clear,” Tomlinson said. “He’s committed to the use of state general obligation bonds [to fund transit] and he wants to do everything in his power to speed up the process.”
The bonds are to be sold in July by the Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission, Tomlinson said. Awards are to be made in January.
State officials are working with a consultant, Cambridge Systematics, Inc., to determine the criteria for making awards, Tomlinson said.
Cambridge has worked for the state Department of Transportation. In 2011, Cambridge delivered a comprehensive report on Georgia’s freight and logistics plan, delivering a number of recommendations intended to extend through 2050.
Here’s where the process for distributing the $75 million stands, according to Tomlinson:
- The Georgia Transit Association was sent a letter to see what sorts of projects its members may want to fund if they receive funding. The idea is to get a sense of what the transit needs are in Georgia;
- Legal issues surrounding the bond sale are being resolved. One issue is a requirement of the bonds that the state must retain an ownership in the property the transit agencies purchase with proceeds of the bonds. The issue shouldn’t be hard to resolve, because a precedent is set in the way the state Department of Transportation funds intermodal projects;
- The property purchased must have a life span of at least a decade. That’s because the state is selling 10-year bonds and the property has to exist when the bond is repaid.
“Planning will occur through the months of June and July,” Tomlinson said. “We’ll outline the process and provide it, in draft form, to the transit community. There will be a late fall opening for applications, and awards in January.
“It will be a very open, transparent,” Tomlinson said. “People will have early knowledge of the criteria, and have opportunity to comment.”