By David Pendered
As Chris Tomlinson made the rounds after his appointment in March as head of the State Road and Tollway Authority, he joked that the pending end of the unpopular tolls on Ga. 400 provided him with an easy start to the job.
The SRTA budget approved June 25 suggests the honeymoon is over and the hard task of governance in lean economic times has begun.
SRTA projects a shortfall in its operating budget of 36.7 percent, or $7.6 million, in an expense budget of $20.7 million. SRTA intends to cover the shortfall with $5.8 million in reserves and revenue from two other sources.
SRTA is chaired by the governor and has the power to plan, develop and build roads funded by federal and state sources – in addition to tolls. These statutory powers give SRTA tremendous power over Georgia’s transportation system, though it operates largely outside the public spotlight.
The Ga. 400 tolls are slated to end around Thanksgiving. That gives SRTA almost five months worth of revenues before that revenue stream ends. That makes the FY 2014 budget the first to be approved without an entire year’s worth of toll revenues, as well as the last to be approved with any Ga. 400 revenues.
However, even with five months of projected income on the books, Ga. 400 toll revenue is forecast to drop by 60.7 percent compared to FY 2013, which ended June 1.
The toll collection will miss out on the winter holiday seasons. During that time, additional travelers typically pass through the booths en route to shopping venues and other seasonal destinations that they’re willing to pay a convenience fee, in the form of a toll, to access.
Overall, SRTA’s revenue budget for FY 2014 is projected to be 43.6 percent lower than in FY 2013. That sum includes the lost toll revenue from Ga. 400, plus ancillary income from violations fees and the customer service center.
SRTA cut expenses in the areas of:
- Customer service center – $872,787;
- Repairs and maintenance – $274,536;
- Part-time personnel – $238,608;
- “Other operating” – $185,621.
- Publications, supplies and materials – $153,525;
- Software and telecom – $22,694.
SRTA increased expenses in the categories of:
- Contracts – $696,988;
- Benefits for full-time personnel – $267,733;
- Utilities, rent, insurance – $63,586;
- Intern salaries and taxes – $28,738.
Although revenue is forecast to decline, SRTA’s responsibilities in the arena of roadway planning are expected to increase.
SRTA’s budget notes that the authority is in the planning stages to provide two additional express toll lane projects, as well as the north extension of the HOT lane, or high occupancy toll lane.
All these projects represent new capacity. They also reflect Gov. Nathan Deal’s solution to easing metro Atlanta’s traffic congestion by providing for new managed lane roadways outside I-285.
In one such effort, the Georgia Department of Transportation has scheduled two meetings this week to gather public comments about the three proposals it has received for the planned managed lanes project along I-75 and I-575 in Cobb and Cherokee counties, a segment called the Northwest Corridor. GDOT intends to select a winning proposer later this month and begin final contract negotiations.
The deadline for public comment is July 19, following meetings set for July 9, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. in Woodstock; and July 11, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., in Atlanta. Click here for more information on the times and locations, and how to submit a written comment.