Tollway authority uses reserves to cover first budget without Ga. 400 tolls – $12.2 million drops away

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.

Chris Tomlinson

Chris Tomlinson

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.

The expected loss of toll collections on Ga. 400 is a major factor in SRTA's dramatically diminished revenue forecast for Fiscal Year 2014, which began July 1. Credit: SRTA

The expected loss of toll collections on Ga. 400 is a major factor in SRTA’s dramatically diminished revenue forecast for Fiscal Year 2014, which began July 1. Credit: SRTA

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.

SRTA reduced its projected operating expenses by cutting costs in areas including the customer service center and maintenance. Credit: SRTA

SRTA reduced its projected operating expenses by cutting costs in areas including the customer service center and maintenance. Credit: SRTA

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.

 

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.

6 replies
  1. Joe says:

    The governor seems terribly concerned about making it easier to drive around in the suburbs, and not very concerned at all about moving people around efficiently within the core of Atlanta. Why do roads get such a huge portion of the state budget but mass transit requires bound-for-failure voter referendums?Report

    Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      @Joe {{{“The governor seems terribly concerned about making it easier to drive around in the suburbs, and not very concerned at all about moving people around efficiently within the core of Atlanta.”}}}
      …Of course Governor Deal is most concerned about making it easier to drive around in the suburbs (and is likely not in the least bit concerned about moving people around within the core of Atlanta) because the suburbs is where his voting constituency is, a constituency that is made up mostly of and dominated by very-conservative voters who intensely dislike, if not outright despise, public transit of any kind (both buses and, ESPECIALLY, trains).
      It is not the moderate to progressive transit-hungry voters in Fulton and DeKalb counties who decide statewide elections in Georgia, it is the ultraconservative anti-transit voters in suburban counties like Paulding, Cobb, Cherokee, Forsyth, North Fulton, Gwinnett, Hall, Fayette and Henry counties who decide statewide elections.
      This is something that Governor Deal is very-aware of and appears to be using to his advantage as he so far appears to be highly-successful in fending-off a primary challenge from his hard right.
      At the moment, for all intents and purposes, there is a great chance that Governor Deal could run unopposed in both the 2014 Republican Primary and in the 2014 General Election as he has no declared challengers for either contest at the moment. 
      {{{“Why do roads get such a huge portion of the state budget but mass transit requires bound-for-failure voter referendums?”}}}
      …Because funding public transit is a huge “NO-NO” in Georgia politics at the moment with an electorate that is dominated by a proportionally shrinking, but very-extremely powerful contingent of very-conservative voters who not only intensely dislike and outright hate public transit, but also think that public transit is highly-destructive to the highly-treasured lifestyle of the suburbs and to the American lifestyle in general.
      For those who want more and better transit, the bad news is that roads will continue to get a huge portion of the state budget.
      But the good news is that mass transit will no longer require “bound-for-failure voter referendums” because after the overwhelming failure of the regional T-SPLOST referendum in 2012, the State of Georgia will most likely never use referendums to attempt to fund mass transit or roads on a large-scale again.Report

      Reply
    • moliere says:

      @Joe 
      I disagree 100%. Governor Deal supported T-SPLOST until he saw that the issue could end his political career, and quickly squashed any notion of a Plan B back when the T-SPLOST opponents were sure that Deal would get behind crafting a plan that would benefit the suburbs while dealing the city a bad hand (which is what they wanted). Deal has also provided critical support to a lot of other pro-Atlanta projects such as the stadium (which he could have allowed to go to the suburbs) and the MMPT. The governor has also refrained from the idiotic bashing of the street car and the Beltline the way that a lot of the other GOP pols do, and only participates in the MARTA baiting in response to repeated media questions. Deal has also worked very hard behind the scenes to get employers to locate – and relocate – to Atlanta.
      When Deal is safely re-elected and when the economic climate improves, Deal is going to surprise a lot of people when it comes to his dealings with Atlanta. That is one reason why Kasim Reed noticeably did not support a strong effort on behalf of the Democrats to defeat Deal in 2014. (Of course, another reason may be that Reed wants to run for the governorship himself in 2018 when by then HE HOPES that demographics and social attitudes will have changed, but that is another story altogether.)Report

      Reply
  2. entry mats says:

    Gena Evans, executive director of the Georgia State Road and Tollway
    Authority told members of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods Nov. 12
    that the authority has $29.6 million in reserves which could be
    committed toward completing the interchange of Georgia 400 and I-85
    North.Report

    Reply

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