Transit funding provided in state legislation, priority given to roads in congested regions

By David Pendered

Transit can be funded with proceeds of the transportation funding bill state lawmakers have sent to Gov. Nathan Deal, and priority for highway funding shall be assigned to congested regions of the state – such as metro Atlanta.

Bumper to bumper traffic is common on I-85 in the evening rush hour, just north of Midtown. Credit: David Pendered

Bumper to bumper traffic is common on I-85 in the evening rush hour, just north of Midtown. Credit: David Pendered

House Bill 170 now provides for the collection of taxes and fees to pay for transportation projects, in addition to motor fuel taxes. The stream of money from taxes and fees can be spent on public transit, while the motor fuel tax remains dedicated by the state Constitution to roads and bridges.

The final version of House Bill 170 specifically cites transit as eligible for funding:

  • “As used in this code section, the term ‘transportation purposes’ means and includes roads, bridges, public transit, rails airports, buses, seaports, including without limitation road, street and bridge purposes … and all accompanying infrastructure and services necessary to provide access to these transportation facilities, including general obligation debt and other multiyear obligations issued to finance such purposes.”

The legislation also assigns priority status for highway funding to congested regions of the state:

  • “Priority shall be given to expenditure of available resources for maintenance, expansion, and improvement of highway infrastructure in the areas of this state most impacted by traffic congestion and to areas of this state in need of highway infrastructure to aid in attracting economic development to the area.”

The Atlanta Regional Commission is evaluating the bill, spokesman Jim Jaquish said Thursday afternoon. The Legislature approved the bill late Tuesday night.

Traffic fills the exit ramp from I-85 to Clairmont Road in the evening rush hour. Credit: David Pendered

Traffic fills the exit ramp from I-85 to Clairmont Road in the evening rush hour. Credit: David Pendered

“We’re still trying to understand all the nuances of the Transportation Funding Act of 2015,” Jaquish said. “It is 36 pages and changed a good bit in final hours. We’re still looking at it and absorbing it.

“ARC is pleased with the fact that funding comes from a lot of different sources,” Jaquish said. “The new sources can be spent on transportation projects that can’t be funded by the gas tax. We’re looking forward to working with GDOT and our partners to see how we’ll prioritize projects and implement. … Transit funding is a possibility.”

In providing transit funding, the Legislature has fulfilled an early promise from House leaders.

The original version of the bill violated the state Constitution. The bill said transit could be funded with proceeds of the motor fuel tax. Critics said the bill would never pass a constitutional challenge.

Rep. Jay Roberts (R-Ocilla), chair of the House Transportation Committee, said at a Feb. 12 committee meeting that he was committed to funding transit:

  • “In the bill, we talk about dedicating money toward transit. We realize that you can’t dedicate [funding to transit] without a constitutional amendment. We are looking at making a commitment within the state budget. Unfortunately, within the bill, I can’t put something in for the budget. It is time for the state of Georgia to step up and start putting money into transit.”

The portion of the bill regarding highway funding for the purpose of stimulating economic development could be interpreted to cover the entire state.

For example, the Georgia Ports Authority has created Network Georgia with the goal of creating inland ports to serve as regional hubs for goods heading to or coming from the Savannah port. All of Georgia is covered by the program.

 

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.

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