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12/03/01 - BOND SALES FOR GRIP ENGINEERING ETC

 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Monday, December 3, 2001

Bond sale to boost developmental roads
$00 million to jump start work on 11 rural projects
Julie Hairston - Staff
 

The sale of $00 million in bonds last month will allow Georgia Department of Transportation officials to stomp on the accelerator of a 12-year-old developmental highway program in the state's most rural areas.

The bond sale, the first in an $ billion transportation improvement program proposed by Gov. Roy Barnes, will provide the largest single cash infusion the developmental highway program has received.

"Where we were just inching along, we can make some real progress," said Tom Turner, the Georgia DOT's director of pre-construction.

Most of the $00 million will be used for environmental studies, engineering and right-of-way acquisition for 11 special road projects designed to help stimulate economic activity in parts of the state that need it most.

The developmental highway program was created in 1989 by Gov. Joe Frank Harris just as construction of the nation's interstate system was drawing to a close.

"It was sort of the next level," Turner said.

As approved by the General Assembly, the developmental highway program was intended to place 92 percent of the state's cities with populations of 2,000 or more and 98 percent of the people living in Georgia within 20 miles of a four-lane highway.

Since then, the Legislature has given the Georgia DOT about $00 million a year to spend on its specially designated developmental highways.

"That really won't get you too far, working at that pace," Turner said.

Only two of the highways have been completed so far, but a 1996 study by Douglas C. Bachtel, economics professor at the University of Georgia, found that construction of the highways had generated economic benefits for their surrounding communities.

With the $00 million, state officials hope to "jump start" the rest of the highways at a time when economic stimulation is badly needed statewide.

"What the bond program has done for us is allow a shotgun start-up on all of them," Turner said. "Before that, we had to prioritize."

State officials plan to issue more bonds to finance the governor's transportation plan next year. The $00 million in short-term bonds will be repaid early next year out of the proceeds from a $ billion bond issue in February or March. That issue will be the first increment of an $ billion bond issue expected to be repaid with federal funds.

Some local officials have been critical of the proposal, fearing it will mean that currently unanticipated transportation needs will have to go unaddressed because the money is already obligated.

Jim Croy, director of the State Road and Tollway Authority, said there will be some flexibility in road funding, and the projects the bonds will pay for have been planned for a long time. "You are providing what has already been planned for in a shorter time frame," Croy said.

Croy said the short-term notes received the highest possible rating. "Georgia is a [financially] strong state. That's reflected in the ability to sell bonds," he said.

For fans of the developmental highway program, the $00 million will mean that all the roads will be under construction within seven years, and probably complete in 10 to 15 years, Turner said.

"That money will allow us to take bids and let contracts at the first available time," Turner said.


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