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10/22/01 - GOVERNOR'S ROAD BUILDING PLAN AN ECONOMIC STIMULUS?

 

AVOC COMMENT: This Road Building plan can be good if it is fair and equitable. There is some concern that future funds are being “encumbered or mortgaged” for priorities of today. There is some concern about the Governor and his team being impartial and equitable in the allocation of projects and funding. After all, the funds are being committed for at least 20 years, long after any current recession is over and the Governor and his “team” have moved on. While GRTA was billed as a new vehicle to bring in new ideas to apply in the modern world, it seems to have many of the features of “old plans”. It basically puts the Governor back in charge of Transportation in GA, an idea that GA discarded decades ago as too political and unworkable. It uses old “political standbys” that rewards political supporters; ie: Consultants , bond attorneys” and brokers who give “big bucks” to election campaigns in GA and the Gas and Truckers lobby who continue to hold off any increase in the Gas Tax which is the lowest in the nation and is very much a user’s tax. Ignored is the consideration that a gas tax increase can also help encourage conservation and alternate means of travel and freight hauling. This may be billed as a major “new” Transportation Plan but it very much has the trappings of “old” plans. It again points out the inconsistency of a Governor who “preaches” one thing but “practices” another.

Wendell Dawson, President, AVOC, Inc.

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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Sunday, October 21, 2001

LANE RANGER: Road plan touted as a financial lifeline
Joey Ledford - Staff

The governor's fast track $.3 billion transportation plan, previously touted as a cure to metro Atlanta's woeful air quality and traffic, is getting a fresh spin from state transportation officials.

It's now being billed as a major economic stimulus for Georgia.

Catherine Ross, executive director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, told a gathering of metro engineers, contractors and consultants the governor's plan will generate more than 23,000 jobs the next seven years and will boost regional income during that period by more than $.4 billion.

"This is, to my way of thinking, a homegrown economic stimulus and regional confidence builder, made even more urgent by the national economic slowdown," said Ross.

The transportation initiative, announced by Gov. Roy Barnes in June, is designed to fast track a score of long-delayed Georgia transportation projects, including the Governor's Road Improvement Program, 365 new miles of four-lane roads through rural Georgia designed to spur economic development.

The plan also includes 270 more miles of metro Atlanta HOV lanes and the widening of all major Georgia interstates to at least three lanes each way. There's $2 billion for the controversial Northern Arc, the loop outside the Perimeter that will link U.S. 411 in Bartow County to Ga. 316 in Gwinnett County.

There's millions more for express bus service, short-run shuttles and commuter rail and even $50 million in as yet unannounced improvements of metro surface streets. One project getting a lot of attention is a planned light rail system to link Town Center at Cobb with Cumberland Mall and Midtown.

Many analysts say the pre-Olympics construction boom spared Atlanta from the last recession, and state officials now are spreading the word this megabucks plan could do the same for this one.

"We are way out ahead of the curve when it comes to economic stimulus," said Joe Young, the governor's legislative director. "We get our first $00 million in two weeks."

The plan calls for the projects to be primarily financed with bonds, to be repaid with future federal transportation dollars and 20 percent state funding. Young said he's not concerned about the state's ability to come up with the 20 percent, nor of the possibility federal transportation funding may dry up with an expensive war already being waged.

"It's never declined since 1930," Young said of federal transportation funding. "It is backed by people's purchase of fuel. People are going to continue to buy gasoline."

Despite that optimism, Young, DOT Commissioner Tom Coleman, Ross and Jim Croy, director of the new State Road and Toll Authority, made it clear no other possible funding source will go unexplored.

"We'll be looking at financing opportunities 24 hours a day, 365 days a year," said Young. However, he said raising the state gasoline tax, the nation's lowest, is not an option.

It's a pretty good bet the Northern Arc will be a toll road. Likewise, an improved Ga. 316. Don't be surprised if the toll plaza on Ga. 400, slated to be scrapped in 2011 when the bonds that built the freeway are due to be retired, remains there longer, perhaps with a 25-cent toll instead of 50 cents.

The scope of the governor's plan is so bold there is legitimate concern there might not be enough civil engineers in Georgia to do the design work. It's more ambitious than the Free the Freeways projects of the 1970s and '80s, bigger than the pre-Olympic road improvements.

Due to the staggering work load involved in many simultaneous projects, private consultants are being relied upon as never before. Coleman said DOT will have 377 contracts with consultants earning $20 million in fees.

Even though the plan is billed as being on a fast track, Young said it will be 10 years before Georgians begin to see results. The first money primarily will go to the rural road projects already planned. Early next year, the state will collect its first billion-dollar bond increment.

"Somebody, sooner or later, has to make the tough decisions," said Young. "My boss has made the tough decisions."



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