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2-23-05 GA 316 Headlines on Tolls Are Incomplete Story

…….tend to think that the “Time for GA 316” may have slipped through our regional and local hands.  Several have told me recently that U. S. 129 to Jefferson and I – 85 has become the preferred route from Athens to Atlanta.  Some say that much economic development is moving to that corridor.  News stories out of Jackson County support that position….

AVOC

 

February 19, 2005

 

GA 316 Headlines on Tolls  Are Incomplete Stories

 

By Wendell Dawson, Editor, AVOC, Inc.

 

While legislator criticism of Tolls and GA DOT makes headlines, it does not tell the whole story.  

 

Harold Linenkohl, Georgia DOT Commissioner, is an honest, dedicated and capable public official.  I worked for years with Harold, State Aid Coordinator for GA DOT, as well as did other countless local officials.  We had tremendous confidence and respect for Harold Linenkohl.

 

Harold points out problems with the current Legislator enacted legislation that provides for one-bid proposals and secrecy in the proposals.   Special Interests are obviously involved.  If it were left to Harold Linenkohl, the act could be corrected.

 

While the 316 Upgrade is universally advocated, the important driving force is the fact of no funding for it and none for decades.  Calls for Federal money are also naïve.  Does anyone believe that all of the Georgia Congressmen will support one huge project in Metro Atlanta and Northeast Georgia?  Where is all of the “federal money” coming from in times of deficits?

 

Some of us knowledgeable in the process believe that the “window of opportunity” for upgrading GA 316 passed when Zell Miller and Roy Barnes were Governors and they were not all that supportive of the project.  Neither  did they support additional revenue for GA DOT which receives less and less real funding in today’s Dollars.

 

A recent trip to Downtown Atlanta to a meeting reminded me of the “TRAFFIC MESS” in Atlanta.   Knowing that GA 316 and I-20 can be a “crap shoot” on any given day, I opted for I – 20.  However, what used to be a 1 ¼ hour drive took over two hours, starting before daylight and returning in mid-afternoon.

 

GA 316, or University Parkway, offered much opportunity for this area.  However, it required more than headlines and complaints to realize the potential.   Opportunities do not continue indefinitely.  They move on to other places.

 

I tend to think that the “Time for GA 316” may have slipped through our regional and local hands.  Several have told me recently that U. S. 129 to Jefferson and I – 85 has become the preferred route from Athens to Atlanta.  Some say that much economic development is moving to that corridor.  News stories out of Jackson County support that position. I intend to try it next time I have to go to Atlanta. 


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

                http://www.ajc.com/opinion/content/opinion/bookman/index.html

 

February 3, 2005

 

Lane switch too late for Ga. 316

 

By Jay Bookman

If he has his way, state Transportation Commissioner Harold Linnenkohl won't have any more highway projects like the Ga. 316 tollway proposal dumped in his lap. In a discussion Tuesday, Linnenkohl said that the Department of Transportation wants a complete rewriting of the state law that invites private companies to propose their own road construction projects.

"I do not like unsolicited proposals," Linnenkohl said. "We're trying to get them removed from the law."

Linnenkohl then went on to outline the problems with state law brought to light by the proposal to privatize Ga. 316 between Athens and Lawrenceville. If that project is approved, a private consortium would be allowed to charge tolls on that 39-mile route in return for major upgrades.

Under state law, the first company that proposes a project on a stretch of highway such as Ga. 316 is granted an effective monopoly on that route. The law gives other companies only 90 days to put together a competing proposal, and as Linnenkohl notes, "You just don't develop a $ billion or $ billion project in 90 days."

That's not an accidental feature of the law. In this and many other ways, the bill passed two years ago and signed into law by Gov. Sonny Perdue was written to give every possible advantage to the private companies that backed the bill, while providing few if any safeguards to the public. In fact, the law is an indictment of Georgia's legislative process and of those elected officials who are supposed to be protecting us. It is an invitation to backroom political deals.

By encouraging unsolicited proposals, the law also allows private companies to develop those road projects that are most likely to turn a hefty profit, ahead of those projects most needed to reduce congestion or improve highway safety. "They're cherry-picking the best projects," Linnenkohl says, and he's right.

In yet another nice little touch, the law requires that most details of a proposal be kept secret from the public that will be paying the bills. For example, the DOT is still legally barred from releasing any of the details of the Ga. 316 proposal, even though the deadline for competing proposals is long past. Last week, Linnenkohl sent a letter to the Parkway Group, the consortium that submitted the controversial toll proposal, pointing out that it has the right to make its proposal public. So far, Parkway Group officials have refused to do so. Apparently they aren't too confident that the public would like what they found.

Ordinarily, the opinion of the DOT commissioner carries a lot of weight in the Legislature. But in this case, Linnenkohl says he might have a hard time getting a change in the law to bar unsolicited proposals. He hasn't heard a public-policy argument defending unsolicited proposals, he says, only suggestions that the concept has some powerful political support. It will be interesting to see who those supporters turn out to be.

It's telling that while Linnenkohl is clearly unhappy with many parts of the Ga. 316 proposal, he refuses to recommend its rejection by his 13-member board. His explanation for that continued support is unconvincing, especially given his critique of the law that gave the project life. As the fatally flawed product of a fatally flawed process, the Ga. 316 proposal ought to die.

However, the companies making up the Parkway Group include the region's biggest and most influential highway contractors. Among those playing prominent roles are former DOT Commissioner Wayne Shackelford, former DOT Commissioner Tom Moreland, and former DOT Deputy Commissioner Steve Parks, who was slated for Linnenkohl's job until personal problems forced him to step aside.

In other words, influential people stand to make an awful lot of money from this deal.


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