Georgia transportation funds running on empty

Funding delay cycle continues

News Morris News Service July 06, 2007
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The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) ran out of money when its fiscal year ended July 1, leaving almost $445 million in maintenance and safety upgrades throughout the state unfunded, Morris News Service reported.

By July 1, the DOT had $206 million in road maintenance projects--primarily resurfacing--it could have started around the state, but lacked the money, according to the news service.

"We have this shortfall, and you cannot do what you need to do year after year if you delay," said Todd Long, director of preconstruction for GDOT. "When you wait to fix your roads, it sometimes doubles the costs. It's kind of like maintenance on a car."

The agency also did not get to $30.8 million in safety-related projects or $207.5 million in road improvements, Morris News Service reported.

Projects that were rescheduled for the current year likely will get done in the next 12 months, Long said. But many of those improvements were not budgeted for this fiscal year and will cause other projects to be delayed, according to the news service.

State transportation officials have pointed to that funding delay cycle as a warning sign to get state lawmakers to develop new road funding options.

The $444.7 million shortfall at the end of the last fiscal year, which led GDOT to delay many scheduled projects to at least 2014, is just a small piece of the $7.7 billion shortfall GDOT is predicting it will face in coming years, according to the news service.

While some transportation groups proposed changing the state gas tax or allowing counties to partner together and use sales tax to pay for road construction, neither proposal garnered enough political support to go anywhere in the state legislature this year, although a group of House and Senate transportation committee members are gathering this summer to discuss their money woes, the news service reported.

GDOT Commissioner Harold Linnenkohl recently warned legislators that he estimates traffic in the state will grow at 2% a year, Morris News Service reported.

Besides dealing with more drivers, the state also may lag behind on upkeep of existing roads.

After being rated as having the worst roads in the Southeast several decades ago, Georgia undertook an ambitious program to upgrade its state highway system. GDOT set a goal of resurfacing 10% of its roads every year. Currently the state is doing less than 5% a year, according to the news service.

If that trend continues, the state could lose much of the ground it picked up when it made road improvement a top priority, state Transportation Chairman Mike Evans has said, according to Morris News Service.

Evans points out that about a third of Georgia's state route system rated bad, poor or fair last year. Based on current levels of work, 84% of the state roads will rate poorly by 2013, the news service reported.

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