Category: Transportation

Sen. McKoon Files Bills Affecting Transportation Funding Act Revenue

State Senator Josh McKoon of Columbus has prefiled several bills that if passed, would roll back some of the taxes that came with the passage of House Bill 170, last year’s major transportation funding bill. The measures have to do with the hotel tax and the excise tax on fuel that is paid by governmental entities.

The House – Senate conference committee that reconciled the two versions of the bill decided to add a $5 per room per night fee on most hotel stays that was estimated to raise $150 million annually. Those in the lodging industry were not happy. Senate Bill 252 repeals the fee completely, without another revenue source specified to make up the shortfall.

Senate Bill 253 exempts counties, municipalities, and school districts from having to pay the excise tax on vehicles they operate, including school buses. Senate Bill 251 serves the same purpose, but does not include counties and municipalities. The two measures address a concern by local governments that they are now being charged the excise tax on fuel purchases from which they were previously exempt.

Legislative leadership previously indicated a desire to mot make changes to the Transportation Funding Act until after it had been in effect for a full year, meaning changes to the funding formula would not be considered for the 2016 session.

Gov. Deal Is Concerned About New Syrian Refugees; Enthusiastic About Proposed Transportation Projects

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal expressed his frustration with the federal government’s handling of the Syrian refugee issue, and dropped several hints about transportation projects he expects to be revealed at the start of the legislative session in January. Deal spoke to reporters this afternoon after keynoting the 30th annual meeting of the Council for Quality Growth.

At least three Syrian refugees have arrived in the Peach State after the governor expressed his opposition to taking on new refugees over terrorism concerns. Deal was asked about providing food stamps for to the new refugees, and said he wants to take a wait and see attitude. He complained that the United States government doesn’t tell officials in Georgia who the refugees are and where they are. Deal said, “The only way we know they are actually here is when they show up and apply for food stamps. There’s something wrong with that.”

The state of Texas has filed a lawsuit in an effort to block incoming Syrian refugees from entering that state. When Governor Nathan Deal was asked if he would be willing to file a similar suit on behalf of Georgia, he said, “If they keep prodding me, I might, and it appears they are willing to keep prodding.” The governor pointed out that in the end, the SNAP program (food stamps) is ultimately a federal responsibility. “It’s their program. If they don’t like the way we do it, let them come in and run it. We’ll hand it over to them.”

On the possibility of the federal government filing a lawsuit against the state over the issue as it has indicated it might, Deal said he was ready to defend against it, although he would prefer to spend the defense money elsewhere.

On a brighter note, the governor went into a little more detail about new transportation projects he had hinted were coming in his address to the Council for Quality Growth. The project list will include all the regions within the state. “I anticipate having a map of the entire state of Georgia,” Deal said, that will “show all of the projects both in the metro as well as those that are outside the metro region that are going to be done with the extra money.”

One reason that money will be available for new transportation projects is because the federal government will have passed a long range transportation funding bill. President Obama is expected to sign the measure today. The federal money the state will receive can be used for some of the maintenance and repair projects that were originally planned to be paid for with money from the state’s 2015 Transportation Funding Act. That allows state dollars to be used for new projects that will cost less than if they were constructed with federal dollars.

Pleased to see a longer transportation bill at the federal level, Governor Deal said, “I wait to see what all the details of that might include, but that’s an indication that at least Congress understands the importance of the transportation bill and the funding that’s necessary for keeping our infrastructure in place.”

The governor didn’t indicate the size and scope of the project list, but said he had seen a proposed list. His opinion? “I think its going to probably be the biggest visible evidence of tax reform and the results of it that we have seen in this state in a very very long time.”

Update: House & Senate Approve Long-Term Surface Transportation Bill

Today, the U.S. House passed the conference report for HR 22, the FAST Act, by a vote of 359-65. The bill s $305 billion worth of transportation funding through 2020. The only Georgian representative to vote against the bill was the 10th District’s Jody Hice.

7th District Rep. Rob Woodall, who serves on House Transportation Committee and was appointed to the conference committee that negotiated the final conference report between the House and Senate versions said this in a prepared statement:

The need for a responsible, long-term vision for our nation’s roads, bridges, and transportation infrastructure isn’t a partisan issue. Today’s vote is the culmination of a lot of hard work and a tremendous partnership between the folks back home and their representatives in Washington. The big things take time, and are often difficult to get across the finish line, but when the American people get involved in the process, good things happen.

This isn’t just a transportation funding bill. It’s a bill that provides the certainty Georgia’s leaders have been looking for; it’s a jobs bill; it’s an economic competitiveness bill; and it’s a safety bill. It refocuses our efforts to ensure commerce flows freely on our highways and provides more flexibility for Georgia to move forward on our projects. This is a bill that affects the daily lives of virtually every American family and business – and they’re the stakeholders whose contribution made today’s achievement possible.”

I firmly believe that the best ideas come from the folks back – and that’s exactly what happened here. Whether long-term transportation planning or industry-specific problems, crafting long-term solutions requires the input of the American people, and I’m proud to be a part of that partnership.

The FAST Act includes over $6.8 billion in funding allocated to the state of Georgia through FY2020, which is $607 million above the funding levels set by 2012’s MAP 21 Act. The conference report is expected to pass in the Senate today or Friday, passed the Senate Thursday night by a vote of 83-16, and President Obama is expected to sign it.

In the Senate, Johnny Isakson voted for the measure, while David Perdue voted Nay. After the vote, Senator Perdue issued this statement:

Our highways need to be repaired and critical infrastructure projects need long-term certainty, but Washington cannot keep relying on budget gimmicks that leave us worse off down the road. Georgians expected the Senate to spend the past three months developing a serious long-term solution that responsibly fixes our highway-funding problem. Instead, in typical Washington fashion, we’ve been given a highway bill that relies on mythical savings and includes multiple unrelated items that merit separate debate. We must repair our highways but Congress cannot ignore our country’s staggering debt crisis, and this type of governing has become dangerously acceptable to politicians in Washington.

Senator Johnny Isakson noted that Georgia will receive close to $8 billion in federal funds due to the passage of the measure, and said in a statement,

I am so pleased that Congress has passed this key piece of legislation to move our country forward. After far too many short-term patches, this long-term, bipartisan legislation is a victory for commuters, businesses, and road builders because it finally provides much-needed certainty for state and local transportation projects. I have worked for many years to ensure that we don’t continue to ‘kick the can down the road’ in small funding bursts, but instead put into place sensible, long-term plans to give federal infrastructure projects stability without adding to our debt. This legislation will achieve just that.

Economic Forecaster: Proposed Export Import Highway Could Have $20 Billion Economic Impact

The potential economic benefits of the proposed Georgia Export Import Highway were the subject of a talk by economic forecaster K.C. Conway at a recent lunch and learn hold by the Thomaston-Upson Chamber of Commerce. The Export Import Highway would be an extension of I-16 from Macon following the routes of GA-74 and GA-18 through Thomaston and Greenville, and ending at US 27 in LaGrange.

As reported in the Thomaston Times, Conway, who is a Vice-President of SunTrust Bank, touted the benefits of the highway, especially with the upcoming deepening of the Port of Savannah bringing additional container traffic, much of which will be shipped by truck.

“So when we come out of Savannah, we have the rail connections to get into the rail yards, but there is a big need for a lot of trucks moving, coming into Atlanta on I-75 and I-85. We’ll probably have complete gridlock on 75/85 south of I-285 within five years. Sometimes during the day we’re already there.

“The really important thing is with the export-import highway, we can bypass all of Atlanta and I-285 and bring the goods across to Cordele. Georgia is trying to create an inland port area there, which would be a magnet for every kind of industry you could imagine. We’ve also got airports along the route with runways long enough to make them into an airport reliever air cargo facility. So imagine the capacity of a Fed-Ex or UPS center. This would be a horizontal magnet that would bring all this industry here.

I think this highway would bring in $20 billion in economic impact, and probably 10,000 to 20,000 new real jobs.

One of the biggest beneficiaries of the proposed highway would be the Kia plant in West Point. The road would provide easier access to the Savannah port, or to the inland port at Cordele, south of Macon on I-75. In addition to the 80 mile east west route, there have been proposals to create another bypass highway along the route of US 27, which would provide access to I-75 north of Atlanta. In addition to allowing freight to move north without entering the heart of the metro Atlanta area, it would provide access to the Peach State’s new inland port in Murray County.

Debating a Possible Northward Expansion of MARTA

An $8 billion proposal to expand MARTA via an additional half penny sales tax in Fulton, DeKalb and Clayton counties is coming under scrutiny as we get closer to January’s legislative session, at which several changes to the “mini-TSPLOST” provisions within House Bill 170 would need to be made before the plan could move forward. Even if the needed changes are made by the legislature, the plan’s supporters would have to build support from both local elected officials and finally the voters in a referendum on the proposed tax, which could happen as soon as next November’s elections.

The proposal, which would extend MARTA heavy rail northward along Georgia 400 to Windward Parkway, a build light rail line along the “Clifton Corridor” serving Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control, and improve transit service along I-20 in in south DeKalb county, drew some attention at a day long transportation summit last week at the World Congress Center. One of the panel discussions tied investment in transportation infrastructure, including transit, as a key to economic development. Pointing to moves by State Farm and Mercedes Benz to locate adjacent to transit in the Perimeter Center area, MARTA’s further expansion northward was touted as the way to continue that growth. Panelist David Allman of Regent Partners told attendees that those opposing expanded transit “would be on the wrong side of history.”

Yet, as Andrea Simmons detailed in a Wednesday AJC story, the proposal is drawing a mixed response from legislators. State Sen. Brandon Beach, who runs the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce in his day job, is all for expanding transit, while DeKalb Sen. Fran Millar is more cautious about adding to the tax burden of the MARTA counties, and wonders if a broader regional approach should be used. Read more

Woodall Focuses On Transportation, “Un-partisan” Collaboration

STRR Logo

On Monday, Representative Rob Woodall (R-GA7) delivered the keynote address at the Council For Quality Growth’s 6th Annual CID Recognition Event in Atlanta. Rep. Woodall’s remarks focused on his work on the House Committee for Transportation and Infrastructure, emphasizing how the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act will benefit Georgia, and will – hopefully – give local governments greater control over their transportation priorities.

Georgia journalist Walter Jones noted that the Act will have a positive impact throughout Georgia, highlighting Woodall’s remark regarding Georgia’s major freight corridors:

“What have we done to get I-16 ready for Panamax [and New Panamax] ships? That’s a lonely stretch of road. It doesn’t have a big voice in terms of federal transportation policy, but critically important, not just to people who live along it, but also to the entire Southeastern region. … I’m optimistic that you’re going to see a greater investment in some of these projects that might not be as glamorous as a big new bridge inside the (Atlanta) Perimeter,”

In the Atlanta Business Chronicle, Dave Williams presented Rep. Woodall’s emphasis on local control of local priorities through the Act’s block grant program:

“Maybe Washington doesn’t have all of the solutions. … Maybe we can trust folks on the local level to make more of their own decisions. … The new block grant program is going to allow you to do that.”

Other highlights from Woodall’s remarks include:

Read more

Roads, Transit and Technology On Display at the Georgia Transportation Summit

On Tuesday, the Georgia Department of Transportation, the Georgia Chamber, the Georgia Transportation Alliance, and the Georgia chapter of the American Council of Engineering Companies sponsored the annual Georgia Transportation Summit. Approximately 730 people attended. The event brought together transportation engineers and Georgia DOT leaders to look at short and long term ideas and best practices for all modes of transportation, including roads, transit, rail and more.

Below the fold, Here’s what happened, told in tweets. Read more

Gwinnett’s Great Exchange on Transportation Releases Survey Results

Terms used in comments from respondents to the Great Exchange survey.
Terms used in comments from respondents to the Great Exchange survey.
For one week in August, many people in Gwinnett County participated in the Great Exchange on Transportation, an effort to get Gwinnettians talking about transportation, and what they would like to see in the future. During the week, more than 4,000 people completed online and text surveys, while many participated in one or more of 83 events, from town halls to technical forums.

The results of the survey were released on Monday. A summary of the results concluded with:

In general, the residents and workers of Gwinnett consistently spoke to the need to address congestion so that it would improve their overall quality of life. The majority wanted more options for transportation with transit being the highest priority for most. Some would like to see more pedestrian and bicycle improvements. In general, it was apparent that the current levels of investment in alternative modes of transport significantly lag behind the public’s demands.

The overarching theme that consistently came up through various questions was that Gwinnett residents feel increasingly disconnected from their jobs and other destinations throughout Atlanta. They want to be more connected to the city and region and want to have viable options for reaching those destinations.

Recommendations in the report include developing a plan for transit expansion, both in the county and across the Atlanta region, including east-west connections both inside and outside the county. The report also recommends addressing bottlenecks and traffic light synchronization in the short term, along with improving the existing bus service. Bus system improvements should address service to both Georgia Gwinnett College and Gwinnett Tech. Non-traditional transportation options were also recommended, including a bicycle network and improved pedestrian projects. Read more

House Passes Transportation Bill; Woodall Appointed to Conference Committee

The U.S. House passed its version of the surface transportation act, H.R. 22 today. The bill passed the Senate back in July, and a conference committee was named to work out the differences between the two versions. Following the Conference Committee report, the final legislation will be sent to both chambers for final passage.

Georgia 7th District Rep. Rob Woodall, who serves on the Transportation and Infrastructure and Rules Committees, not only managed the rule on the House floor, but was named to the conference committee by Transportation Chair Bill Shuster. In a statement, Woodall said,

The safety of America’s roads, bridges and transportation infrastructure isn’t a partisan issue, rather it is a concern for every Member of Congress irrespective of their politics. Our states, communities, and job-creators need long-term certainty from a government that is effective and accountable to them, and this legislation embodies that principle. The big things take time, but with lots of input we have a bill that we can be proud of and a product that devolves much of the decision-making to states, and streamlines the environmental review process by eliminating duplicative regulatory mandates.

Forsyth County Breaks Ground on GA-400 Widening

Forsyth Commissioner Cindy Mills and State Senator Steve Gooch unveil a road sign marking the new exit that will be constructed on Georgia 400.
Forsyth Commissioner Cindy Mills and State Senator Steve Gooch unveil a road sign marking the new exit that will be constructed on Georgia 400.
On November 4, 2014, voters in Forsyth County approved a $200 million transportation bond that promised, among other things, to widen Georgia 400 from two to three lanes in both directions from McFarland Parkway to Bald Ridge Marina Road, just outside the city of Cumming. On Wednesday, one year later to the day, officials with the county and the Georgia DOT broke ground on the project, which is expected to be completed in the spring of 2018.

After the groundbreaking ceremony, county leaders gathered at the Forsyth Conference Center to hear from DOT Commissioner Russell McMurry and local officials at a Transportation Summit sponsored by the Cumming-Forsyth Chamber of Commerce. At the summit, attendees got some good news: based on a new bidding procedure, instead of stopping at Bald Ridge Marina Road, the project would continue another 4.4 miles north to Browns Bridge Road, where a full interchange would be constructed as a new Exit 18.

In his talk, Commissioner McMurry detailed some of the projects that Georgia DOT will be building in Forsyth County over the next few years. You can see many of them at this link. They include widening major east-west arteries, including McGinniss Ferry Road, Highway 20 from Gwinnett County to Cherokee County, and Highway 369, Browns Bridge Road / Matt Highway. In addition to the work on Georgia 400, other north-south route improvements include on Highway 9 / Atlanta Highway and Highway 371 / Post Road.

Many of the projects announced at the summit have long been on the drawing board, but no date had been set because financing for the projects was uncertain, at best. Commissioner McMurry cited the enactment of House Bill 170 as the reason the additional funds became available, going as far as telling attendees that his presentation would have been totally different had the measure not passed. He also cited the county’s willingness to use its own money to do some of the initial work on the projects.

One of the summit attendees was Tom Moreland, the former Georgia DOT commissioner, whose eponymous interchange is fondly known as Spaghetti Junction to Atlantans. After the event ended, he got into a conversation with a visitor who noted a similarity between the budding partnership between the DOT and Forsyth County, and a similar relationship between the DOT and Gwinnett County 20 or 25 years ago. “There was another similarity between then and now,” Moreland said. “25 years ago, Gwinnett passed its first bond issue to fund transportation projects.”

Peach State Fails to Get Stimulus Money for Transportation Projects

Remember the Stimulus? That was President Obama and the Democratic House and Senate’s response to the financial meltdown of late 2008. Billions of dollars that were meant to put Americans back to work, working on shovel-ready projects, many of which the president finally admitted weren’t quite that shovel ready. Even when grants were authorized, as in the case of the Atlanta Streetcar, some projects took years to complete, and went over budget.

Actually, the stimulus lives in 2015, in the form of Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grants, more commonly known as TIGER grants. And today, the federal Transportation Department announced around $500 million for some 39 projects in 34 states. And none of the discretionary money went to Georgia, although the AJC reports there were numerous requests, including an extension of the aforementioned Atlanta streetcar. Also on the chopping block: a “Smart Corridor” project to make potential bus rapid transit along US 41 in Cobb County possible.

Although the grants have been awarded on an annual basis since 2009, there is no guarantee that more funding would be available. Meanwhile, the House and Senate passed a extension of the surface transportation act that provides funding for a whopping three more weeks, until November 20th.

If there’s a moral here, maybe it’s that Georgia should rely more on local and state funding for transportation projects. It’s a good thing we passed the TSPLOST House Bill 170.

Without a Long-Term Highway Bill, GDOT Delays December Project Bids

Blaming Congress for not passing a long-term Highway Trust Fund measure, the Georgia Department of Transportation announced on Thursday that it would postpone $123 million worth of transportation projects from going out to bid in December. The 34 projects, including $65 million in resurfacing and maintenance on I-75 in north Georgia in Catoosa county, and in Turner and Tift counties in south Georgia, need guaranteed federal funding before they can be put out to bid.

Congress passed a short term highway funding bill–the 34th such measure since 2009–before the August recess. That measure, and with it the ability of the federal government to send highway funds to states, expires on October 29th.

“It has been ten years since Congress has been able to pass a transportation funding bill of more than a two-year duration,”said Georgia DOT Commissioner Russell McMurry. “Temporary fixes do not create the certainty state DOTs require in order to plan major transportation projects. We can’t do long-term transportation planning with short-term funding fixes.”

Congress hopes to pass a long term funding bill in the near future. H.R. 3763, the “Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2015,” was approved by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Thursday, clearing the way for it to be sent to the House floor for a vote. 7th District Rep. Rob Woodall, who serves on the committee, said in a prepared statement:

The need for safe roads and sound infrastructure isn’t a partisan issue, and today’s progress is a result of a lot of hard work by the members of this Committeee. Providing long-term certainty and solutions for the American people is priority number one, and we took a very significant step in the right direction today. I’m eager to see this legislation come to the House Floor for a vote, and ultimately make its way to the President’s desk for signature.

The DOT projects will remain on the shelf until such time there is guaranteed federal money to fund them.

Breaking Down The Additional Transportation Revenue

Lawton already told you about the 4.6% increase in state tax revenues last month. The press release from Governor Deal’s office stated that:

House Bill 170, which introduced an array of tax reforms and new tax legislation beginning on July 1, generated transportation revenue of $74.3 million in September.

Where did that number come from, and does it really represent a $74 million tax increase, which annualizes out to about $892 million? My analysis says not really.

Looking at the spreadsheet provided with the press release, we can see how the $74 million was arrived at. $689,000 came from highway impact fees — the fees for heavy or electric vehicles that were mandated by HB 170. Another $13,297,000 came from the $5 per room per night hotel motel tax. The final $60,344,000 came from increased motor fuel tax revenues. Let’s break that down a bit more.

In order to be completely accurate in my analysis, I would need to know the number of gallons of gasoline, diesel fuel, and other fuel types sold in both September 2014 and September 2015. That’s because the tax rates on the different types of fuels vary, and the differing rates will skew the numbers slightly. For my analysis, I assume that all fuel consumed was gasoline. While that affects the number of gallons of fuel purchased, I don’t believe it affects the end result too much. Read more

In Murray County, Some Object to Construction of the Appalachian Regional Port

Back in July, we told you about plans to construct an inland port in Murray County that would allow freight transported north from Savannah by rail to be offloaded to trucks, which would then transport it to the final destination. The inland port was touted as a way of removing 50,000 trucks from the interstates around Atlanta once the facility opened.

While the port is likely to be endorsed by anyone who has sat in northbound traffic in Henry County, there is a group of Murray County residents who are dead set against it, according to a report from Chattanooga’s WTVC.

In the last two weeks the group’s organizer Rhonda Kazmierski says the petition has gotten about 400 signatures online and in writing combined.

“We immediately began to take steps to prevent this port from coming into our county,” Kazmierski says, “There are so many other places that this port would be suitable for.”

Thursday, Kazmierski and a group of protesters put up signs in opposition of the new project.

“Just because they have a memorandum of agreement does not mean that this is a done deal,” Kazmierski says. “There are several steps that still are going to have to go through in order to place this port here.

A change.org petition has gotten 127 supporters as of Friday morning. The petition cites concerns including additional traffic, pollution, health risks and “increase in criminal element” as reasons to oppose construction of the port.

While it promises congestion relief to metro Atlanta commuters, Murray County residents will also benefit from the port, according to a July Question and Answer Facebook post by Murray County. In it, the county estimates the port will bring 20 jobs to the northwest Georgia county. The county also hopes that construction of the port will mean that Highway 411, which will carry truck traffic before it gets to I-75 will be widened from two to four lanes. There’s also the prospect of bringing new businesses to the county that want to be close to the port.

Question: Have there been any businesses approaching Murray County because of this port?

Answer: Yes! Due to confidentiality agreements, we cannot disclose more details than that, but absolutely! We are incredibly excited about the developments already taking place, and we look forward to sharing them with you once they’re finalized.

Barring a successful effort from those who shout, “Not in my back yard,” the Appalachian Regional Port is expected to open in 2018.

A Push Begins for Transit in Gwinnett County

A Norcross man has started a movement to bring push for a 2016 vote on bringing mass transit to Gwinnett County. Jack Snyder is the founder of Gwinnett Needs Mass Transit, and he took the opportunity to address the county’s Board of Commissioners on Tuesday during the audience comments portion of their regular business meeting. You can view Snyder’s comments here. Snyder told the board, “We have citizens who need this mass transit to commute to work going down to Atlanta. We also have businesses that are desiring of having individuals capable of arriving to their places of work by using mass transit.”

Snyder promoted Gwinnett Needs Mass Transit back in July, when an op-ed he wrote appeared in the online Gwinnett Forum website. In it, he laid out the need for transit, and tried to debunk some of the myths regarding mass transit and MARTA:

The environment for mass transit has and is changing in Gwinnett County, and with MARTA. As businesses relocate to Georgia, besides the offer of tax breaks for the company, the area’s mass transit also becomes an important concern to top officials in those companies. They know their employees must get around easily.

Millenniums [sic] moving to the metro Atlanta area want good schools, parks, and easy access to major events in the area, and with that desire, mass transit is a deciding enticement.

Mass transit station locations are a factor in higher property values to those housing options located nearby. Relocating millenniums want housing that is close to those stations and they are willing to pay for it, thus creating those higher property values.

Meanwhile, Atlanta Progressive News reports that Gwinnett Democrats, in conjunction with the Sierra Club, are working to bring transit to Georgia’s second largest county.

We are losing jobs, people can’t get to jobs, and it’s holding the entire region back,” Ilene Johnson, Communication Chair, Gwinnett Democratic Party, told APN.

“Business are leaving like NCR; we spent a lot of money to recruit NCR and now they are moving into Midtown [Atlanta],” Johnson said.

“The biggest thing we feel is needed is a change in leadership on the Gwinnett County Commission and we are going to work to get that,” Johnson said.

The county already operates express bus service to downtown Atlanta, along with local bus service, the bulk of which takes riders to and from the Doraville MARTA station. County officials announced recently that they were planning to update the county’s short and long term transportation plans beginning later this year.

Commission Chair Charlotte Nash, who is expected to run for re-election in 2016, has indicated that the county should renew its SPLOST next year rather than hold a vote on expanding transit or on bringing MARTA to Gwinnett. In August, many in the county participated in the Great Exchange, an effort to foster conversations about possible transportation changes or improvements of any type. According to Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District Director Chuck Warbington, the results of that effort are still being analyzed, and a report will be issued in coming weeks.