Tough choices loom as Georgia maps its road(s) ahead

Few people expected Georgia’s legislators to pursue any big new transportation initiatives this year. So far, legislators are meeting that expectation.

The rejection of the T-SPLOST in nine of Georgia’s 12 regions is still fresh, and most state agencies face budget cuts amid stagnant tax revenues. Yet, this is a critical moment for our state to figure out how to pay for transportation infrastructure.

But not only our state. All signs indicate the so-called budget sequester will force Congress to cut spending by tens of billions of dollars a year. And that will be just “the first of many large cutbacks” affecting transportation, predicts Robert Poole.

Robert Poole

Robert Poole

“There will be no more ‘nice to have’ things,” says Poole, co-founder and head of transportation policy at the libertarian Reason Foundation. “If we’re going to continue … to invest in transportation, the states are going to have to pick up the ball.”

But, Poole added during a Thursday speech at a Georgia Public Policy Foundation event in Cobb County, there’s a catch.

Federal funding for transportation stands to fall sharply for two chief reasons. Gas-tax revenues are in the middle of a long-term decline as cars become more fuel-efficient, and Congress will be hard-pressed to supplement those funds. In Georgia, federal money for roads and transit in 2030 stands to be nearly a third lower than in 2009.

The catch: States rely on their own gas-tax revenues, also trending downward. So, “unless there is the political courage to double gas tax [rates], which ain’t gonna happen,” Poole says, states must pay for more of their transportation infrastructure and do so from a new revenue source.

The best way to do that, he argues, is to shift from a “per gallon” charge, a la the gas tax, to a “per mile” charge. Tolls are the prime example.

As states face tighter budgets, thanks in large part to pensions and health care, Poole says they’ll need to shift from “funding” infrastructure with cash to “financing” it by issuing bonds or partnering with private investors. Either way, toll revenues would pay back the cost of the projects over a period of decades.

Unfortunately for Georgia, there’s another catch: We’ve been moving in the opposite direction.

In 2009, the DOT reversed course from the “financing” model and went back to cash funding. In 2011, the state pulled the plug on a public-private partnership (PPP) to build reversible toll lanes on I-75 and I-575 in Cobb and Cherokee. By the end of 2013, Gov. Nathan Deal has promised, the state’s only toll will come down from Ga. 400.

The abrupt move on the 75/575 project was particularly harmful, Poole says: “People don’t forget that.”

There’s some $200 billion worldwide waiting to be invested in public infrastructure, he says, and investors will shy away from places with “political risk.”

Places like Georgia, where companies have spent millions on PPP bids that never panned out. Poole calls our reputation for political risk “pretty bad” and says Georgia needs a series of incremental successes to become competitive with states like North Carolina, Texas and Virginia, which are tapping into that $200 billion pool of capital.

If legislators can’t spend more on transportation this year, a cheap alternative would be to spend time figuring out how we can get back in the game of attracting private capital to improve our public infrastructure.

– By Kyle Wingfield

Find me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter

98 comments Add your comment

DeborahinAthens

January 28th, 2013
6:32 am

We are pathetic. When one goes to cities like Chicago, NYC, San Francisco, D.C.that have real public transportation it is apparent what a joke our city is. We are only going to continue to fall further and further behind. We will lose business, we will lose conventions, we will slowly devolve and degrade to a substandard town like those in a Banana Republic. Our roads, which used to be our pride, are crumbling and are congested beyond reason. Yet all our “leaders” can do is come up with creatve tolls. Raise the state gas tax, use it to build a real mass transit system. And yeah, the state should subsidize said system.

Aesop's Fables and other Lib Economic Theories

January 28th, 2013
6:55 am

Chicago, San Franfreako and DC has real transportation? Say what? How can this lib pick out three places that are gridlocked even at 1 in the morning and fawn over their transportation? And what sound finances they have also. How bizarre.

middle of the road

January 28th, 2013
7:03 am

“By the end of 2013, Gov. Nathan Deal has promised, the state’s only toll will come down from Ga. 400.”

Yea, we will see if that REALLY happens. This would never have been a problem if the builders of 400 had not promised to take the toll down when it was paid off. Oh, that’s right, it never would have passed and have been built due to the opposition.

If the politicians want money to repair the roads and build roads, then just grow a pair and up the gasoline tax. But don’t campaign to use our transportation money to build boondoggles like MARTA.

Laurie

January 28th, 2013
7:47 am

I jusr rode a MARTA train a couple of weekends ago, and was pleasantly suprised by how easy and safe it was to use. You say boondoggle, I say potential.

Serious Robuck

January 28th, 2013
8:23 am

So just who’s taking us backward, Kyle?

The Perdue years were a disaster for Georgia, abd things are only getting worse with the current set of corrupt knuckle-draggers.

Ending your column by suggesting the “cheap alternative” is emblematic of the way all of you “conservatives” think about any tough issues where investment is required. Pathetic, indeed.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

January 28th, 2013
8:52 am

Hey, let’s follow Louisiana’s path – Kansas is doing it and so can we!

Much like Bobby Jindal in Louisiana, Governor Sam Brownback is busy turning Kansas into a right-wing paradise, with low wages, few public services, and reactionary social policy. Since 2010, when conservative Republicans—including Brownback—took full control of the state, Kansas has passed strict new anti-abortion laws as well as large cuts to education and mental healthcare services. And last year, Brownback signed a bill that cuts state income taxes by roughly $3.7 billion over five years, and collapses the state’s current three-bracket tax system into two brackets: 4.9 percent and 3 percent.

http://www.salon.com/2013/01/27/sam_brownbacks_kansas_is_a_resort_for_makers_partner/

Kansas, soon to be the NEW Mississippi!

Don't Tread

January 28th, 2013
8:54 am

Personally, I don’t want to see Georgia EVER become a NYC, Chicago, SF, LA, or DC. Just got back from NYC and yes, while there are cabs everywhere, it’s cheaper to fly 1,000 miles on an airplane to NYC than it is to go from LaGuardia to Manhattan and back (less than 30 miles total). Seriously. But if you people think those are great places, by all means, go live there.

If we must raise the gas tax to cover the shortfall from increased fuel efficiency, so be it.

Triple Nickel

January 28th, 2013
8:54 am

Aesop, “get a mit and get in the game” Chicago, NYC and San Francisco not only are far easier cities to move around in they also are cities that continue to attract employers, grow and thrive.

Thomas Heyward Jr

January 28th, 2013
8:58 am

As per the 2012 Republican “small government” vice presidential Nomineee Paul Ryan suggests———-maybe Georgia should ask Clinton’s advice.
.
The people who wasted their vote for that numbskull should be ashamed.
.
lol

Rafe Hollister preparing for an Obamanist America

January 28th, 2013
9:01 am

The Obama economy has done much to correct the traffic problem in Atlanta. Assuming it will end in four years, we should use this time to really look hard at what needs doing and then figure out how we pay for it. These Obama like notions that we just need to start doing something, time is of the essence, usually sink the quickly crafted projects. Once the light of day hits these quick fixes, people realized how expensive they are, and how insufficient they will be when in place.

It is antithetical to government, but we need to slow down, take our time, and do something right for once.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

January 28th, 2013
9:06 am

North Carolina and Texas differ from Georgia in that both those states have more than 1 active business center (NC has Raleigh/Triangle, Charlotte, Triad. Texas has Dallas, Houston) so there are completely different problems to address.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

January 28th, 2013
9:09 am

we should use this time to really look hard at what needs doing

Conservatives say this same thing at least once a week. They just never actually get around to doing the hard work of really looking, determining options, and then narrowing down options (followed by putting plans in place.)

Serious Robuck

January 28th, 2013
9:09 am

But North Carolina and Texas don’t have Go Fish, Georgia!!

The Social Diva

January 28th, 2013
9:12 am

It’s time to get rid of the “nice to have things” from our state budget. You can rest assured that the people of Georgia have had to get rid of those things. Take money from the big government salaries and put it into roads and bridges. Paying Georgia lottery employees millions is stupid and an ill advised plan with so many Georgians living in poverty. Enough!

Rafe Hollister preparing for an Obamanist America

January 28th, 2013
9:17 am

They just never actually get around to doing the hard work of really looking, determining

Yeah Finn, it is hard to plan, while watching the Libs wastefully spend the money you had counted on using, to implement your plan. Can’t raise and leave money laying around, with a liberal in the room.

Dave

January 28th, 2013
9:34 am

It would be “nice to have” the $150k being spent on Chip Rogers’ salary back. It would be “nice to have” a Senate that wasn’t proud of limiting itself to $100 gifts. It would be “nice to have” a House that didn’t go around chanting “transparency” rather than engaging in ethics reform. It would be “nice to have” no one in Georgia local governments under investigation or indictment for what, say a year running? I suppose that’s enough wishing for this morning.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

January 28th, 2013
9:44 am

What this boils down to is the opinion that Conservatives can not govern. Day in and day out we see Georgia sliding to the bottom of the barrel.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

January 28th, 2013
9:47 am

Here is what Kansas is facing:

The bill included the repeal of tax credits for food, rental housing and child care that benefited low-income residents. Because of those repeals, the poorest 20 percent of Kansans will spend an additional 1.3 percent of their incomes, an average of $148 per year, on taxes, according to a report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

As for the top 1 percent of Kansans? Their tax burden will decrease by $21,087 a year, or a little less than the state poverty line for a two-person household.

http://www.salon.com/2013/01/27/sam_brownbacks_kansas_is_a_resort_for_makers_partner/

Sticking it to the poor is the Christian thing to do.

Aesop's Fables and other Lib Economic Theories

January 28th, 2013
9:49 am

If the “bottom of the barrel” is defined by not being some high tax liberal hellhole run by a bunch of nanny state gun grabbing socialists, then I think we should quit sliding and just jump the rest of the way down.

Don't Tread

January 28th, 2013
9:54 am

“not being some high tax liberal hellhole run by a bunch of nanny state gun grabbing socialists”

Having returned from such a place, I second that motion. It was really nice to be home.

Cheesy Grits is gone but not forgotten

January 28th, 2013
10:02 am

Libs wastefully spend the money you had counted on using, to implement your plan. Can’t raise and leave money laying around, with a liberal in the room.

Conservative are the real big spenders. They just prefer to spend on other things.

Like blowing people up instead of feeding them.

Most of this countries debt was run up under Republican Presidents.

Road Scholar

January 28th, 2013
10:03 am

Rafe: There you go again! Using the word PLAN in your post is directly against anything Georgia does on transportation. It’s all kneejerk actions by each Governor. Barnes and Perdue waited to their last terms to try to get something done. Barnes though was hijacked by using new revenue (Bonds) to be used on the GRIP system. Rural 4 laning of state routes should not have been our priority then. Then Perdue waited until his second term…and waited…and waited..so what did we get?

Deal’s Tsplost , which only passed in 3 areas, which has ended any chance at new statewide financing.
Who in state government has a vision for our future? They are either only focused on now, or have been stuck in the past! But Sonny got the Fall Line Freeway route changed…which now goes directly along property he owns! I’m shocked!
(Not Really)
MARTA needs to be expanded to North Fulton and along I 285 from the Galleria to Doraville immediately to bolster the revenue stream ridership. The gas tax needs to be adjusted for inflation.

Aesop, yes DC has a working transit system! It looks like three noodles that fell onto a plate with rail lines crossing each other more than once, but it is quite effective. Remove that and you would have not only unlimited congestion, but even worse air quality. I’ve used their system many times and it is effective, and the fares are based on distance traveled. It actually goes beyond their perimeter highway, which is a disaster.

indigo

January 28th, 2013
10:06 am

Rafe – 9:17

The Georgia Legislature is dominated by Republicans.

I don’t think they are “watching the Libs wastefully spend the money”.

Political power does not work that way.

Are you EVER going to start thinking before posting?

Cheesy Grits is gone but not forgotten

January 28th, 2013
10:06 am

Having returned from such a place, I second that motion. It was really nice to be home.

You should have thanked a few of them while there.

Thanks to their large economies and the fact they send more into Washington than they get back.

They subsidize things for the very poor backwards rural south.

Heck the South probably still wouldn’t have electricity.

JF McNamara

January 28th, 2013
10:09 am

“The rejection of the T-SPLOST in nine of Georgia’s 12 regions is still fresh, and most state agencies face budget cuts amid stagnant tax revenues”

Revenues are stagnant? It’s time to cut taxes!!!

MANGLER

January 28th, 2013
10:10 am

Tax GA titled vehicles based on miles driven, and have a toll booth on 95, 85, 20 & 16, so that the traffic passing through the State pays a little as well. I just don’t see how anyone has a problem with the miles driven tax vs. the fuel surcharge. The price of gas will drop 15.5% instantly. Give each GA resident a transponder (think Sun Pass) and that can do the math fer ya.
The only issue I see there is when a GA resident drives outside of GA in their car. The transponder can solve that issue as well.

Ivan Cohen

January 28th, 2013
10:10 am

It’s not like Georgia Lottery employees don’t have families to feed and bills to pay. Of course they could always get paid the same salaries that the State Senate and Georgia House of Representatives make.

Proud Voter

January 28th, 2013
10:13 am

In four years, all new roads and improved transit systems will connect Atlanta and all of Deal’s constituents, his district, and those who continued to support him period.

Aquagirl

January 28th, 2013
10:15 am

Give each GA resident a transponder (think Sun Pass) and that can do the math fer ya.

In the state of the microchip legislation fiasco? Yeah right. The shrieking over cars of SATAN! would be hilarious though.

http://blogs.ajc.com/political-insider-jim-galloway/2010/04/19/delusions-the-legislature-and-an-implanted-microchip/

Jefferson

January 28th, 2013
10:22 am

Dirt roads for BMWs.

Dusty

January 28th, 2013
10:23 am

Well, liberals here seem to have forgotten one thing. By traveling the great highways of Georgia they can still ;go right OUT of this state and stop their suffering. Bye bye.

The second thing that liberals always forget is the fact that we, the country, the states and most everybody is in debt. BIG DEBT. Trillions of $$$ in debt. The more you spend the bigger gets the debt. Some governors know that. Unfortunately, the president does not.

Aesop's Fables and other Lib Economic Theories

January 28th, 2013
10:26 am

The kleptocracy of new yorkkk, having seen the astounding success of twin sister state konnektikut’s “assault” weapons ban, which was in full worthless effect the day of the Newton massacre, said we need an “assault” weapons ban too!

And now, in the people’s republic of new yorkkk, only outlaws and Sugary Drink Size Compliance Officers have guns.

td

January 28th, 2013
10:28 am

“As states face tighter budgets, thanks in large part to pensions and health care”

Pensions are not a problem in Georgia due to thanks to reforms put in from both Democrat and Republicans the past 20 years. “Health care” (Medicaid) is a huge problem. Our state revenues have almost gotten back to the point they were in 2007 ($22.6 billion) now ($21.5 billion) but we continue to have to make cuts to transportation, Education and most government services because of the severe increase in Medicaid spending.

We must decide what is more important to either continue to totally subsidize the insurance for people or our transportation needs and the education of our children.

Rafe Hollister preparing for an Obamanist America

January 28th, 2013
10:29 am

Indigo

It is not the conservatives in the Georgia legislature spending all the state revenue, it is Federal unfunded mandates forced on them by the liberals in Congress. She where most state revenue goes.

Road
You are right in that politicians do make poor decisions, boy what a revelation. What we need is an objective group that knows about transportation and give them 6-9 months to come up with a plan. Then vote yea or nay, like the base closure commission. No new studies or wasteful spending, just put them in a room with the available studies and data. Don’t allow the politicians to insert that little curb cut they want to put in for their best friend or to pick and choose things they like and don’t like.

I realize the politicians will be reluctant to give up their power, but that is the only way to get the people behind improvements, eliminate the gifting, taking, and lobbying. Just throwing half baked ideas out there and funding them, hoping for improvement is stupid.

Cheesy Grits is gone but not forgotten

January 28th, 2013
10:32 am

The second thing that liberals always forget is the fact that we, the country, the states and most everybody is in debt. BIG DEBT. Trillions of $$$ in debt

We dont forget. But you guys sure do when a Republican is in the White House.

Most of this countries debt was run up under Republicans.

All of a sudden when a Democrat is in charge its a problem.

Real convenient.

Dusty

January 28th, 2013
10:32 am

Cheesy,

I will be glad contribute to your ticket out of Georgia. No need for you to suffer here in our gracious South..

Go home to the frozen North and enjoy their sunshine. Rid yourself of unhappiness. Greyhound is ready when you are.

indigo

January 28th, 2013
10:36 am

Rafe

The House is majority Republican.

The liberals are the minority.

They(liberals) can’t force anything.

Dusty

January 28th, 2013
10:38 am

Uh oh, CHEESY doesn’t remember the great jump in our national debt over the last four years. AND Bush has not been president the last four years. You forgot!!

When you head for the frozen North, please stop in Washington and find out who is president and what is going on. You are in for a big surprise!!

Cheesy Grits is gone but not forgotten

January 28th, 2013
10:38 am

I will be glad contribute to your ticket out of Georgia. No need for you to suffer here in our gracious South..

Ill be gone soon enough and leave you hillbillies gladly.

Happiness is the South in your rear view mirror.

For now family matters keep me here.

But not much longer halleluiah.

Rafe Hollister preparing for an Obamanist America

January 28th, 2013
10:39 am

Thanks to their large economies and the fact they send more into Washington than they get back.

Yep, Finn is right for the most part. 7 of the 10 wealthiest counties in the US are in and around Washington, DC. Washington, DC is a boom town. So, a great deal of the money sent there, somehow manages to stay there as well. We seem to handle federal money not with a scoop, but with a colander.

Cheesy Grits is gone but not forgotten

January 28th, 2013
10:41 am

Uh oh, CHEESY doesn’t remember the great jump in our national debt over the last four years. AND Bush has not been president the last four years. You forgot!!

Reagan tripled our debt in 8 years.

I doubt Obama will even come close to that record.

td

January 28th, 2013
10:43 am

Here is a nice progressive idea that would solve the transportation problem and it is environmentally friendly.

1: No Semi allowed within 60 miles of Atlanta during the morning of the afternoon rush hour.

2: Tax all businesses, whose working must travel on our roads during rush hour, for not having a plan implemented where at least 25% of their work force is not teleworking or you could give tax credits to businesses that have more then 25% of their work forces teleworking.

zeke

January 28th, 2013
10:46 am

The only choice needing to be made, especially for the Atlanta area, is to drop all the proposed agenda items of the false named t-splost plan! Only thing that needs to be done is CONSTRUCT THE FORMERLY PROPOSED OUTER PERIMETER AND DIRECT TRAFFIC WITHOUT BUSINESS OR A DESTINATION IN THE CORE AREA INSIDE OR AROUND 285, AWAY FROM THAT AREA! Just the reduction in truck traffic would ease congestion dramatically! THE ONLY ALTERNATIVE WOULD BE TO CONSTRUCT SIX DIRECT PATH ROUTES BETWEEN THE THREE INTERSTATES, LITTLE OR NO INTERCHANGES BETWEEN POINTS TO BY PASS THE CORE AREA Then remove all the ridiculous hov lanes and improve traffic flow in the core area from 16% to 25% immediately AT NO COST!!!! leave the marta system as is until it can support at least the day to day operations with the fares charged those who actually use it! Then and only then should any expansion even be slightly considered!
But, too logical, too common sense to consider! Besides, the morons think that all traffic should go into the city! N O T!!!

Rafe Hollister preparing for an Obamanist America

January 28th, 2013
10:48 am

Indigo

I will type realllllllllllll slow for you, the unfunded mandates have been on the books (federal law), long before John Boehner gave up tending bar. Most of the other mandates on education, public transportation, unemployment, etc preceded this current makeup of Congress.

Road Scholar

January 28th, 2013
10:51 am

Rafe: The Tsplost list of projects were done by the Chamber of commerce with ARC’s and GDOT’s help. They held numerous public meetings getting initial input and final comments on the project list. Other than those who hate the Beltline and other mass transit, who else could the job?

We will need a good transit system in the future, esp when the price of gas goes up in the future. Transit will also remove vehicles from our roads.

MarkV

January 28th, 2013
10:53 am

Dusty is back on her hobby horse of national debt. Too bad she has such a tunnel vision, as if President Obama were the only president the country has ever had.

Rafe Hollister preparing for an Obamanist America

January 28th, 2013
10:54 am

zeke
I agree with your traffic reforms, and we need my objective non political group to recommended them for an up or down vote. That way each politician would have cover for his vote. He would be just one of the majority who voted for it and his excuse would be we couldn’t amend the proposal to help you out, Bubba, it was just up or down.

We definitely need an outer route for interstate traffic, but it will never happen, too much political damage for the proponents, unless we get creative.

Road Scholar

January 28th, 2013
10:55 am

zeke: Traffic modeling has shown that constructing the OP will have no affect on the congestion on I 285 and the other Interstates. The traffic removed would be replaced with that taking local arterials and streets and/or growth.

It will exasperate sprawl and dilute our scarce transportation and local dollars even more!

Rafe Hollister preparing for an Obamanist America

January 28th, 2013
10:57 am

Road

I think that was the problem with the Tsplost, too much public/political coordination, lobbying, friending, etc. I think we need objective, out of state, professional input to craft a plan. New ideas from new brains. Yea or Nay.

Dusty

January 28th, 2013
10:58 am

Dear Cheesy, Wake up!

I hate to tell you but Reagan is dead. Obama is now the president. He is raising the present debt higher every day.

Not Reagan. Not Bush. But OBAMA, raising a higher debt.every single day.