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- Georgia plans to spend $70 billion on road and bridge construction through 2050.
- Few high-price roadwork projects see lengthy delays or blown budgets.
- Higher gas tax has pumped $4.6 billion into roadwork and maintenance since 2015.
How quickly Georgia drivers see hundreds of roads and bridges fixed up to avoid traffic headaches depends on billions of new tax dollars amassed since 2015.
Less than half of Georgia’s nearly 126,000 miles of state and local highways had pavement in good condition as of 2019, totaling a distance larger than two trips around the world potentially in need of road upkeep in the coming decades, according to state Department of Transportation estimates. Meanwhile, populations in the Atlanta and Savannah metro areas are booming, combining with the state’s airports and shipping port to pile up traffic for drivers headed to work and commercial trucks that fuel the state’s busy freight industry.
To help tackle the problem, state and local officials are tapping more revenues from motor-fuel taxes to fund road construction, focusing especially in areas around cities where jobs and commercial truck routes tend to cluster. Local transportation advocates have high hopes that state officials are ready for the wave of construction projections, noting roadwork managers show a good track record of keeping projects mostly on time and on budget.
The number of roadwork projects have shot up in Georgia since the state passed an increase in the gas tax in 2015. (Credit: Brittney Phan for State Affairs)
Georgia officials aim to pump around $70 billion into road and bridge projects between 2021 and 2050, drawing from a mix of federal funds and a recent boost in state motor-fuel taxes to overhaul interstate connections, replace bridges and repave roads.
That money pool ranks road construction and maintenance as one of the most expensive tax-funded services in Georgia, behind only the state’s public K-12 schools and colleges and Medicaid programs. At roughly $3.6 billion, much of the state transportation agency’s budget this year comes thanks to a boost in Georgia’s motor-fuel tax that took effect in 2015, bumping the tax on gasoline from 7.5 cents per gallon plus sales tax to now about 28 cents per gallon.
The tax hike has helped state officials spend more than $6.5 billion on road and bridge construction since the gas tax’s increase, marking a dramatic increase compared to the roughly $273 million spent in 2015 before the gas tax hike, according to officials’ estimates.
Road construction slows traffic on Piedmont Road in Atlanta. (Credit: Beau Evans for State Affairs)
Most road and bridge projects have gone off without much of a hitch in recent years, giving advocates confidence in the state’s ability to handle the large amount of future roadwork.
Less than one-fourth of roughly 100 of the state’s priciest roadwork projects completed between fiscal years 2017 and 2020 missed their original deadlines to wrap up work, according to State Affairs’ analysis of state data. Of those, only a fraction of projects blew their deadlines by six months or more.
Likewise, only a handful of projects during that time spent more money to finish construction than were originally budgeted, state data shows. Just five projects of the roughly 100 reviewed overshot their budgets by $1 million or more, while many more projects came in under budget.
State officials can penalize slow-performing contractors by charging fees for missed deadlines and limiting problematic contractors’ ability to bid for new projects, according to Natalie Dale, a spokeswoman with the transportation agency. Overall, local advocates have faith that state officials can keep good tabs on roadwork contractors as hundreds more road, bridge and interstate projects roll out in the coming years.
“They’ve done a good job of administering that money,” Seth Millican, the executive director of the advocacy group Georgia Transportation Alliance, said of state officials’ handling of new revenues from the increased gas tax. “By any objective measure, that was an extraordinarily successful piece of legislation.”
This map shows Georgia's highway system of federal interstates and state and local roads. (Credit: Georgia Department of Transportation)
Georgia cities and counties also have benefited from the gas-tax legislation to the tune of nearly $1.3 billion in grants for routine maintenance since 2015, according to state officials’ estimates.
The 2015 legislation also gave local governments the ability to levy new sales taxes specifically for road and bridge construction. To date, 33 of Georgia’s 159 counties have passed new sales taxes for construction since 2015. Another 63 counties have collected separate road-focused sales taxes as a region since 2010, according to data from the nonprofit Association of County Commissioners of Georgia.
The new local sales taxes have pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into city and county governments for roadwork, including roughly $140 million during the 2017 fiscal year, according to a Georgia State University report.
“It’s a good tool to have,” said Kathleen Bowen, one of the association’s legislative directors. “But there’s never going to be enough money for transportation. There’s just never going to be enough.”
This map shows which Georgia counties have passed sales taxes for road construction (called "TSPLOST") since 2015. (Credit: Association of County Commissioners of Georgia)
Cities and counties own the vast majority of Georgia’s roads and bridges with little state oversight of many local construction projects, making it tough to gain a complete picture of how well each government manages their local projects.
Some delays with city and county-run road construction have drawn frustration from local residents, such as slow-going work for a road in Roswell that sparked a recent investigation by city officials, reported the North Fulton Neighbor.
State transportation officials keep watch of roadwork projects that combine state and local funds, as well as the nearly $1.3 billion in state maintenance grants sent to cities and counties since 2015. Strictly local construction doesn’t have that level of oversight, advocates say.
“I’m guessing it’s all over the board,” Tom Gehl, the governmental relations director at the nonprofit Georgia Municipal Association, said about local roadwork timeliness. “It’s probably some cities and counties do a great job, and also maybe some contractors who don’t do a great job.”
Crews work on widening I-16 near Savannah in one of the state's major road construction projects. (Credit: Georgia Department of Transportation)
On top of state and local funds, Georgia transportation officials have a pile of federal dollars available for major road projects that face additional budget and timing requirements alongside the state’s own monitoring.
Nearly half of the state transportation agency’s current $3.6 billion budget comes from federal funds, much of which will go to add lanes and overhaul connections for major interstates over the next decade including I-85, I-285 and I-16. While delays recently hit a $1.7 billion project for new express lanes on metro Atlanta’s GA-400, local advocates see the overall influx of state, federal and local roadwork as key to easing traffic and opening up freight channels amid Georgia’s growing population.
“Growth continues to be a challenge,” said the transportation alliance’s Millican. “I think we’re seeing an unprecedented level of cooperation among our agency folks in terms of talking about what’s important for our state in terms of infrastructure investments.”
What else would you like to know about Georgia's roads and public transit? Share your thoughts/tips by emailing [email protected].
A study committee of Georgia senators took a decisive step Tuesday toward ending a longstanding and contentious law that regulates how and where new medical facilities are located in the state.
The committee’s decision centers on the 44-year-old Certificate of Need law. It was created to control health care costs and cut down on duplication of services and unnecessary expansions. It determines when, where and if hospitals need to be built. Opponents have said the law prevents competition and enables big hospitals to have a monopoly, often shutting out small and private medical outlets.
On Tuesday, the Senate Study Committee on Certificate of Need Reform effectively said the law needs to be repealed. The committee approved, in a 6-2 vote, nine recommendations.
“Based upon the testimony, research presented, and information received, the Study Committee on Certificate of Need Reform has found that the problem Georgia’s CON law was intended to combat no longer exists,” the report said.
However, the head of the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals said Tuesday that repealing the law would be a bad idea.
“It would have a devastating financial impact on hospitals and the quality and access to health care,” Monty Veazey, the alliance’s chief executive, told State Affairs.
Veazey said he has not seen the recommendations yet but his organization has sent its own set of recommendations to the senate and house study committees.
“We believe that the certificate of need really does need some modernization and we look forward to working with the committee to work through those recommendations and see if we can reach a compromise position during the upcoming legislative session,” Veazey said. “We still want to see what the House committee recommends before moving forward.”
Here’s what the senate study committee recommends, according to a draft:
- Repeal CON requirements for obstetrics services, neonatal intensive care, birth centers and all services related to maternal and neonatal care across Georgia.
- End requirements for hospital-based CON on Jan. 1, 2025.
- Reform CON laws to eliminate CON review for new and expanded inpatient psychiatric services and beds that serve Medicaid patients and the uninsured.
- Repeal all cost expenditure triggers for CON.
- All medical and surgery specialties should be considered a single specialty, including cardiology and general surgery.
- Multi-specialty centers should be allowed, particularly in rural areas.
- Remove CON for hospital bed expansion.
- Revise freestanding emergency department requirements such that they must be within 35 miles of an affiliated hospital.
- Remove CON for research centers.
The committee will present its recommendations to the Georgia General Assembly when it reconvenes in January.
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ATLANTA — The first step in the 2023 electoral redistricting process occurred Monday when Sen. Shelly Echols, R-Gainesville, chair of the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee, released a draft proposal of new Senate district maps.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ordered Georgia to redraw its state House, Senate and congressional district maps, adopted in 2021 by a majority-Republican-led Legislature, after finding they violated the Votings Rights Act by diluting the power of Black voters. The Georgia General Assembly is charged with submitting new maps to comply with Jones’ order by Dec. 8, and will be meeting in an eight-day special legislative session to do so, starting on Wednesday.
The proposed Senate maps would create two Black-majority voting districts while eliminating two white majority districts in metro Atlanta now represented by Democrats. The districts of state Sen. Elena Parent, chair of the Senate Democratic caucus, and Democratic Sen. Jason Esteves, a freshman, would become majority-Black if the redrawn maps make it through the redistricting process, a change that could invite considerably more primary challenges.
The proposed maps do not significantly alter the district lines for Sen. Valencia Seay, D-Riverdale, and Sen. Marty Harbin, R-Tyrone, whose districts Jones ruled did not comply with the Voting Rights Act. It will be up to Jones to decide if the new maps pass muster.
As it stands, the proposed Senate map will leave Republicans with a 33-23 advantage in the Senate.
On Wednesday legislators will plunge into their redistricting work during a special session at the Capitol. In addition to the state Senate maps, lawmakers must also redraw electoral maps to create Black majorities in one additional congressional district in west-metro Atlanta, and in five additional state House districts in Atlanta and the Macon-Bibb County area.
The proposed Senate maps (and all proposed maps to be submitted by legislators) are available on the Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office’s website. Written comments can be submitted (and viewed) by the public through the portal available on the Georgia General Assembly website. Most of the reapportionment and redistricting committee’s hearings are open to the public; the daily legislative schedule is available here.
“The committee encourages public participation and values the input of the community in this vital democratic process,” Echols said in a statement released on Monday.
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