Governor Takes the Road to Streamlining Transportation Agencies|
Georgia Online News Service
A state senate bill some 100 pages long will create a new transport agency, realigning the way major transport projects are prioritized and funded, if Gov. Sonny Perdue and his allies in the Georgia legislature have their way.
The bill, expected as early as Wednesday, would create the State Transportation Authority, which will take some powers from the Georgia Department of Transportation and completely absorb the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority and the State Road and Tollway Authority.
Senate President pro tem Tommie Williams (R-Lyons) will carry the legislation. The text comes with the blessings of Perdue, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker Glenn Richardson, all of whom have been collaborating on the work for weeks, Williams said.
The new agency would designate some 90 percent of its own projects; the legislature could name the remaining 10 percent, according to Williams' comments this week in a preview of the legislation. The legislature would also decide the STA's budget and the proportions of state money it must spend on maintenance, improvement and local government grants.
GDOT responded diplomatically to the idea of a transport overhaul done by just a few hands.
"All of the efforts signify a renewed focus on transportation and it is finally getting the attention it deserves," read a GDOT statement made a day after the bill outline was introduced. "We realize there will be various opinions about the best way ... Whether it is looking at restructuring, funding allocation or even determining who provides specific transportation services. Many of the changes will require the approval of our citizens who are most affected daily by our current challenges."
The STA would be headed by a Secretary of Transportation and ten other board members. The governor would appoint five, the speaker of the House three and the lieutenant governor the last three. Right now, GDOT is headed by a 13-member board elected by groups of legislators in each of 13 districts, which means all General Assembly members have a role in selecting the board. The governor, speaker and lieutenant governor are all Republicans.
GDOT would basically cede most of its planning and funding power to the STA, but keep its maintenance role on the state's road and bridges, says Williams. Georgia's annual transportation budget is around $2 billion; GDOT faces a deficit of $456 million for FY 2009, according to testimony from Commissioner Gena Evans.
Several Republican legislators have called GDOT dysfunctional, or some variation thereof, and called for complete reform. The FY 2009 shortfall and languishing projects are part of the problem for the legislators.
Both SRTA and GRTA, the two agencies that may get the axe, are following the governor's lead, say spokespersons for both. They're referring all questions about the formulation of the proposals in the bill and their potential impact to the governor's office, at least until the legislation is submitted.
SRTA operates the state's toll roads. GRTA works in 13 metro counties to help coordinate regional commuter travel and land use, with an aim to improving the metro's air quality.
Maggie Lee specializes in quality of life topics, Atlanta's international communities and general reporting. She covers Georgia economic development and the Chinese community as a stringer for China Daily and chronicles life in Georgia's most diverse county for the DeKalb Champion. [full bio]