Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Governor Takes the Road to Streamlining Transportation Agencies
by Maggie Lee
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]

Editor's note: It's warmer today in Florida, where spring training commences, than it is here in the Peach State. If you're driving there, the Georgia roads you travel are also becoming the home of repairs that have come to a halt because the state can't afford to get the job done. Our Legislative reporter Maggie Lee writes today of the possible creation of a new state agency to keep traffic flowing, an agency that would take a lot of power from the current Department of Transportation, which some see as dysfunctional. Columnist Hollis Gillespie thinks honor is in short supply at the Capitol. Except when the firefighters are there. And if our baseball writer Paul Kaplan had his way, Alex Rodriguez, self-confessed steroid abuser, should be on his way out of spring training and into a new line of work. He's unfairly altered the game, Kaplan writes, and that's just not acceptable.

As always, we'd like to hear from you. GONSO is an enterprise founded and staffed by more than two dozen leading journalists and media executives in Georgia. We're providing content free -- for a limited period. Newspapers, broadcasters, bloggers and websites are welcome to use our articles -- please credit the writers and the Georgia Online News Service.

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Today's GONSO

Governor Takes the Road to Streamlining Transportation Agencies

by Maggie Lee
The state is considering a different way to manage transportation. The governor wants to do it with a new division that would absorb two agencies and drain power from the Department of Transportation.
Full Story

The Capitol is not on Fire

by Hollis Gillespie
Gold Dome bon vivant Hollis Gillespie took a look around the Capitol this week and thinks our legislators could use a dose of honor, something firefighters show the public every day.
Full Story

Steroids? You're Outta Here!

by Paul Kaplan
Alex Rodriguez fessed up about his use of steroids. Public confession may be good for his soul but it's not enough to repair the damage he's done to baseball by artificially altering the game. Send him off the mound and into the locker room. For good.
Full Story

Tomorrow's Budget
More nuclear power in Georgia? It's 'pro America,' sponsor says
by Maggie Lee
Gov. Perdue's Transportation Shuffle
by Lyle Harris
View to a Georgia Kill: A New Book Looks at Leo Frank on Film
by David Lee Simmons
Vouchers recognize the fact that one type of school doesn't fit all students' needs
by Lisa Baron

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