Originally created 06/27/99

Unintended consequence

The newly established Georgia Regional Transportation Authority has just chalked up its first -- and, hopefully, last -- unintended consequence.

Under the GRTA funding formula approved this year, areas like east Georgia will get millions less in road construction money over the next three years and Atlanta millions more. Specifically, according to state Department of Transportation documents, Atlanta will be receiving $220 million more than under the old formula and Augusta $105 million less.

This data seemingly makes a clairvoyant out of Augusta Mayor Bob Young who didn't want any part of Gov. Roy Barnes' new transportation superagency. Young warned it would shift big money from other areas of the state to help Atlanta fight its growing traffic and air pollution crises.

But in fairness to Barnes, this was not the GRTA funding formula he sought. In fact, he opposed it. But House Democrats insisted on changing it, ostensibly to prevent exactly what's happening -- making the rest of Georgia pay to fix Atlanta's problems.

Legislators made the mistake of thinking that if they scrapped the old funding formula, based on project needs, and replaced it with one requiring that highway building money be divided equally among the state's 11 congressional districts, that Atlanta would never get more than its share.

What lawmakers didn't realize is that pollution problems were limiting road construction in the Atlanta area, so districts outside the city were slated to get more than their share over the next several years. In short, an equal distribution of road funds now means Augusta would actually get less because the money being shifted from Atlanta under the old formula would be terminated.

House Speaker Pro Tem Jack Connell, D-Augusta, says he's still certain there's plenty of money in the pipeline to ensure that top priority projects such as the Savannah River Parkway, linking Augusta to Savannah; and the Fall Line Freeway, linking Augusta, Macon and Columbus, will be completed on schedule.

Even so, we find it reassuring that Connell, who's also Richmond County's legislative delegation leader, and Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker, D-Augusta, are wisely supporting a move to revisit GRTA legislation next January to "fine tune" the road-building funding formula.

Both Gov. Barnes and Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, who heads up the Senate, also have indicated they favor a second look. Only state Transportation Commissioner Wayne Shackelford seems opposed, but given his long-time Atlanta biases, that's not surprising.

All the Legislature has to do is recast the funding formula to fulfill its original intent, ensuring that Atlanta's road-building funds aren't "more equal" than the rest of Georgia's.


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