Originally created 08/05/99

Funding flexibility requested



ATLANTA -- Georgia lawmakers are pushing for changes in the legislation creating a regional transportation authority that would increase flexibility in the allocation of highway funding, a high-ranking transportation official said Wednesday.

A bill the Georgia Legislature passed in March to establish the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority guaranteed each of the state's 11 congressional districts an equal share of most federal transportation aid during any three-year period. Lawmakers concerned that the new authority would shortchange areas outside metro Atlanta added the provision to the legislation.

But on Wednesday, Deputy Transportation Commissioner Steve Parks told state Transportation Board members during a workshop that the three-year provision doesn't allow for unforeseen problems that might arise during highway planning.

As an example, Mr. Parks used the Fall Line Freeway project, a major highway project connecting Augusta and Columbus, which is being held up because of environmental concerns surrounding a small stretch in the Macon area. If the three-year provision were in effect, he said, the delay would force that district to lose $26 million to another part of the state Department of Transportation budget.

"Nobody disagrees with equitable distribution of the funds," he said. "The difficulty is trying to figure out the best way to do that.

"The question is whether that three-year window gives us enough flexibility."

During a meeting of the Senate Transportation Committee last month, state Transportation Commissioner Wayne Shackelford also warned that the distribution provision would hamper the department's ability to finance large, expensive projects that benefit many districts. Replacement of the Sidney Lanier Bridge in Glynn County, for instance, cost $100 million and would have been difficult to complete as quickly had the DOT board been forced to equalize spending.

The only major chunks of federal transportation aid exempted from the balanced-distribution requirement are funding for the ports themselves and for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority.

The flexibility issue could be addressed in modifications in the GRTA legislation being put together by lawmakers on the House and Senate transportation committees, Mr. Parks said. He expects those proposals to be taken up when the Legislature convenes in January.

Dave Williams is based in Atlanta and can be reached at (404) 589-8424 or mnews@mindspring.com.