Will the election of Sonny Perdue as Georgia's governor turn out to be another red light for two four-lane projects that are vital to the future of Augusta's transportation economy?
For decades Augusta area public and civic leaders have been pushing to complete the Fall Line Freeway, linking Augusta and Columbus via Macon, and the Savannah River Parkway, providing a direct route between Augusta and Savannah.
One obstacle after another delayed the projects - sometimes it was lack of money or poor planning and other times it was environmental problems. Then Gov. Roy Barnes came up with an innovative financing plan to hasten completion of a host of road projects across the state, including the Freeway and Parkway.
Perdue, during his campaign for governor, didn't repudiate the Barnes plan, but he did criticize it as "risky" and threw doubt on whether he'd continue it.
Basically what Barnes did was borrow billions of dollars in anticipation of federal transportation aid. These Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle bonds - acronym, GARVEE - enabled him to speed up the road work. The plan is working wonderfully, too.
Since the state Department of Transportation signed the GARVEE contracts 18 month ago, crews have completed or started constructing 78 percent of Fall Line, up from 60 percent in May 2001; during roughly the same period, the Parkway leaped to 73 percent from 40 percent.
If GARVEE is abandoned, the four-laners will take 17 to 20 years to complete instead of three to seven. That would be another economically disastrous delay.
Jimmy Lester, our area's representative on the state Board of Transportation, points out just how big a shot in the arm to the local economy it could be when the Savannah River Parkway is completed. Augusta, he says, would be ideally suited to become a distribution point for supplies needed at the huge Daimler-Chrysler plant being built at the intersection of I-95 and I-16, Savannah.
Lester is optimistic the governor-elect won't make any hasty or radical changes to the Barnes plan, especially after he meets with the full transportation board. The accelerated road construction program funded by GARVEE should also be a huge economic benefit to many rural communities - the communities that really put Perdue over the top. We doubt he'll put a stop sign up on their economies.
New gubernatorial policies aren't the only threat to GARVEE, though. The financing mechanism is also threatened by a lawsuit against the planned Northern Arc, linking I-75 and I-85 north of Atlanta.
The controversial Arc is opposed by many Georgians, but if it goes down, so will all the other GARVEE projects. It has survived in the lower court, but Arc foes are appealing to the state Supreme Court.
Now here's where the new governor could be innovative. He opposes the Arc anyway, so he could just vow to veto any funding for it. That would make the lawsuit moot, but keep the way open to continue the other road initiatives. That's the road map economic developers hope he'll take.
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