Bank would fund cities' projects

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ATLANTA --- Local officials around Georgia are eyeing legislation that would create a state-run infrastructure bank for low-interest loans on smaller transportation projects.

Already, 32 other states have created similar infrastructure banks in the past 10 years to meet a growing need to upgrade roads, streets and bridges. A survey of Georgia's cities by the Georgia Municipal Association in 2006 revealed a need for $1.1 billion to complete all of their transportation projects in a five-year period, excluding the city of Atlanta.

Proposed by Gov. Sonny Perdue, House Bill 1019 would allow cities, counties and even local tax-improvement districts to borrow money at attractive terms from the State Road and Tollway Authority. The governor is asking the General Assembly to jump-start it with $50 million so that it can become self-sustaining once loans it makes are repaid.

The bill has passed the House and Senate and is awaiting negotiations on minor differences.

Its goal is to address the projects below $3 million that aren't large enough to interest commercial banks or bond investors.

"We would be definitely be supportive of that," said George Patty, Augusta's planning and zoning director. He added that rising costs for construction materials and weak gas-tax collections are crimping transportation projects from two directions.

He would envision it helping with projects such as widening Wrightsboro Road from Barton Chapel Road to the county line or implementing an "intelligent transportation" system of cameras and signs that direct traffic around rush-hour snags.

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