Measure would reroute DOT

ATLANTA --- Top senators outlined legislation they hope to introduce this week that would bypass the Georgia Department of Transportation and create a new agency for constructing roads and passenger-rail systems.

The hope is the new agency would get roads built faster, said Senate President Pro Tem Tommie Williams, R-Lyons. He made his comments during a news conference Monday morning.

"I've waited for projects in my district for 13 years, and I'm in leadership and can't get them done for one reason or another," he said. "And every time you go back to DOT, it's a different reason the project is being held up."

The State Transportation Authority would sell bonds to raise money and would get appropriations of taxpayer funds from the General Assembly, while the department gets much of its money directly from gasoline taxes.

Having lawmakers look over the shoulders of the agency would ensure it operated more efficiently than the Transportation Department, said Sen. Jeff Mullis, the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

"This new structure will be transparent, will be visible to see where the money comes from, where it goes," said Mr. Mullis, R-Chickamauga.

Lawmakers have often chafed over their inability to control how the Transportation Department spends its money because the gas-tax funds are not subject to legislative appropriations. This new agency likely would be more responsive to the General Assembly since its funding would be largely dependent on lawmakers.

Plus, the new agency would focus on contracting with private companies that would build toll roads to complete projects quicker and at less expense to taxpayers.

Mr. Williams wrote legislation five years ago to encourage more toll roads at the Transportation Department, but none has been built.

Gov. Sonny Perdue, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker Glenn Richardson have all been negotiating over the details of the plan since the summer. Some critical details apparently remain unresolved, including whether it would be introduced in the House, the Senate or simultaneously, according to their offices.

Mr. Richardson's office declined to join the senators in describing the legislation as mostly done.

"The proposal, we're still working on it," said his spokesman Marshall Guest.

Mr. Perdue's spokesman, Chris Schrimpf, said the same thing.

"Everything is still being changed and looked at," he said.

Wednesday marks the halfway point in the 40-day legislative session, but the senators said the remaining time would be sufficient to pass even such sweeping legislation.