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Monday, February 16, 2009

Perdue & Co. look to shake up state transportation planning

The AJC opens the blinds a bit to expose behind-the-scenes maneuvering that would overhaul the hierarchy of oversight on transportation spending in the state.


The state’s top leaders are quietly planning big changes to the way Georgia spends transportation money.

Gov. Sonny Perdue, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson have kept their talks under wraps. But a draft organizational chart obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution suggests the plan could gut the responsibilities of the state Transportation Board, which currently approves project lists and sets policy for the state’s $2 billion annual transportation budget.

The state Transportation Board is elected by the Legislature now, but the process spreads out the power among individual legislators. Each of the 13 board members, who currently approve the state’s project lists, serves a congressional district and is elected by all of the state legislators who represent a part of his or her district.

According to the draft plan, the state would combine the current State Road and Tollway Authority and the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority into a new entity with members appointed by the governor, the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House. The authority would create long- and short-range statewide transportation plans. It would also write “distribution criteria” for money. The governor would then recommend the road budget and the General Assembly would approve it.

It’s too early to say what the plan could mean for Georgia commuters, travelers and haulers.

Some transportation-policy experts say it might make road project choices even more political. Others say that it could get politics out of the way of the engineers and road crews, and get projects to ribbon-cutting faster.

One legislator predicted the overhaul of the state’s transportation governance could kill proposals for new transportation funding, leaving officials in the new transportation organization with little or nothing to spend.

Systemic shake-ups afoot. What this means for bike/ped/transit funding remains to be seen, but my gut feeling is tense skepticism. Stay tuned...

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