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Ga. Continues Building Roads Even as Other States Cut Back

Mon November 09, 2020 - Southeast Edition

The pandemic has not slowed road construction in metro Atlanta, nor did it prompt Gwinnett County to delay the vote on a proposed 1 percent transit tax.

That is not the case in many other states, where construction projects have either slowed or stopped. Across the country, the tally of COVID-19 impacts includes at least 18 states and 25 local transportation agencies that have halted or delayed worked on roads, bridges, or transit efforts.

In those states, the drop in transportation revenues, compared to forecasts, ranges from $30 billion to $40 billion.

"That's a big hole to climb out of, and every state and local government is going to make a different decision about their capital spending and how they are going to address that issue," said Alison Premo Black, a senior vice president and chief economist of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA). Her comments were made at an October event hosted by the Volcker Alliance and Penn Institute for Urban Research.

Black added that in the southeast, the list of states experiencing construction delays or cancellations include Florida, Mississippi and North Carolina. Georgia was on the list for potential cutbacks that preceded the state's adoption in June of the budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.

In addition to the slowdowns are outright threats to transit systems because of declining revenues. New York's transit system is the national example of a fiscal abyss in a system that serves 38 percent of all public transit trips in the country. Without the $12 billion it has requested from the federal government, atop $4 billion already provided, New York is looking at service cutbacks that could "impair regional transit for decades," according to New York's state comptroller.

Georgia's transportation system is not part of this grim situation, according to GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry's report at GDOT's Oct. 15 board meeting.

GDOT's revenue collections for the fiscal year that started July 1 are approximately $20.3 million lower, or 1.2 percent, as compared to this point last year. GDOT's total revenues to date are $498.7 million, McMurry said.

For the month of September, GDOT collected $171.8 million, comprised of $159.8 million in excise taxes and $12 million in fees. GDOT collects fees on hotel/motel stays, a sum down 29 percent from the same point last year, and from heavy vehicles and electric vehicles, which are up 36 percent compared to this point in 2019, McMurry said.

He also reported traffic in Georgia's urban areas is resuming, which is significant in restoring collections on toll roads. A report in August showed toll collections in the state were down by 70 percent, compared to forecasts, as the pandemic cut into commuter travel.

"That puts us right where we thought we would be, perhaps a little better," McMurry explained. "We're right on track. This is sort of positive: We're seeing traffic volume starting to come back."

GDOT later provided this statement to elaborate on how the cutbacks have impacted the system:

"Georgia has seen minimal impacts to services delivered by the GDOT as the result of budget reductions related to the COVID-19. Impacts have been limited to small schedule shifts on a handful of projects and brief reduction in maintenance activities, such as litter pick up. Fortunately, daily traffic patterns in Georgia are nearing pre-pandemic numbers as the state's economy begins to quickly recover."

Georgia reports spending an estimated $10 million a year to collect and dispose of roadside litter. To help curb this cost, but primarily to beautify the state, GDOT and several partners launched on Oct. 20 an anti-litter campaign, Keep it Clean Georgia.

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