Georgia Gov. Champions $15.6B Transportation Construction Initiative

Mon April 26, 2004 - Southeast Edition

Many highway projects throughout Georgia will be put on the fast track under a transportation construction plan unveiled by Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue on April 14.

Despite criticism that the plan focuses too much on road building and not enough on mass transit, Perdue said his $15.6 billion initiative balances the need to relieve traffic headaches while staying within the means of a limited budget.

He described the plan as a boon for economic development in the state’s rural areas and a way to ease traffic congestion in metro Atlanta and the other urban areas, including Savannah, Augusta, Macon and Columbus.

The spending package includes $3 billion in borrowing from future federal road payments, a funding mechanism Perdue criticized before taking office. The rest comes from existing Department of Transportation budgets and $1.5 billion in general obligation bonds.

Perdue said while his program is just a start, key projects will see their completion dates sped up from 18 years to just six. The metro Atlanta area alone will receive $8 billion in road work, just more than half of the total transportation package.

In the short term, the governor said he hopes the plan will cut peak hour delays up to 37 percent by expanding highway navigation systems and the HERO program, the network of yellow trucks dispatched to clear accidents and stalled cars from highways.

In the long term, the package will expand HOV lanes in the most congested corridors, such as Interstate 75 and Georgia 400, north of Interstate 285.

Perdue also allotted $286 million for the construction of high-speed buses that will use special lanes in the top end perimeter and the northwest corridor. Another $1.5 billion would add around 400 miles of new lanes to interstate highways statewide, including I-75, and Interstates 85 and 95.

“It is not a ’build-your-way-out-of-congestion.’ It is using technology, intelligent highway systems. It’s using the HERO. It’s using ramp metering. It’s using HOV along existing right-of-ways to make the assets and the resources that we currently have more effective in its utilization,” said Perdue.

The Republican governor’s almost exclusive focus on highway improvements quickly drew bashing from environmentalists as well as Democratic lawmakers.

“Progressive cities in this country are using light rail. They’re using commuter rail. They’re using interstate connections with rail. We have decided to go roads and I think that is short term and long term a mistake,” said Rep. John Noel, D-Transportation Committee member.

The governor argued that his plan is the quickest way to get commuter improvements. He placed a large emphasis on an almost immediate payoff by using traffic light synchronization, as well as metering to regulate how commuters get onto interstate highways from metro Atlanta interstate ramps.

Perdue said traffic could be improved without building more highways, but he insisted most money should go to roads because that’s how most people get around.

Environmentalists attacked the traffic plan, saying it only encouraged more traffic. Opponents held a protest at the Fulton County government center. Officials with the Sierra Club said the governor ought to focus more on getting people out of single-passenger cars and into public transportation.

To help local and state officials cooperate on local projects, Perdue also announced the creation of the Governer’s Task Force on Local Transportation Strategies, which will include state transportation officials, county and city officials and representatives from transportation-related advocacy groups.

(The Associated Press contributed to this article.)

AP Photo

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue described his $15.6 billion road construction plan as a way to ease traffic congestion in urban areas such as metro Atlanta, pictured here.