Group wants Deal to kill Ga. 400 toll

A group of Georgia activists plans to ask Gov. Nathan Deal to make good on a campaign promise to remove the Ga. 400 toll.

The group Voter GA said this week that it will deliver petitions on the toll to Deal in July. About a dozen people met at the Roswell Public Library Monday night to hear Garland Favorito, founder of Voter GA, outline the case against keeping the toll.

Favorito, a Roswell resident, said the state broke its promise to citizens when it extended the toll in 2010. "We're stuck with a toll for a road we've already paid for," he said.

The toll was implemented to cover the $96.1 million in bonds purchased to build the highway. It was due to expire when the repayment was made on July 1, 2011.

However, in September 2010 the State Road and Tollway Authority, the agency in charge of collecting tolls, voted to extend the highway's 50-cent fee until 2020. Then-Gov. Sonny Perdue said the new toll was needed to fund improvement projects, like the expansion of the Ga. 400-I-85 interchange. The project's construction design is 60 percent completed and is supposed to be done by December 2013.

At the time of the vote, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported SRTA had $42.5 million in excess toll revenue, enough to cover the estimated $40 million to connect the highways with two single-lane ramps. The eventual winning bid on the project was $21.4 million.

Even though the state had the money to cover that project, Perdue said toll revenue was needed to fund other improvement projects. Currently, the SRTA website lists 13 scheduled projects for Ga. 400 that the extended toll will fund.

To keep its original promise to remove the toll, SRTA temporarily suspended it last June. A week later, it enacted a "new" toll, effectively keeping Ga. 400 as a toll road for another 10 years.

Favorito called the extension a "slick trick." He and the other attendees at Monday's meeting said they have little trust in government.

"If they lied about removing Ga. 400, they will likely lie about removing the TSPLOST tax after 10 years," Favorito said.

In a June 2010 news release, then gubernatorial candidate Deal pledged to "swing the sledgehammer" on the Ga. 400 tollbooth before the end of 2011.

"The state has collected more than enough money to pay the bonds for the highway," Deal said in the news release, which included a picture of him on the toll plaza holding a "closed" sign. "We are now using the tolls of Ga. 400 drivers to pay for other road projects. That's not fair to the commuter in north Fulton and Forsyth counties," the release said.

Brian Robinson, spokesman for the governor, said this week that Deal did not support SRTA's decision to extend the toll, which happened before he was elected. Robinson said the toll can't simply be removed now that the state has already sold bonds that must be repaid with the revenue.

"He wants them to come down as soon as they possibly can," Robinson said. "We're committed to that, but we can't hurt the state's bond rating in the meantime."

About the Author