A Georgia perspective on transportation funding

Excerpts from December’s Final Report of the Joint Study Committee on Critical Transportation Infrastructure Funding:

The Committee was charged with undertaking a study of the conditions, needs, issues, and problems associated with Georgia’s critical transportation infrastructure and the means of funding its construction, maintenance, and repair. House Resolution 1573 expressed an urgency on behalf of the General Assembly that new sources and methods of funding transportation projects are needed to allow the transportation systems in Georgia to keep up with the needs of Georgia’s growing population and expanding industries and to address long-standing issues relating to road congestion, access to industry and economic development, and Georgia’s reliance on federal funding of its transportation systems.

Like many other states, Georgia is faced with a growing crisis with regard to funding the construction, repair, and maintenance of its transportation infrastructure.

Georgia primarily funds its transportation needs with a combination of state motor fuel taxes and federal funds.

For FY2014, GDOT’s state motor fuel budget was $1,002,773,264. In addition, GDOT also received roughly $1.2 billion annually in federal funds, which comprise roughly 54 percent of GDOT’s annual budget. By comparison, federal aid comprises only 27 percent of the state of Florida’s current 5-year work program.

This funding model, particularly its reliance on motor fuel taxes levied at both the state and federal levels, creates numerous and serious challenges in meeting Georgia’s transportation needs.

First, the federal Highway Trust Fund is not an annual grant program. Georgia does not receive its allocation from the fund at the beginning of the year. Rather, funds are authorized from the Highway Trust Fund, but the state receives no cash from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) from the Highway Trust Fund until the state invoices the FHWA for a reimbursement for work already performed.

Any uncertainty as to the level or availability of funds from the Highway Trust Fund can thus result in project delays or conservative scheduling of projects. Additionally, over the last decade, Congress has demonstrated an increased reluctance to deal with significant infrastructure funding issues in a responsible, forward looking manner. Recently, federal action on infrastructure authorization and funding issues has taken place in short spurts of three, six, or 12-18 month authorizations. This leaves state and local transportation agencies in dire need of stability and predictability.