On the record with GDOT commissioner

The Georgia Department of Transportation’s top officer addressed a sellout crowd at the Georgia Transportation Summit this week at the Georgia World Congress Center. Among other topics, Commissioner Russell McMurry applauded new groundbreaking legislation (HB 170) that raised taxes to provide additional revenue for roads and bridges.

Here are excerpts from his speech, edited for space and clarity:

On new funding: "The Transportation Funding Act of 2015 (HB 1780) is the single biggest transportation investment this state has ever made, absent creating the excise tax to begin with. That's how big this legislation was. That was a very hard lift. Please, reach out to your legislators and thank them for the hard work they've done; several of them are getting rewarded now by challengers and people poking at them for them making a bold decision to invest in transportation for Georgia."

The numbers: "We are living in fiscal year 2016 right now. Our original budget request was $1.003 billion of state funds, that's what we started this year at. The amended budget added $757 million — that's because of HB 170. That is tremendous. Georgia DOT has never had those kinds of revenues to work with. The FY17 budget that the state transportation board approved is $1.823 billion. Yesterday, we had a forum with the Georgia Highway Contractors Association to announce that during the remainder of this fiscal year we are going to have $840 million in construction projects underway. And the forecast for 2017 is $1.4 billion in construction projects. That's amazing. That's almost record highs. And we're just getting going. "

What the money provides: "We have to take care of our infrastructure first. We've got to take care of what we've inherited. That means a lot of routine maintenance. We're adding an additional $200 million a year to routine maintenance activities – filling cracks, patching potholes. We've got to provide for additional safety projects and, ultimately, capacity projects. And let's not lose sight that we have over a billion dollars invested in express lanes across this region. We have the Northwest Corridor, the I-75 express lane south and express lanes continuing up I-85 to Gwinnett County. That's almost 50 miles of managed lanes. Also, we have to continue to take care of our freight corridors because Georgia is the number one place to do business, and we're going to keep it that way."