Politics & Government

Details emerge on legislation to create new State Transportation Authority

Details have emerged on a plan to radically change the way billions are spent on transportation projects each year and who holds power over transportation planning.

Legislation should be ready by mid-week to strip the Georgia Department of Transportation of most of its power, close two other state transportation agencies and create a new one called the State Transportation Authority, state Senate Pro Tempore Tommie Williams said Monday.

The governor would name five members to that authority's governing board, the speaker of the house would name three and the lieutenant governor would name three, all to four-year terms. The governor would also name the board's chairperson and a secretary for the authority, Williams said. Most transportation dollars would flow through this new body, instead of the DOT. The DOT would continue to handle maintenance of existing roads, but not planning for new ones, Williams said.

This is the plan that has emerged from conversations between Gov. Sonny Perdue, Speaker of the House Glenn Richardson and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, which have also broadened to include members of the House and Senate leadership teams, Williams said. Some details had leaked out about the plan, but Monday brought the first large-scale public discussion about the new authority's make-up.

Creating the STA would represent a major shift, particularly because the DOT Board, which currently makes most decisions about transportation funding, is elected by members of the General Assembly. There are 13 members, one from each of Georgia's congressional districts. They're elected by legislators from each of those districts.

The new authority would consolidate more power in the hands of the governor, as well as the speaker, who is elected by members of the House, and lieutenant governor, who is elected statewide. The goal, Williams said, is to speed up the process of building new roads. The new STA could contract with the DOT for engineering and other services, but it could also work with private firms, he said.

The General Assembly would maintain authority over budgets by deciding how much money would go toward road maintenance, new projects and transportation grants that local governments could decide how to spend, Williams said. The General Assembly would also have control over 10 percent of the project list, Williams said, in a potential protection for the state's rural areas.

Some DOT workers could be transferred to the STA, but the exact split hasn't been decided, Williams said. The DOT's regional offices around the state probably won't change much, but in Atlanta statewide planning responsibility would be stripped from the department, he said.

"Before any roads are even considered at DOT they have to pay off bond indebtedness and then they have to salary all their employees," Williams said Monday. "We should be doing that just the opposite. We should be determining how many (projects) we need to get out the door and then how many employees it takes to get that job done."

Williams said the bill, which will also dissolve the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority and the State Road and Tollway Authority, should be ready to be filed Tuesday or Wednesday. It will move forward in concert with a pair of funding bills — one pushed by the Senate and the other by the House — aimed at increasing the total amount of funding the state puts toward transportation projects.

State Sen. Jeff Mullis, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee that will take up the legislation this week, called the proposal "truly a transportation revolution that we're embarking on."

For more on this story please see tomorrow's Telegraph.