Georgia Sen. Gooch says delays make federal road dollars almost not worth the effort

Georgia State Sen. Steve Gooch said 10 years ago he would have given the state’s roads, bridges and other infrastructure an A grade, but as the Highway Trust Fund nears insolvency, that grade was lowered to a C.

And he should know. Gooch, a Republican, spent 15 years in the road business prior to his election to the state Senate as a county commissioner and employee with the Georgia Department of Transportation. He was also co-chair of a General Assembly-appointed Joint Study Committee on Critical Transportation Infrastructure Funding last year.

And, Gooch said, there was a lot of work to do.

“We have gotten to the point where we’re not resurfacing roads and our bridges are not being maintained, because of the current economics and more fuel efficient cars,” he said.

Furthermore, due to the length of time needed to complete environmental impact studies, Gooch argues the federal money collected is hardly worth the time. “Environmental impact studies can add 30 percent to a project and as we say down here in Georgia, ‘the juice isn’t worth the squeeze’.”

The state recently passed HB 170 to address long-term infrastructure needs and to increase revenues. As a result of the transportation committee Gooch chaired, it was determined the state needs an additional $1 billion to $3 billion per year to meet its current transportation needs.

The legislation allows local governments to impose a 3 percent gas tax that caps at $3 a gallon. It imposed a 26 cents per gallon excise tax based on gas prices averaged over the last four years, and added an additional 3 cents per gallon diesel fuel tax that will raise it to 29 cents per gallon beginning July 1. In addition, an aviation fuel tax credit was repealed, a $200 tag fee was added for electric cars and tax credits for those who purchased electric cars were repealed. A $5 per night hotel and motel impact fee was also part of the legislation

“Some were actually gaming the system,” Gooch said. “People were leasing cars for two years and were still able to take advantage of the tax credits. Electric cars use the same roads as gas powered cars and the electric car owners still need to pay their fair share.”

Georgia has added motivation to improve its infrastructure. Gooch said the Panama Canal is being widened to accommodate “mega ships” and Georgia’s Savanah port, one of the busiest in the country, could very well capture new shipping opportunities.

“We need to deepen and dredge one of our rivers near the Savannah port. That’s going to cost $766 million; $266 million will come from the state and the rest from the federal government,” he said.

The project, which is anticipated to last two years, could mean billions in additional revenues for the state. “That means more trucks, more trains, so we have to have our infrastructure in place to accommodate the increased traffic,” he said.