published Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

Georgia: House panel takes up GDOT overhaul


by Jake Armstrong

ATLANTA — The Senate plan to overhaul the Georgia Department of Transportation leadership was taken up by the House on Monday.

The House Transportation Subcommittee on Funding took up the weighty debate over the legislation that would strip the current DOT board of much of its authority and replace it with a panel selected by the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the state House.

Board members are currently elected by Congressional district by all the state lawmakers who represent that district.

Some Northwest Georgia lawmakers, along with 9th District DOT Board member Steve Farrow of Dalton, have expressed concern the new appointment system would centralize too much power within the executive branch and possibly leave rural areas without adequate representation on the board.

But Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons, said local road projects stand to gain a larger share of the hundreds of millions of dollars motorists pay in state gas taxes .

The bill would inject up to $250 million into the fund for local projects, up from the $70 million it currently receives, Sen. Williams said.

Lawmakers, who’ve been frustrated with DOT’s accounting, would also decide on 10 percent of the funding for local projects, Sen. Williams said.

“It’s up to us. We decide where the money goes,” Sen. Williams said in a presentation to his House counterparts.

Chickamauga Republican Sen. Jeff Mullis is co-sponsor of the bill. Supporters say it will replace ineffective leadership at the DOT.

Most recently, the board ticked off Gov. Sonny Perdue when it dismissed DOT Commissioner Evans, his hand-picked choice, about a month ago.

Remaining local funding would be allocated through a formula factoring in paved and unpaved highway mileage, vehicle miles traveled, population and other factors.

The governor would appoint and oversee the commissioner for the new State Transportation Agency, rather than the DOT board. The new commissioner would receive wide latitude in choosing staff.

The current DOT board would fall under the new agency, and oversee highway maintenance. Most current DOT workers would transfer over to the State Transportation Agency.

Contact Jake Armstrong at 404-826-3587 or jakea2009@gmail.com.

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