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More money sought for state highway projects

By Nancy Badertscher
The Macon Telegraph

ATLANTA - The state's transportation chief told legislative budget writers that the need for more rural highways keeps growing even as government scrambles to find the money to complete nine projects - including the Fall Line Freeway in Macon - that have been in the works for more than a decade.

"Interstate 75 needs a tie to Fitzgerald that isn't going to happen easily with the level of funding that's available today," Department of Transportation Commissioner Wayne Shackelford said in an appearance Monday before the Joint House and Senate Appropriations Committee. "We haven't remotely solved access to communities of Georgia ..."

Gov. Roy Barnes has unveiled a budget proposal that would pump $100 million into rural highway development through the Governor's Road Improvement Program.

Shackelford told the Appropriations Committee he had asked for $225 million.

"One hundred million is a very great number, and we're grateful to the governor," he said. "But we point out to you there's $225 million (worth of work) that we could make happen if we had the cash."

In recent months, legislators - particularly members of the Senate Transportation Committee - have expressed frustration at the pace of work on the last nine of the 12 highway corridors included in GRIP.

These include the Fall Line Freeway, Golden Isles Parkway and U.S. 441 through Middle Georgia.

The Legislature has committed about $125 million a year since 1989 to the program.

The state DOT has predicted that completion of the work will cost $2.4 billion and could drag out 19 years at the current rate.

Shackelford said 61 percent of the work has been completed or is under way.

He said the DOT could let contracts on $165 million worth of work in this calendar year, if the money were available.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman George Hooks, D-Americus, said: "I don't think there's a greater need across this state than the Governor's Road Improvement Program.

"It's our desire to move these (projects) forward as quickly as possible."

In his appearance at the committee's budget hearings, Shackelford was asked to explain the request for $250,000 to study connecting a proposed high-speed Macon-Atlanta train to Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport.

Shackelford said the study fits in with plans by Hartsfield officials to develop a new eastern terminal and with plans by Clayton County officials to develop a transfer facility in that area.

MARTA, Atlanta's mass transit system, also could be tied into the site out of its current airport facilities, he said.

To contact Nancy Badertscher, call 404-659-8735 or e-mail



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