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Transportation funding dire, officials say

DULUTH - State legislators must find more money to pay for roads, bridges and other transportation projects in Georgia, transportation officials said Tuesday.

Speaking at a Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce forum, four members of the State Transportation Board painted a bleak picture.

They said Georgia does not get enough money from its motor fuel tax and from the federal government to meet the state's transportation needs.

"This state is woefully underfunded in transportation," said Transportation Board Chairman David Doss.

Doss said if the state stopped adding projects to its to-do list and only worked on the roads, rail lines and sidewalks already in the pipeline, it would take at least 27 years to find money to pay for them all.

Once inflation and cost increases are factored in, it would take 33 years to complete the work because of the funding shortfall, Doss said.

Georgia already spends less money on transportation needs than any other state, said the Rome resident.

"We cannot continue down this path," Doss said.

"The day is coming very soon when we will have to come to grips with transportation underfunding in this state."

Doss said legislators are looking at various options for raising transportation funds, including a regional sales tax for metro Atlanta, a regional Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax and a statewide special purpose sales tax. The revenue would go toward roads, mass transit and other transportation fixes, he said.

"They're not going to be able to delay this a whole lot longer," Doss said.

DOT Board member Dana Lemon encouraged business people at the Chamber's transportation and environmental forum to stay in contact with their legislators regarding the issue.

"Somehow we've got to get the funding up," said Lemon, who is one of Gwinnett County's representatives on the DOT Board.

DOT Board member Robert Brown said the funding shortfall is reaching crisis proportions. He said it will require "political courage" for elected officials to address the issue.

Doss said a motor fuel tax increase could be considered, but he does not favor it. He said automobiles are becoming more fuel efficient, which reduces the amount of gas purchased and the revenue raises from taxing its sale by the gallon.

Doss said he favors taxing motorists based on the number of miles they drive. Technology exists that can track the mileage, said Doss, who gave the example of a motorist paying the tax when they renew their auto tags with the county tax commissioner's office.

Basing the tax on the amount of miles traveled would make it a true user's fee, Doss said.

Marsha Anderson-Bomer, a transportation consultant, said Boulder, Colo., did an experiment that placed Global Positioning System devices in automobiles. The devices logged the drivers' mileage and the time of day they were on the road, Anderson-Bomer said.

If state leaders takes steps to find additional funding sources for road and transit projects, it won't be until after the November state elections.

"The most politically palatable time to address it is 2007," Doss said.