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Legislators promise solution to help move traffic

DULUTH - Legislators are serious about finding a transportation solution during the upcoming session of the General Assembly, members of a joint study committee told Gwinnett business and civic leaders Wednesday.

But the committee members did not reveal whether they preferred an increase to the motor fuel tax, a regional or statewide sales tax or other funding strategy to fill in a $7.7 billion transportation funding gap.

"I will be very, very disappointed if this committee doesn't come forward with some compelling, aggressive recommendations," said Rep. Mark Hamilton, R-Cumming. "If we don't do something about this, I'm convinced we are going to kill the goose who laid the golden egg," he said, referring to the state's economic and population growth.

State Transportation Board member Rudy Bowen said the board and new director are working to plug some inefficiencies that have caused the Georgia Department of Transportation to take 22 months longer than other agencies across the nation to complete projects.

"You are going to see some significant changes in how the DOT is run," he said. "We're in the 21st century and we're going to find ways to do things better."

For six months, the committee has studied options on raising money, including the sales taxes, toll roads, managed lanes and public-private partnerships. A coalition of organizations, from the Sierra Club to the Chamber of Commerce, have joined in.

"We are serious about alternative funding solutions. Everything is on the table," Rep. Donna Sheldon, R-Dacula, said. "We know our citizens are stuck in traffic. It's not just about getting to work. My neighbors are missing their kids' ball games."

While the legislators did not lay out a plan of action Wednesday, they said there will be legislation drafted for the upcoming session.

"If this state is going to continue to be the economic engine of the South, we have to address transportation by air, land and water," Rep. Melvin Everson, R-Snellville, said. "I'm encouraged to see so many businesses coming together to address this."