Georgia Governor calls for ending tolls on GA400 December 2013

July 20, 2012
By Peter Samuel

2012-07-20: The successful and popular Georgia 400 (GA400) tollroad in the Buckhead area six miles, 10km north of downtown Atlanta will become a tax-supported road at the end of next year (Dec 2013,) state governor Nathan Deal, a Democrat-turned-Republican former US Congressman, says.  Detolling has to be formally approved by the State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA) but that organization is under the Governor's control so it is likely to rubberstamp his move.

In  his run for governor Deal had talked of ending tolls but didn't go beyond talk in his first year and a half in office.

He appears to have been prompted to act now against tolls by the belief that it would help him win a vote July 31 on a proposed one percent Atlanta region sales tax to fund road and transit projects. Called T-SPLOST (Transportation - Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) the regional sales tax would supposedly raise $7.2 billion over ten years (2013-2022) for a whole raft of road and transit projects in the Atlanta region.

True to its name T-SPLOST appears to be a lost cause. The latest polling shows only 33% support for T-SPLOST to 56% opposition with 12% undecided. Support for the tax has been dropping each month for the past three months.

(T-SPLOST has to be a new low in ugly, clumsy titling, enough you'd hope to lose it ten points on sheer esthetic grounds - editor)

Just three days ago an opinion poll showed a decline in tax support from 38% to 33% and a growth in opposition from 49% to 56%.

Deal gave strange arguments for the de-tolling Thursday afternoon.

First he asserted that "Georgia 400 commuters have paid more than their fair share already," although the toll at 50c is trivial by comparison with the value of time saved on the road which is extremely popular. 120,000 motorists a day use it making it one of the more heavily trafficked tollroads in the country.

His second theme was that the tolls should go in order to "restore trust in government." Some politicians 20 years ago had promised to end tolls when the first set of bonds were paid off - an easy promise to make which other generations have to deal with. Politicians often make "promises" like that which they won't have to take responsibility for. Why should anyone take such stuff seriously?

The original bonds were paid off in 2010 but toll revenues on the GA400 are now pledged to support new bonds that go through 2017.

Deal says he'll pay these off early, quite how he hasn't said - probably with other borrowings or taxes. Sounds like an old thief's game of giving with the one hand while the gift has your attention while going into you pocket for the wallet with the other.

There might have been some logic to Governor Deal saying the people of the Atlanta region have a choice - taxes or tolls. He'd give up tolls if the people supported his T-SPLOST tax. But if the tax is rejected they'll need to keep GA400 tolls and do tolls on other highways for improvements.

Nothing so logical.  Or so candid.

Deal is throwing away toll revenues before he has his new tax.

Does he seriously believe people will buy the notion that they can have trust in his government when he panders to a small anti-toll constituency in order to impose a new tax on everyone whether they drive the roads or not.

BACKGROUND: GA400 tollroad is a short 6.2 miles, 10.3km connector route and heads north from I-85 to the I-285 beltroute. North of I-285 GA400 continues as a tax-supported highway.  2x4-lanes wide GA400-Toll has 2x2 open road toll lanes through the middle of the single mainline toll plaza plus 2x8 cash lanes. There's a railroad line in the median.

GA400-Toll was one of the first tollroads in 1993 to do open road tolling (ORT.) It opened about the same time as E470 in Denver Colorado which also was an early innovator with ORT.

E470 of course has thrived as a major provider of mobility within the Denver area, providing one of the best routes north to south and to the airport.

GA400 by contrast has been a busy but very short tolled link in a predominantly tax&debt-funded highway system.

E470 has been modernized and there has never been any serious movement to detoll the Denver pike.

Finances FY2011

Toll revenues on the GA400 have been running about $20m/year against about $2.1m in personnel costs, mostly toll collectors. $1.8m is attributed to amortization and depreciation, $0.9m to repairs and maintenance. Against all expenses of $9.2m the tollroad has been running a modest $11.1m annual surplus.

At a real toll - say $2 to $3 for cars - reflecting its value to motorists it would probably keep 100,000 a day and earn $70m to $100m/year.

Sad this asset is being squandered, but that's a politician's opportunism in play.

Governor's statement:

http://www.georgiatolls.com/assets/docs/GA400TollsNews_Release_071912.pdf

http://www.ajc.com/multimedia/archive/01160/PDF__Final_project_1160778a.pdf

TOLLROADSnews 2012-07-20

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