Left to right, Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega), Georgia Transportation Commissioner Keith Golden, Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Brookhaven), State Road and Tollway Authority Executive Director Chris Tomlinson and Jane Hayse of the Atlanta Regional Commission review transportation during a panel discussion Dec. 15 hosted by the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts.

Transportation will be a focal point for the upcoming legislative session, state officials said at meetings in Sandy Springs and Dunwoody on Dec. 15.

“Only 5 percent of our budget goes toward transportation and that’s just not enough in this metropolis that was basically created on the backs of transportation,” Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Atlanta), whose district includes a portion of Sandy Springs, told members of the Rotary Club of Sandy Springs during its legislative roundtable.

Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta) said that more money is needed to spend on transportation. “Finding the way to do that is going to be the $64,000 question,” he said.

Meanwhile, at a separate panel discussion sponsored by the Perimeter Community Improvement District at Le Meridien hotel in Dunwoody, Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Keith Golden told the group the agency faces a loss of funding from the state gas tax as gas sales decrease and from federal budget cuts.

Because of declining revenues, DOT has delayed maintenance of some roads, which means they will deteriorate more quickly than in the past. State officials used to rework 6 to 10 percent of the state roads each year, he said, but the percentage has fallen to 2.5 percent and is expected to hit 1.4 percent this year.

Sen. Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega) told the business owners and local elected officials gathered for the PCID luncheon that he hoped a committee on infrastructure funding he co-chairs will release a report by Dec. 31 on ways the state may be able to find the money for transportation projects. He said the report would “provide general options for the General Assembly to consider.”

One alternative the state has tried – High Occupancy Toll, or HOT, lanes – is proving successful, Chris Tomlinson, executive director of the State Road and Tollway Authority told the PCID luncheon. When the lanes were introduced in 2011, they average 7,000 trips a day, he said. Now the average has reached 22,000 trips a day.

Speakers at both luncheons that some of the state’s transportation focus needs to shift to transit. “We have not done the job we need to do on transit,” Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody) said during the Sandy Springs Rotary luncheon.

Millar said he’s heard encouraging things from state officials.

“I have never heard a constitutional officer of this state until this year – that’s [Lieutenant Gov.] Casey Cagle — say the General Assembly needs to deal with transit, and that’s not just cars.”

–Joe Earle contributed to this report.

Sens. Fran Millar, John Albers and Hunter Hill, left to right, discuss transportation issues during a Legislative Forum hosted by the Rotary Club of Sandy Springs on Dec. 15.

Ann Marie Quill

Ann Marie Quill is Associate Editor at Reporter Newspapers.