Today’s Midtown Patch Question of the Day comes about from Thursday’s announcement by Gov. Nathan Deal that he plans to end the tolls on Ga. 400 by the end of 2013.
Deal said the state will pay off its bond debt on Dec. 1, 2013 and move rapidly after that to remove the Ga. 400 toll by the end of the year, stopping collection four years earlier than .
This news comes on the heels of many people The traffic referendum, , goes to vote on July 31.
With less than two weeks until the T-SPLOST vote, many referendum critics said Thursday that Deal is merely pandering for desperately needed ‘yes’ votes. Several recent polls have shown that the heavily-funded campaign to get the $7.2 billion sales tax passed will fail.
But most everyone agrees that Ga. 400 needs traffic attention and one of the most-needed projects in the transportation referendum is $450 million for rebuilding of the interchange at I-285.
But now if the T-SPLOST fails to pass, it will compounded by the fact that the state will soon be forgoing this existing toll revenue stream that could be used to fund 400 projects.
So, did the governor make a mistake by offering this last-minute carrot to win approval for a tax that polls show voters don’t trust, while also shutting down options for future revenue gathering? Tell us in the comments below.
“Ga. 400 commuters have paid more than their fair share already, and this is the earliest we can bring it down without paying a penalty for early repayment of the bonds,” Deal said Thursday. “When the Ga. 400 toll went up, the state of Georgia promised commuters that it wasn’t forever. If we don’t keep that promise, we lose the faith of the people. We face many challenges when it comes to paying for new capacity, particularly in the Atlanta region. There are no easy answers, no secret pots of money, but it is imperative that governments build the trust of their people. As your governor, I will keep the promises I make to you.”
The Ga. 400 toll was originally scheduled to come down after 20 years, ending in 2011. In 2010 – after then-candidate Deal promised to end the toll the following year – the state issued new bonds tied to the toll revenue in order to pay for needed improvements in the Ga. 400 corridor, including a new connector to I-85. The $40 million in new bonds were issued Dec. 1, 2010, and they mature June 1, 2017. But at the three-year mark the state can repay the bonds without a penalty. Further, the state needs time to plan for physically bringing down the gates and the dramatic restructuring that will be needed in the toll area.
“As I have said many times before: I inherited a situation where we could not bring down the gates immediately, and we face a situation where we would have to pay a penalty for early repayment,” Deal said. “This timeline gives commuters a finish line, while still allowing us to meet our obligations. Moving forward, we’ll need to continue to work on long-term solutions to congestion in the 400 corridor. And I look forward to doing that in a transparent fashion that commuters can trust.”
According to peachpass.com, about 119,000 people use the toll road every weekday. The average weekday revenue collected at the toll plaza on GA 400 is approximately $55,000.00.
The governor’s proposal requires approval of the State Road and Tollway Authority.