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Barrow: New highway bill may aid cause for parkway
02.24 barrow meeting 1
Congressman John Barrow speaks with local representatives about the new federal highway bill. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

The stimulus package passed by Congress and signed by President Obama may not be the panacea for Effingham County’s road woes, Congressman John Barrow said.

However, Congress will be taking up another matter soon that could be the fix — the 2010 federal highway bill.

In a meeting with representatives from Springfield, Guyton, the county commission, the board of education and the industrial development authority, Barrow said the current five-year authorization of the federal highway spending bill is up next year.

The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act, which became law in 2005, is set to expire at the end of September. When enacted in 2005, it set out spending for more than $286 billion in surface transportation.

“Ya’ll have a vision,” Barrow said of the group, that was there ostensibly to push for the Effingham Parkway. “I see it, and I support it.”

Barrow said Congress is on the cusp of a new five-year highway funding bill that will back a long-range national transportation policy. Like previous highway bills, the money will flow from the federal Department of Transportation to the state DOTs. Barrow said he will have a chance to advocate for worthy projects to be included in the list of things to be accomplished with the new bill.

“I’m not an appropriater,” he warned. “I don’t have a bucket of money.”

Effingham officials drew out where the parkway most likely will go and the impact it would have on the traffic that continues to pour out of the port of Savannah. Barrow said he’s been told the permits to allow the deepening of the harbor are on track. Once the harbor channel is deepened, the port then could handle even larger ships at its dock.

Though ships have to navigate the Savannah River for 19 miles from the ocean, as opposed to a much shorter transit to the docks at Charleston, S.C., goods from those ships at the Ocean and Garden City terminals can be loaded onto and from roads and rails faster than at either Charleston or Jacksonville, Fla., Barrow said.

“That’s a huge advantage,” he said.

Barrow also lauded provisions in the stimulus that call for greater transparency in how the nearly $800 billion is spent. He also backed the spending of money to expand the use of broadband service in rural areas and the development of “smart” power grids.

“We’re investing in sectors of the economy that don’t exist,” he said.

Transportation projects outlined in the stimulus package have “use it or lose it” provisions, according to Barrow. The 20-day clock on beginning that spending began when the president signed HR 1, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The state is getting $1 billion in transportation money, but half of that is slated for “use or lose” projects. Also, projects considered “shovel-ready,” meaning they are awaiting construction, are getting priority.

“The new money is for new projects, so we magnify the impact of the stimulus,” Barrow said. “States are being asked to conduct an extraordinary amount of business through ordinary channels in a short amount of time. Since this is not your daddy’s Great Depression, this is not your daddy’s New Deal.”

Though he voted for the stimulus bill and Georgia’s two Republican senators — Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson — did not, Barrow doesn’t believe that will have any effect on what the state or the district gets from the package.