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Money's tight for road projects
Old Augusta Road, Effingham Parkway still remain viable
01.17 eff day 2
Gena Abraham, left, the new state Department of Transportation commissioner, receives flowers from Effingham Chamber of Commerce President Freddy Long after Abraham addressed attendees of the Effingham Day at the Capitol breakfast. Abraham was introduced by Long’s son Skylar, a student of Abraham’s at Georgia Tech and later an intern for her at the Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

ATLANTA — With a new commissioner on board, the state Department of Transportation will be conducting business in new ways, Effingham Chamber of Commerce members learned.

Gena Abraham, who succeeded Harold Linnenkohl on Dec. 1, said the state’s thousands of road projects are going to be judged as the department faces a money crunch. Abraham said when she took over the department, she asked some basic questions about its operation — what does the DOT’s portfolio really look like? Is there a financial statement? How many projects are there?

“It took me almost six weeks to get to the answer to find out we didn’t have a financial statement,” she said, “and that we have 9,211 projects on our books. We are going to look at those to determine which projects are going to proceed and which projects are not going to proceed.

“We’ve made a lot of commitments at the Department of Transportation. We’ve got to take a long, hard look at those commitments and make sure we have the dollars to pay for them.”

Many of those more than 9,000 projects are called long-range, which Abraham said means there isn’t any funding identified for them.

“Last year, we let and put out for construction 269 projects. If you do the math on 9,211 projects, that’s 34 years of work,” said the former civil engineering professor at Georgia Tech.

The planned Effingham Parkway and Effingham Parkway Extension is expected to take several years to build and projected costs are now at $90 million. Abraham said the Effingham Parkway will be evaluated for its need, and her staff has recommended it be kept on the state’s to-do list.

“We’re going to be going through a very extensive process to see where we are and to make sure we are building the right project in the right place,” she said. “I feel comfortable looking at this Effingham Parkway project about moving forward with that.

“My staff says it is good project for the community.”

The state DOT will be asking local governments and their elected representatives to compile a priority list of road projects in their area.

“We’ve got work to do,” Abraham said. “We’re going to ask for help in helping us to prioritize, which are the ones you have to have and maybe which ones can wait some time.”

According to Abraham, of the 9,211 projects on the DOT’s books, only 2,470 are assigned to a person in the department. The remaining nearly 6,800 projects are going to be examined for their worthiness.

“We’ll decided which projects move forward on a true engineering evaluation, benefit-cost ratios, traffic counts and things we should have been doing a long time ago,” Abraham said. “A lot of the projects have not been going through a prioritization process.

“We have a lot of work in front of us. That doesn’t mean the transportation department is coming to a screeching halt.”

Money remains an issue with the projects that are being supervised. There is a $29.5 billion shortfall for the 2,470 projects being supervised by someone with the DOT. That number does not include cost escalations or contingencies.

“You can understand why I’ve been a little nervous the last few weeks, with no financial statement and 9,200 projects on the books and no prioritization process in place,” Abraham said.

The DOT’s state aid projects are nearly $70 million short of the $129 million needed to complete them. Those projects include the Old Augusta Road plans. A pre-construction meeting for the work was held Jan. 10 and a notice to proceed is awaiting.

Abraham said Old Augusta Road is in the state’s program, but other such projects may not get funded.

But as Effingham comes to us and asks for additional dollars in transportation, there are no additional dollars in transportation,” she said. “There is no state aid pot. There is no (Local Assistance Road Projects) money.”

The DOT will be sending out questionnaires for communities to put together their priority lists. For some areas, Abraham has different lists of priorities, from cities, counties, state lawmakers, state transportation board members and members of Congress.

“I need to know what is important for Effingham County and I need to know what is important in the grand scheme of the state as well,” she said. “I am not trying to cut out local input. That is the ground source of information we need. You’re not going to be left out of the process. In fact, you may be asked to death.”

Abraham promised updates on transportation questions will be open and honest.

As if the state’s traffic woes weren’t already apparent to Abraham, she found out about them while on her way to address the breakfast meeting of Effingham Day at the Capitol.

The congestion on Atlanta’s roads and the backup in trying to leave the World Congress Center where the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s eggs and issues breakfast was being held Tuesday morning. led Abraham to being late.

“I could not get out of the parking garage,” she said.