The Georgia Department of Transportation has over $300 million worth of federal stimulus money to spend on road projects — none of which will impact the stalled widening of Hwy. 72 in Madison County.
The federal money must go toward “shovel-ready projects,” and the next phase to widen Hwy. 72 is far from that, according to a DOT spokeswoman.
“So (projects) that were ready to start construction, that’s where the money went — not necessarily to the projects that was most important for MACORTS (Madison Athens-Clarke Oglethorpe Regional Transportation Study),” Teri Pope said.
The DOT widened Hwy. 72 to four lines from the Clarke County line all the way through Colbert earlier in the decade, but has purchased only a portion of the right-of-ways required for the next phase of the project.
“The plans had to be finished; all right-of-way had to already be purchased,” Pope said. “So that excludes all of the Hwy. 72 projects (from stimulus money).”
The state’s ultimate plan is to create a bypass of Comer and Carlton and provide four lanes of highway all the way to South Carolina.
But it’s unclear how far down Hwy. 72 is on the DOT’s list now.
The DOT was forced to reprioritize all its plans when a 2008 audit revealed a $456 million shortfall.
The department originally intended to have that priority list finalized by the end of 2008, but the timeline was pushed back.
Department heads hoped for a spring completion date for that list, but the stimulus money must be taken into account now.
It might take the DOT until the end of the summer to sort it all out, since the DOT must allot the $300 million-plus in stimulus by the end of June.
“Federal stimulus has taken priority, as you can imagine … If you don’t spend it, you lose it,” Pope said.
While the millions in stimulus may get the shovel-ready projects going, the DOT is going to need more money to fund proposed projects like the Hwy. 72 widening.
“We definitely need additional funding sources,” Pope said. “Until we get those additional funding sources, it is going to be difficult to move up projects like the Hwy. 72 corridor, which are not necessarily driven by congestion and traffic.”
The DOT didn’t get any help from the Georgia house and senate recently during the legislative session.
A state transportation bill that would have raised revenue for road and infrastructure improvements died on the general assembly floor Friday as the session ended.
Pope declined comment on the impact of the proposal’s failure.