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Senator says open dialogue with Georgia DOT is critical

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POSTED: May 18, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Certainly a major area of concern for motor truckers and the average American family is the high price of gas that is continuing to hamper our economy. Of particular concern to me is the increased cost of diesel fuel and its effects on the trucking industry. I believe this problem underscores our need to invest in a robust domestic fuels infrastructure, focusing on cellulosic biodiesel and other fuels.   

I also continue to support exploring our own reserves in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, known as ANWR.  I believe we can be good stewards of our land while at the same time exploring for resources that lessen our dependence on foreign oil.   

The 2005 reauthorization of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act - A Legacy for Users, also known as SAFETEA-LU, was unprecedented in the amount of funding it authorized for transportation projects across the country. But while the level of authorized funding was increased, the amount of actual dollars available from the Highway Trust Fund decreased because its source of funding - the gas tax - decreased. Again, high gas prices forced more Americans to drive less and to use mass transit more, resulting in lower gas tax collections nationwide.

As ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee in the Senate, I am looking forward to playing a significant role in the 2009 reauthorization of SAFETEA-LU.  While a timetable has not yet been set for that reauthorization process, I hope to hold hearings sooner rather than later. 

As we look for creative ways to increase transportation funding, I am certain that increasing highway tolls will be among the options on the table. I recognize that the trucking industry - one of the driving forces of our nation’s economy - would be negatively impacted by proposals to increase highway tolls. I will be looking to explore alternative funding mechanisms for highway construction and maintenance.   

Another key transportation issue is the safety of our nation’s bridges. The tragic accident in Minnesota last year highlighted the need for innovative funding mechanisms for not only new construction, but also for maintenance of existing bridges.   

Georgia has approximately 9,000 bridges statewide, and the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) inspects all of them at a minimum of every two years, with many inspections occurring annually. Half of Georgia’s bridges are "on system," controlled by the state, while the remainder are "off system" and controlled by the city or county in which they are located.   

GDOT spends roughly $100 million per year on bridge maintenance, but estimates that $2.5 billion is necessary to replace all currently structurally deficient bridges, which means not only that they are beginning to wear, but repair or replacement is advised. Keeping this in mind, I have met with some groups that offer unique technologies to monitor bridges by placing sensors on them that constantly provide state DOTs with feedback on the condition of the bridge, rather than requiring visual inspection.

We must continue to look to innovation in both technology and funding to meet our many needs. 

It remains critical for myself, Senator Saxby Chambliss and the entire Georgia Congressional delegation to continue an open dialogue with the Georgia DOT because of our many ongoing needs across the state. I look forward to working closely with our new DOT Commissioner, Gena Abraham, to maintain a strong partnership between the state and federal government. 

 This commentary by U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia first appeared in the Spring 2008 edition of Trux, the official publication of the Georgia Motor Trucking Association, and is excerpted by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation with permission of GMTA.

 

 

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