Department of Transportation forced to return unused money

A Marta train pulls into a station in Atlanta. Photo by Vanessa Johnson | The Signal

The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) gave back $4.3 million to the federal government, which had been allocated towards improving the state’s transportation systems.

GDOT Director of Strategic Communications Scott Higley said they chose not to use the money as it went over their budget.

“Our department’s total budget was $3.5 billion,” whereas the budget for the program “was given $155 million of that budget,” he said.

The money was to target for alternative transportation to support pedestrian and bicycle oriented projects. However, the department wasn’t able to allocate all the money, and chose to give back the $4.3 million left over. The Signal spoke to both Higley and GDOT PR representative Natalie Dale but both members said they could not give too much information. However, Georgia State Department of Public Management and Policy professor, Joseph Hacker said he saw other reasons as to why the money was given back.

“They got awarded funds for something specific, which they either didn’t finish in time, perhaps due to changing priorities,” Hacker said.

The GDOT had no comment on changing priorities or if it was a time management issue.

“The money was like a line of credit, in some cases you only get the money reimbursed once it is spent. So they never gave money back, they are just having the line of credit eliminated,” Hacker said.

Despite the department’s inability to use the remaining money effectively, citizens across the state have shown an increased interest in expanding public transit and improving Georgia’s transportation.

According to the fifth annual “Metro Atlanta Speaks” survey conducted by Kennesaw State University for the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), nearly half (49 percent) of the 5,462 people across 13 counties surveyed said that “expanding public transit is the best long-term traffic solution.” Fifty-one percent said they were willing to pay higher taxes if that meant improved public transit infrastructure.

Young people in the age bracket of 18 to 34 are particularly willing “to pay more in taxes to fund expanded regional public transit that includes buses and rail,” according to the survey, with just under 60 percent in favor of such a measure, compared to the 51 percent average.

Hacker told The Signal he was glad to see a growing interest in transit as a viable alternative to riding cars and trucks through Atlanta’s notoriously bad traffic.

“I think it’s a good thing that people are recognizing [the viability of public transit] and are willing to pay [for train and bus services] because we live in a state where everyone’s against paying for things,” he said.

Jean-Paul Addie, assistant professor of Urban Geography at the Urban Studies Institute said improving transportation is a lot more than it sounds.

“Transportation is something which opens access and opportunities,” he said. “If you can’t travel to a job or if it takes three buses and two and a half hours to a job opportunity, then that’s a significant barrier.”

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