|It’s been several weeks since the team at GTA has communicated with you, and as a result, there’s a lot to report. This week’s Transportation Roundup includes brief notes on a variety of state and federal issues, but also a wrap-up from the 2016 session of the Georgia General Assembly.Miscellaneous NewsHartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport…This month, there was a lot of buzz around Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport. At the State of the Airport, over 900 people saw the unveiling of a $6 billion, two-decade improvement plan for the airport. The long term plan includes new hotel space, a new runway, a new concourse. Almost $1 billion of the improvements will come in 2017 alone – outlined here are some of the more eye-catching elements of the overhaul. Meanwhile, the Atlanta City Council is expected to lift a confusing ban on ride sharing services at the airport, allowing Uber and Lyft to pick up there around July 1. Uber and Lyft vocally pushed back on the plan, which would, among other things, require additional certification for the drivers, fare split with the airport, and additional vehicle identification.
Georgia Ports Authority… The Georgia Ports Authority announced new records in the handling of containerized goods, announcing that February year-over-year growth was 8%. Georgia Power recently donated a parcel of property to the Georgia Ports Authority. The Ports Authority noted recently that President Obama’s 2017 budget only allocates approximately half of the $90-100 million needed annually to complete the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project by 2021. Meanwhile, environmental mitigation for the deepening project continues to move steadily along.
Self-Driving Cars…In a recent test drive, a Google self-driving car and bus collided. Congressional leaders are calling for a renewed focus on oversight and accountability for the development of driverless cars. Senator Bill Nelson expressed strong concerns about the issue, while Senator John Thune stressed the need to address the current network of disjointed state regulations on the mechanism. In April, lawmakers will convene twice in order to begin putting together federal framework to guide the development of driverless cars. The hearings, which will take place in Washington and California, will also include a public comment period.
Transit…Nominations are now open for rural transit agencies receiving support under Section 5311 for the FTA’s Administrator’s Award for Outstanding Public Service. The awards will be presented at the 22nd National Rural Public and Intercity Bus Transportation conference in the fall. Last week, the Federal Transit Administration issued the first of rules required by the surface transportation bill passed by Congress in 2012. The ruling allows FTA to oversee individual transit system safety programs. Under the provisions, transit safety and oversight programs must maintain legal and financial independence from the actual transit system.
Transportation Statistics…The Bureau of Transportation Statistics released the most recent compilation of airline employment data, noting that airline employment is at its highest level since August of 2008, and posts the 26th consecutive month of growth. January employment increased 4.1% over January of 2015. The BTS also revealed that in 2015, all five major freight transportation modes (this category includes truck, rail, pipeline, shipping, and air) carried 7.2% less cargo between NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico than in 2014. The total amount in 2015 was $1.1 trillion.
UPS, one of Georgia’s top companies and member of the Georgia Transportation Alliance, has announced it will make a huge investment in building out their compressed natural gas network. UPS will invest over $100 million to build an additional 12 fueling stations and add 380 additional tractors to its fleet.
The express toll lanes currently under construction by the Georgia Department of Transportation on I–75 south of Atlanta are approximately 50% complete.
Last week, the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority begins taking public comment on the first major overhaul to its bus service since 2004. The resulting changes will be implemented on September 6, 2016.
2016 Legislative Session Wrap-up
2017 Budget: The 2017 budget includes almost $1 billion in new revenue for transportation as a result of HB 170, as well as another $100 million for bonds.
HB 170: Senator Josh McKoon introduced three bills in the Senate that would have chipped away at the good work done by HB 170: SB 251 (exempting school buses from MFT), SB 252 (repeal hotel / motel fee), and SB 253 (exempt all local government from MFT). GTA opposed all three bills, which died in the Senate Finance Committee.
SB 366: Would have significantly altered the method by which the Georgia Department of Transportation enter into engineering and design contracts with consulting engineers by including lowest bid as an option, as opposed to limiting such contracts to a method of quality based selection. GTA opposed this legislation and it was tabled in the House Transportation Committee.
HB 737: Would have added an additional “super-speeder” fine for trucks and commercial vehicles. This legislative never made it out of committee.
HB 411: Affectionately known as the truck weights bill, would have increased the legal weight limit and accompanying variances for the timber industry. The legislation was opposed by GDOT, local governments, and the freight rail industry, and never received a vote in committee. GTA took a neutral position on this legislation.
SB 346: This legislation, sponsored by Senator Brandon Beach, will save GDOT money by streamlining environmental reporting processes. GTA supported this legislation and it passed the General Assembly and now waits on the Governor’s signature.
HB 966: This legislation would have dramatically altered Georgia’s Erosion and Sediment Control statute to apply the EPD’s 25-foot buffer ruling to all state waters. The legislation would have cost GDOT approximately $25 million. GTA opposed the legislation and it did not make it out of subcommittee.
SB 369: This legislation, which began as an update to Georgia’s consumer fireworks statute, became a MARTA funding vehicle in the last days of the session. By a vote of 43-5, the legislature has authorized the City of Atlanta and Fulton County to levy referenda that will create approximately $2.5 billion in capital expansion capacity for MARTA. DeKalb County can join at a higher rate in 2017. GTA supported this legislation.
HB 779: This legislation provides regulations governing drone use supplementing the federal regulations enforced by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), and provides protections for private property and privacy. The bill focuses on regulations of drones used by law enforcement and state agencies. This legislation passed and awaits the Governor’s signature.
Two senior staffers from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee indicated last week that attention would soon turn back to the sustainability of the Highway Trust Fund. The discussions would center around long term viability of the HTF and potential solutions for bolstering its revenue stream. Ironically, the 2017 budget proposal from U.S. House Republicans appropriately chastises Congress for continually raiding the U.S. Treasury for funds to shore up the Highway Trust Fund, the budget also falls back upon a familiar list of non-solvent policy proposals including eliminating New Starts and TIGER programs and devolution of the highway trust fund. The House Freedom Caucus continues to express their opposition to the measure.
FAA Authorization…last week, the House and Senate sent a short term FAA patch to the White House. The patch should give lawmakers until July 15th to come up with a long term solution. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R – PA) promises that a long term FAA extension will be a high priority after the two-week recess.
The Congressional Budget Office has posted the March 2016 baseline update for Highway Trust Fund projections. These projections, while different from those in the FAST Act, suggest that the Highway Account will end FY2020 at $17 billion and the Transit Account will end FY2020 at $3 billion.