I have written several times this year about proposals for toll lanes for trucks on metro Atlanta interstate highways.  An article this week shows another reason why this may become a necessity.

The Georgia Department of Transportation expects to spend $160 billion on road construction projects between 2005 and 2035. But revenues from the motor fuel tax that funds road improvement are projected to bring in only $86 billion during the same period. That leaves a $74 billion funding gap.  In addition, federal funding for highway construction has declined sharply in real terms because the federal motor fuel tax is set at 18.4 cents per gallon and is not indexed to inflation, Studstill told the more than 300-hundred attendees at the event. “This shortfall could result in a complete drawdown of the Federal Highway Trust Fund in 2009,” Studstill said. If this occurred, federal highway funds would be exhausted in three years. That leaves a $74 billion funding gap for Georgia roads.

At the same time, increasing road construction costs, population growth and more truck traffic through the state and from the booming port of Savannah increasing pressure on Georgia’s roads.

Three fiscal solutions have been proposed.  One is project-specific Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or SPLOST, on a statewide or regional basis. Another is a statewide 1% sales tax  to replace the fuel tax.  The official estimate is that this would generate $1.5 billion per year, compared with $850 million from the fuel tax.

The third approach would involve public-private partnerships such as toll roads. Georgia law allows GDOT to partner with private or corporate businesses to help finance, design, construct, operate and/or maintain transportation projects. Four are under now consideration in Georgia.

There is also the possibility of rail or other transit relieving commuter pressure on metro Atlanta expressways, while we add another 2 million or more people in the next 25 years. Transit makes good sense in densely populated areas, and the area inside I-285 is rapidly becoming a much more densely packed urban environment.

As with moth things, there are no easy answers.  The tough choices are seldom if ever between good and bad, but between good and good, and between bad and bad.  My hunch is that the federal, state and local government officials will incrementally cobble together some imperfect combination of all these approaches, but we will stay perpetually behind the growth curve until something — either good (e.g., fantastic new energy technology, etc. spurring stronger economic growth)  or bad (environmental, demographic and/or economic collapse)  — causes a dramatic discontinuity in our current patterns.

The Shigley Law Firm  represents plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases statewide in Georgia, and in other states subject to the multijurisdictional practice and pro hac vice rules in each state. Ken Shigley was designated as a "SuperLawyer" in Atlanta Magazine and one of the "Legal Elite" in Georgia Trend Magazine. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, Chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute and former chair of the Georgia Insurance Law Institute. He particularly focuses on cases arising from truck wrecks and accidents (tractor trailers truck wrecks, semi truck wrecks,18 wheeler truck wrecks, big rig truck wrecks, log truck wrecks, dump truck wrecks.