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Ensuring returns on states transportation investment
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When I was named chair of the Senate Transportation Committee in January, it was becoming clear that there could be some struggles with producing a balanced FY 2014 budget for Georgia.

Declining state revenues combined with rising expenses had produced a scenario where it was likely that the legislature was going to be asked to do more with less.

Georgia's transportation infrastructure must continue growing in order to attract economic investment and safely serve the travel needs of those who live both in and outside of the state.

However, growth usually comes at a price -and while the return on investment almost always exceeds the initial cost, every penny needs to be used wisely.

Therefore, improvements to Georgia's roadways must come at a fiscally responsible price and be carefully vetted, especially since it is the taxpayers that receive the project invoice.

I was pleased to see the Georgia General Assembly send two transportation bills in particular to Gov. Nathan Deal's desk.

These bills will allow the state to pursue options that will reduce overall project costs and better predict the costs of future upgrades. While there are signs of economic recovery on the horizon, it is hard to predict what the future holds. Doing all we can to streamline costs and build better structures in order to avoid costly repairs down the road isn't just a good fiscal move; it is just good policy.

Senate Bill 70, a bill I sponsored, will authorize the Georgia Department of Transportation, or GDOT, to utilize a procedure known as "design-build" for certain types of projects.

Currently, the GDOT is allowed to bid out and contract certain projects such as buildings, bridges and rail corridors if the scope of work can be clearly defined or if a contractor is able to complete the project in a significantly faster time frame.

Technology projects that could provide detailed insight on improving traffic flow and reducing costs cannot currently be contracted out; resulting in a significant delay to completing the state's transportation project list.

SB 70 would approve technology initiatives to be performed by contractors and provide for more timely completion.

SB 70 also gives GDOT the option of combining services into a single contract if the project involves the relocation of public utilities and to use a one-step procurement process if it will benefit the state.

As a whole, SB 70 will cut administrative costs and the time involved with managing contractors and projects.

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Another bill that passed the Georgia General Assembly in 2013 will also ensure safe operations during the design and construction stage of transportation projects in the state.

HB 202 outlines the requirements that must be met when performing value engineering studies; specifically, the bill increases the cost limit for projects needing value engineering studies from $10 million to $50 million, with certain exceptions.

Performing an in-depth analysis on construction procedures, the contractor, the materials used and the design concept on an expanded number of projects will save our state money in the long run by guaranteeing the strongest, most resilient structure is being built.

In addition, HB 202 also clarifies criteria for the allocation of federal and state funds by the Department of Transportation.

After many months of work to educate legislators and Georgians about how SB 70 and SB 202 would benefit the state, it was an honor to be present as Gov. Deal signed both bills into law on April 18.

Gov. Deal understands how dependent Georgia is on a robust transportation infrastructure, and I am grateful for his support.

It has been a pleasure to meet with groups in the community over the past few weeks and discuss the legislative session and bills in detail.

I am always ready to come and speak with your group at any time - contact my office to get a time and date set up. I look forward to continuing these meetings and participating in other spring and summer events throughout the district.

Sen. Steve Gooch serves as chairman of the transportation committee. He represents the 51st Senate District, which includes Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Union and White counties and portions of Forsyth and Pickens counties. He may be reached at (404) 656-9221 or via e-mail at