Friday, September 24, 2010

Deal stakes out differences on Ga. 400

Republican nominee for governor Nathan Deal disagrees with today's decision to extend Ga. 400 tolls until 2020.

"Ga. 400 commuters are also taxpayers like all other drivers in our state, and I don't think it's fair to continue to single them out for this daily fee," Deal said. "It's certainly true that this corridor has undergone explosive growth in the past 20 years, but so have many other corridors in the metro Atlanta area.

"In these tight budget times, we must consider all options for improving mobility in metro Atlanta and throughout the rest of the state. Tolls will play a role in how we fund needed expansions in highway capacity. Georgians will only support that option if we keep our promises. The state said it would end the tolls when the bonds were paid. I said this summer that the tolls should end when the bonds are paid off next year, and I believe that would have been the best path to take."

Barnes' sordid record on Ga. 400

While Nathan Deal sides with Ga. 400 commuters, Democrat Roy Barnes should add north Fulton and Forsyth County to his "2010 Apology Tour."

In 2002, Barnes took $10.4 million from Ga. 400 toll funds and bought 6.8 acre tract of land at Atlantic Station - a price that state officials determined was THREE times the land's appraised value. That parcel of land still sits vacant today at Atlantic Station.

Ga. 400 toll money was supposed to be used only for building and improvements in that corridor. Barnes' toll authority director quietly changed the rules so that the money could be used for other projects - but the Atlantic Station property purchase was the only other use of the money. Barnes' toll authority director, Jim Croy, added to the deception in an April 2, 2002, AJC piece by acknowledging the Ga. 400 agreement had been changed but that "there have been no changes, nor are there any currently planned, as to how Ga. 400 tolls will be spent." The AJC pointed out on Sept. 30, 2002, that $10.4 million HAD ALREADY BEEN DIVERTED for the property purchase at that point.

A state inspector general's report released in April 2003 showed that Barnes paid $6.7 million too much for the property. ("$10 million in tolls for $3 million land - Inspector suggests Ga. 400 revenue misused," AJC, 4-22-2003). The IG called the purchase a "questionable use of state funds without documented due diligence." A Georgia Department of Transportation appraisal THREE MONTHS before the purchase placed the value of the land at $3.7 million.

According to the same AJC article cited above: "A deputy attorney general said state lawyers working with the authority believed the transaction was conceived and expedited because Atlantic Station developers were experiencing cash flow problems and needed money to bridge the gap."

The project's co-developer was Jim Jacoby, a major donor to Barnes. Jacoby Development gave $10,000 to Barnes' campaign in November 2001.

The next toll authority director, John Leonard, said after the IG's report: "It's disappointing. It's embarrassing, and we're going to make sure it never happens again."


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