State Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell) says the toll on Ga. 400 needs to go. Albers, who represents part of Sandy Springs, has joined Sen. Judson Hill, who also represents parts of Sandy Springs, Sen. Fran Millar of Dunwoody and other north metro Atlanta senators to propose a law requiring all tolls to be approved by the Legislature. Contributor Maggie Lee asked Albers about the proposal.
Q. What are the chances, you think, of getting this passed? Do you see any legal challenges to the language?
No, I don’t see any legal challenges at all primarily because it’s not going to impact bonds that are already taken out. If I had put one out there that said “tear down the toll immediately,” we would have a problem because unfortunately there’s already been some future debt taken on the toll road.
Q. The bill you have right now, how would it affect Ga. 400?
When the current bonds they [the State Road and Tollway Authority] have just most recently taken out are paid off, and then before any other things are done on Ga. 400, they could not take out any more bonds or do additional work. They would have to get approval from both the SRTA board and the General Assembly. And if they don’t get approval to move forward then they would have to remove the toll.
Q. What else should people know about this bill?
It’s important because this is not really about the tolls, it’s about public trust. The public trust is paramount, it’s more important than anything else. And we can’t be shortsighted. I believe in new toll roads. In fact, I’m a supporter of new toll roads. So, if we’re going to put a new road in Georgia, the best way to do that is to put a toll on it because we do not have to raise peoples’ taxes. Then we can have only the people who drive on it pay for that road.
On the Nov. 2 ballot, the third question was in relating to how we did accounting practice at the DOT [Georgia Department of Transportation]. This was actually a good thing. All it was going to do is say: rather than having all this money in the bank, sitting there for 5 plus years in some cases, waiting for a project to begin [having all capital before works start, as required], we would use the money and pay as we go. It wasn’t going to cost taxpayers anything. Iit would allow us to start more roads quicker. It’s the way a normal business does accounting practice.
However, it failed by 4,500 votes statewide. I will tell you the extension of the Ga. 400 toll unequivocally caused that to fail. Because if you think of all the people that live in and around that toll, from DeKalb, Fulton, Forsyth, etc., who are just disgusted with that deal. And it’s unfortunate it failed but that’s what happens when we betray the public’s trust. And it can’t happen again.
Q. Is this something you’re hearing a lot about from your constituents?
Yes, I have been for a long time. And it was something that I also promised them that I was going to do. It was import that we tackle this issue. They were concerned. And most people aren’t concerned so much about the 50 cents and the toll as they were the public trust issue. But you know, it’s foolish. We have paid [with the toll money] for projects all over the place that didn’t impact them. It’s just a chance for us to right a wrong.
Q. What can you do if this bill doesn’t pass?
Reintroduce more legislation and do it again. I believe we haves support here, because once we educate my fellow legislators and certainly those in the executive administration about why this is important I think it will pass. And I think if you remember, Gov. [Nathan] Deal, when he was running for office, came out in favor of tearing down the Ga. 400 toll and why it was a mistake to keep it up.