Georgia ranked No. 1 state for business for fourth consecutive year

Office of Governor
For immediate release – 11/02/2016
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Gov. Nathan Deal today announced that Georgia has been named the No. 1 state in the nation in which to do business for the fourth consecutive year by Site Selection magazine, a leading economic development trade publication.

“For a remarkable fourth time in a row, Georgia has once again been named the top state in nation in which to do business, highlighting the vitality of our state economy and the business-friendly environment that continues to help companies grow,” said Deal. “The collaborative framework on both state and local levels has led to the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs for Georgia families, enhanced community outreach by investing millions in local areas and improved the overall quality of life for all citizens. In the last four years, many small businesses have expanded in Georgia and numerous international companies have established operations here, reflecting the foundation offered to job creators. Georgia leads the way in providing companies with a low tax burden and a business-friendly climate. In return, there have been more than 575,000 private sector jobs created since 2011. This recognition for our statewide economic development is a testament to the unwavering commitment displayed by our industry leaders, community partners and the people of Georgia.”

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NSSGA Files Legal Action Against Silica Rule

NSSGA, in conjunction with the Georgia Construction Aggregates Association (GCAA), filed a petition on April 4 in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for review of the OSHA crystalline silica rule. OSHA published the final rule on March 25 and, unless stayed by the court, the rule is set to take effect June 23.

Silica is the second most common mineral in the world and found abundantly in nature, such as beach sand. Studies have shown that the aggregates industry’s compliance with current regulations has been effective in reducing and appropriately monitoring silica exposure to workers.

Despite the fact that silica-related illnesses have dropped dramatically the past four decades, the rule reduces the workplace exposure limit by half (from 100 micrograms per cubic meter to 50 micrograms per cubic meter over an eight-hour work shift).

“The evidence has demonstrated that there is no additional health benefit to further reducing current exposure limits. OSHA’s rule is simply unnecessary as compliance with the existing standard fully protects workers,” said Michael W. Johnson, NSSGA president and CEO. “OSHA’s justification for this stricter regulation is not based on sound science.”

NSSGA submitted extensive written comments and provided oral testimony to OSHA following the agency’s publication in 2014 of its proposed rule. A decade ago, NSSGA and member companies participated in the Small Business Administration’s review of OSHA’s draft proposal, and subsequently weighed in on various occasions with the White House Office of Management and Budget during its review of the proposal’s economic and technical feasibility.

Johnson notes that objective evidence demonstrates that many commercial laboratories that analyze workplace air samples do not consistently provide the analytical accuracy at this lower limit. “There would be significantly more testing required that would result in confusing, inconsistent and unreliable data. This is a real problem that neither OSHA nor the labs have effectively resolved,” he said.

To aid the aggregates industry in its compliance with the current standard, NSSGA regularly partners with the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to conduct noise and dust workshops that provide guidance on how to accurately monitor worker exposure to respirable silica. Also, NSSGA’s Occupational Health Program aids operators to effectively safeguard worker health through exposure monitoring and medical surveillance.

“NSSGA believes that the aggregates industry’s most valuable resource is the more than 100,000 people who work in our industry. Our members are committed to their health and welfare,” said Johnson. “It’s unfortunate that NSSGA is compelled to take legal action in this case. However, we are confident that an objective analysis of our challenge will demonstrate that OSHA is on the wrong track.”

New money for Georgia roads pouring in

February 18, 2016 / AJC –

Andria Simmons Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal on Wednesday approved a $750 million increase in the state budget for road and bridge improvements, a direct result of landmark state legislation to raise the gas tax and impose several new fees.

Georgia governor signs midyear budget with $1.1 billion in new spending READ MORE: Georgia’s new transportation bill: Five takeaways The new law (House Bill 170) which took effect July 1, 2015, is resulting in a large increase in gas tax collections despite persistently low prices at the pump, since it is applied to the number of gallons people purchase instead of the sale price.

The new excise tax rate is 26 cents per gallon of regular fuel, or 29 cents per gallon for diesel, which equates to about a 6 cent per gallon increase in the price of gas) Motor fuel tax collections for the fiscal year to date are at $1.24 million, which is greater than the Georgia Department of Transportation’s base budget for all of last year.

GDOT has begun ramping up its contracting for road work as a consequence. On Thursday, Commissioner Russell McMurry told the State Transportation board that $191 million worth of projects would be advertised for bid in March. Going forward, the department will probably average about $150 million worth of new project lettings a month, compared to years past where monthly project lettings averaged $80 to 90 million, McMurry said.

Market forces will power state’s new transportation plan

Jan 22, 2016, 6:00am EST
Dave Williams / Atlanta Business Chronicle

Toll lanes across the entire top end of the Perimeter and on Georgia 400 north to Atlanta’s far suburbs.
Rebuilt interchanges at Interstate 285 and I-20 east and west of Atlanta. And new truck-only lanes on I-75
from Macon to McDonough.

All are part of an ambitious $10 billion, 10-year transportation plan Gov. Nathan Deal announced Jan. 12. After some initial experiments, the plan’s unprecedented scope shows the Georgia Department of Transportation is all-in not only on toll lanes but on tapping the private sector to help finance road improvements government can’t afford on its own. Indeed, the estimated price tag of $14.2 billion for the 10 interstate construction projects — only a portion of the overall plan — exceeds the $10 billion outlined
by the governor.

“By leveraging public-private partnerships, we can advance these critical projects,” DOT Commissioner Russell McMurry said during a ceremony at the Capitol unveiling the plan. “It will be transformational for Georgia.”

The state began experimenting with toll lanes in 2011 by converting an existing lane north- and southbound on a 16-mile stretch of I-85 in DeKalb and Gwinnett counties to an optional toll lane. Tolls along the corridor, which vary according to the level of traffic, hit a record $12 last November. “It offers a choice,” said Meg Pirkle, the DOT’s chief engineer. “You can choose to pay a toll to go faster.”
Satisfied with that first foray into toll lanes, the DOT launched three additional projects, adding toll lanes to I-75 in Cobb and Cherokee counties, along I-75 south of Atlanta in Clayton and Henry counties and extending the current toll lanes on I-85 into northern Gwinnett. All are due to open in 2018. Those toll lanes will become more efficient in moving traffic through the metro region as the new projects
announced by Deal go into service, said Bert Brantley, deputy director of the State Road and Tollway Authority. Bids will be out on all of the projects listed in the new plan by 2026, but the time line for construction remains uncertain.

“These projects only work better when they connect with other projects,” Brantley said. “You start getting a network.”

The toll lanes along I-285 and Georgia 400 are the most expensive on the project list, at $6 billion and $2.4 billion, respectively. Pirkle said both will require extensive right-of-way acquisition, driving up the cost. Next in price is an estimated $2.1 billion for truck-only lanes to be added to I-75 from Macon north to McDonough, a heavily traveled stretch of highway where trucks account for about 25 percent of the total traffic. While all of the work around metro Atlanta is aimed at relieving traffic congestion, the truck-only lanes are to ease the movement of freight.

Seth Millican, director of the Georgia Transportation Alliance, an affiliate of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, said improving the transport of freight came up repeatedly during a series of forums his organization held recently across the state.

“We heard two messages,” he said. “In Atlanta, it’s all about congestion relief. In the rest of the state, it’s about economic development. … They’re looking for ways to get more efficient connections to the port.” Millican said the need for truck-only lanes will become even greater after completion of a $706 million harbor-deepening project at the Port of Savannah, which will make room for a new generation of giant containerized cargo ships.

“There’s going to be a lot more containers coming into that port,” he said. “We have to make sure we’re ready to handle that.”

What’s making the $10 billion transportation plan possible is the transportation funding legislation the General Assembly passed last year, which is expected to add at least $900 million a year in tax revenue to the DOT’s coffers.

But state and federal funding alone won’t be enough for all of the work the plan envisions. The DOT will be counting on private financing to fill the gap. Pirkle said the DOT is getting more comfortable with public-private partnerships thanks to its success with
the planned overhaul of the interchange of I-285 and Georgia 400. Originally expected to cost $1.1 billion, the DOT reduced the price tag to $679 million in December when the State Transportation Board awarded a $460 million contract to North Perimeter Contractors to design, construct and help finance the work. “We got a great price,” she said.

Brantley said the savings expected from the I-285/Georgia 400 project shows the state has come a long way since it began experimenting with public-private partnerships for highway improvements a dozen years ago. “We’ve been at this since 2004, trying to figure out how to bring private investment to the table while protecting taxpayers and getting a good return on our investment,” he said. “We’re light-years from where we were. I think it will only get better.”

The new transportation plan has its critics. Colleen Kiernan, director of the Georgia chapter of the Sierra Club, said its complete reliance on asphalt isn’t going to solve metro Atlanta’s traffic woes. “The governor’s plan assumes you can pave your way out of traffic congestion,” she said. “What the state should be doing is giving commuters alternatives by funding transit operations.”

But Benita Dodd, vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, which advocates market solutions to public policy issues, said the current generation of fixed rail technology as represented by MARTA isn’t flexible enough to meet the needs of the Uber generation of millennials.

“We need transit that moves with the demographics,” she said. “When you look at the way technology is going, putting more buses in managed lanes would be far more cost-effective.” That’s where the new transportation plan comes in. Brantley said the new toll lanes not only will give commuters driving their cars a chance to get out of gridlocked traffic, but will offer the same time-saving opportunity to commuter buses.

The new toll lanes could help reverse a reduction in ridership the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority has suffered on its commuter buses, due in large part to falling gasoline prices, Brantley said. “When cost is your only benefit, bus ridership is more dependent on gas prices,” he said. “But when you start saving time as well, that’s more incentive to ride the bus.”