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Savannah road construction projects could suffer after federal budget runs dry

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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

Congress has just passed legislation that would help replenish the Federal Highway Trust Fund, money that's used to make highway improvements, but the Senate and President Obama must still sign off on it.

According to the Dept. of Transportation, the trust fund will be out of money by August, which could pose a problem for some local projects here in the Savannah area.

A public meeting is being held on Tuesday night at the Con Ed Resource Center.

One of the projects in jeopardy is the Interstate 16 Exit Ramp Removal project, because the federal government pays 80 percent for most of the transportation projects and the state of Georgia pays the rest. 

Congress is working on a bill that would add about $10 billion dollars to the trust fund- but that's only expected to last about six months.

Officials said the reason the money is gone is because it's a main source of revenue is the federal gas tax, and congress hasn't raised it in nearly 20 years. Higher construction costs are also a contributing factor.

Right now there are more than 40 ongoing highway construction projects in Chatham County, and according to the DOT, some of those projects could be impacted

"Basically it is a waiting game," said Jill Nagle from the Georgia Dept. of Transportation. "No funding will be available at the end of August until we know something from Congress, then everything is put on hold"

One of the projects that may have trouble getting started is the one they are discussing on Tuesday night, the I-16 Ramp Removal Project.

While a study has been conducted regarding the project, it still has to be approved by the Dept. of Transportation, and unless more money is put into the budget, no new projects will break ground.

"There will not be any lettings- there will not be any projects moving forward," said Nagel. 

But if congress adds more money to the  budget, the DOT will still have to be picky about the projects they select since the money is only projected to last six months.

A top priority is a new diverging diamond at Interstate 16 and Pooler Parkway, which will help alleviate traffic.

"This is something they are pushing for," said Nagel. 

But the removal of the I-16 exit ramp at Martin Luther King Boulevard may struggle getting federal funding because it's a project to restore and revitalize the downtown neighborhood.

It's a project that's already generated some controversy already. Some people believe it's a waste of money, but officials are confident they will be able to move forward with the project.

"I think the long term affects of this project are slight, because they are going to solve the problem," said Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission Chairman Tom Thompson.

Thomson said they will not even request federal funding for this project until next year, but the proposed bill will only have enough money to last through May.

In the meantime, DOT officials hope Congress comes up with more of a long-term plan.

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