Transportation Challenges Require Creative Solutions

Guest Op-ed from the Georgia Transportation Alliance

In today’s economic environment, meeting our transportation needs is one of the most difficult challenges for elected and civic leaders. While Georgia is home to the world’s busiest airport and the fastest growing port on the east coast, we also face declining motor fuel revenue and the arrival of 3 million more Georgians by 2030. These assets and challenges require an innovative, multi-faceted approach to building our infrastructure. Fortunately, Governor Nathan Deal and the state’s transportation agencies are strongly demonstrating a commitment to those creative solutions.

Last month, GDOT completed a series of open house meetings to educate the public about the construction of new capacity along I-75 in Clayton and Henry Counties. The new lanes would be reversible, adding extra capacity along the corridor during rush hour, and would be paid for with toll revenue. The pricing would be variable, like the tolls on I-85 north of Atlanta, and will both help pay for the project and mitigate congestion.

GDOT is also aggressively executing a public private partnership that will add almost 30 miles of managed lane capacity in the gridlocked interstates of Cobb and Cherokee Counties. When the Northwest Corridor project opens for traffic in four years, commuters will benefit from a combination of innovative technology and faster connectivity. These managed lanes will also allow for more efficient transit operations for express buses and local transit authorities.

In these two projects, Governor Nathan Deal, the Georgia Department of Transportation, and the State Road and Tollway Authority have demonstrated their expertise in finding cost effective ways to mitigate congestion in two of our state’s most infamous chokepoints. The economic development benefits of these projects are numerous, as freight and logistics companies will be able to move goods through our state more cost effectively.

Their leadership doesn’t stop there. The 2014 budget passed by the General Assembly includes another round of investment in the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. To date, the state has committed nearly $230 million to the completion of Georgia’s biggest economic development project since the 5th runway at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. This is a clear demonstration of a commitment to transportation priorities all across the state of Georgia.

Finally, barely four months after revenue collections began, GDOT approved funding for the first project to be built with funds from the Transportation Investment Act. A local street improvement project in Toombs County is the first investment of the almost $2 billion that will be generated over the next ten years. GDOT is number one or number two in the entire country for delivering projects on time and on budget and that commitment to excellence combined with communities willingness to participate will drive the TIA to be one of the most successful transportation development programs in Georgia’s history.

While Georgia’s transportation challenges are numerous, it’s clear that the leadership in our state is committed to creative, progressive solutions for our transportation system that will benefit Georgians long into the future. That is why the Georgia Transportation Alliance and members of the business community from throughout the state look forward to continuing to work with our leadership to solidify Georgia’s position as a global logistics hub and an outstanding place to live.

Seth Millican, Director

Georgia Transportation Alliance

14 comments

  1. sockpuppet says:

    Unfortunately, most of these proposed projects are aimed at alleviating existing challenges … things that should have been done years – in some cases decades – ago. Also, this list doesn’t even address the entire backlog of “should have been done years ago” projects. It doesn’t plan for the added capacity that the Savannah port expansion and continuing expansions of Hartsfield will bring. It certainly doesn’t plan for the 3 million (on the lower end of estimates by the way) population increase by 2030. And it doesn’t position the state for the future by building a better transportation grid than the competition. Instead, all it is doing is fighting existing fires.

    I guess part of the reason for the congestion problems in metro Atlanta is the lack of economic development in other areas of the state. Imagine if North Carolina was just Charlotte instead of 4-5 decent-sized metro areas, or if Tennessee was just Nashville instead of Memphis and Nashville (OK and Chattanooga too). Or if Florida just had Orlando instead of Pensacola, Jacksonville, Tampa-Saint Pete and Miami too.

    But whether the goal is to give the metro area a transportation system that can support 8 million people or to drive development in other parts of the state to spread that population out (which would have the added benefit of getting the local governments in those areas to contribute with transportation projects of their own) it is going to take a massive amount of money, and money that can’t be raised by “user fees” for the most part. That is the reality, and the sooner it is faced the better.

  2. Al Gray says:

    TIA revenues are far short of projections, which was predicted. TIA propagandists used data that projected a 8.5% (or some such outlandish figure) increase in personal income growth that was supposed to engender an upswing in sales tax revenues.

    Over in the Augusta region where TIA passed, the only investment list projects to get under way this year are in Lincoln and Columbia Counties, 2 counties whose voters soundly rejected TIA/TSPLOST. (Was this reverse political psychology of some sort?)

    The defeat of TIA/TSPLOST in those counties and across 75% of the state has shown a vulnerability of sales tax referendums going forward.

    Over here, perhaps the most politically naive county was McDuffie County – a donor county – the vast majority of whose ‘investment list’ projects are in the last 3 years, when it seems almost certain that TIA will be out of money. The Mayor of Thomson was a big promoter, because his city stood to get $1 million in discretionary funds. That was an outrageously expensive exchange, given the timing of the huge investment list costs.

    Down in Burke County, there was an upsurge in local sales tax collections, presumably due to plant Vogtle, just before the TSPLOST vote and after the associated propaganda was put out. Evidently Jesse Stone didn’t realize that Burke County was set up to SHARE a mother lode of sales tax that it could have otherwise kept for itself!

    One doubts that the rest of the region thinks being married to the most corrupt, dysfunctional city in Georgia, was a very good bargain. My two counties didn’t buy it, but the Augusta inner city Democratic Party constituency got bought off by promises of discretionary funds for city transportation services.

    Perhaps one day, Georgia will have a governor and legislature who actually analyze the impacts of legislation, but right now we don’t.

    Perhaps one day, Georgia will have media in the Augusta region that provides real data and information to allow citizens to evaluate such monstrosities, too. Plaintive cries of “We didn’t knowwwwwww…..and nobody told us…….” don’t cancel an 8% sales tax rate.

    • Scott65 says:

      I look at it this way…if they raise $5 for projects its $5 we dont have…so they will have $5 more than the most populous area of the state…go figure. It was a stupid idea for conception…a way for the legislature not to have to do its job for fear of the TP mobs. You spend money to make money…and infrastructure pays for itself then some in the long run.

  3. Rambler14 says:

    No mention of the Pseudo-Northern Arc widening along SR 20 from Canton to Cumming?

    No mention for how long they’ve been talking about planning and improving I-75/575 (Northwest Corridor) and haven’t done a damn thing yet. But trust us, we’ll get it right this time!

  4. greencracker says:

    A guy from Little Rock asked me the other day: “How do you deal with the traffic here?”

    Me: “I plan my life so that I don’t go far from home.”

    Srsly. I pretty much don’t drive more than 20 miles except to visit my mom. It’s a solution that works for me.

  5. Dave Bearse says:

    “The new lanes would be reversible….and would be paid for with toll revenue.”

    Evidently the hundred plus million in capital funding by other than toll payers is insignificant petty cash, or one shouldn’t believe anything the Georgia Transportation Alliance says without corroboration.

  6. mpierce says:

    The new lanes…would be paid for with toll revenue

    I-85 toll lanes
    Revenue: $3.05 million (1st 11 months)
    Operating expense: $3.9 million (1st year)

    • Scott65 says:

      The lanes on 85 were just about as stupid an idea as any I’ve ever seen come out of the DOT. If you want managed lanes to work you have to ADD them as separated lanes, not take them out of current capacity…and separated by painted stripes…it was ludicrous from the get go.

    • Scott65 says:

      In all fairness though, how much of the cost was one time charges or regular maintenance that would have been done regardless of it being a managed lane?

      • mpierce says:

        I would guess the vast majority of one time charges would be covered in construction expense, not operating expense. But I hope I’m wrong.

        I actually like the toll lane idea (even if it uses an existing lane), but the ROI has to be reasonable. Negative ROI is completely unacceptable.

      • Dave Bearse says:

        The I-85 system cost ~$50M to construct, and there was little “regular maintenance” in that expense. I can’t speak to “one time” operations charges, but there certainly were start up operating inefficiencies. That said, I anticipate operating costs to nominally increase over the next few years (in part because my guess is that some operating expenses ended up in capital ledger.) I think revenue will about match operating expense in the third year.

        So what did we get for $50M? No change in congestion. Reducing the incentive to car pool, with car poolers subsidizing tollpayers.

        • mpierce says:

          The number I saw was $56M, but I haven’t seen any breakdown of what that included. With no extra lanes, I wouldn’t any alleviation of congestion. I like having the option to avoid some of the traffic if in a hurry. Hopefully, the existing toll lane data will produce more accurate (less susceptible to political manipulation) expectations going forward.

          • GTKay says:

            The purpose of the HOT lanes is to provide a reliable commute for those who need it. My husband uses it once or twice per week when the time saved is worth the money spent. The folks up in Dacula and Buford LOVE it.

            • Dave Bearse says:

              Except that your husband isn’t spending enough money to pay for it. Who wouldn’t love collective road users to pick up some of the personal expense of their commutes?

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