Let’s get real about transportation. We are at a crossroads. Do we step up and face our current challenge or do we allow this vital infrastructure to decay and fall further behind our present and future needs?
Georgia ranks forty-ninth in the nation in per capita transportation spending. In the Southeast, we spend only just over half what North Carolina and Virginia spend on transportation and 43% of what Florida spends even though we have more state road lane miles to maintain. Metro Atlanta also lags behind similarly sized metro areas in terms of transportation investment. For instance, the Dallas region spends 280% more, the Phoenix region spends 150% more, and the Denver region spends 300% more than our Atlanta region on transportation.
The result? Forty-eight percent of our state maintained roads and bridges are rated in either poor or fair condition. Metro Atlanta has been ranked 91st out of 100 among major metro regions nationwide for access to transit. Atlantans have one of the worst commutes in the nation with the average driver wasting on average over $900 in fuel per year sitting in traffic. Prospective businesses rank our transportation woes and our inability to address it as one of their chief concerns about moving to metro Atlanta.
In response to these concerns, the Georgia General Assembly created this year the Joint Study Committee on Critical Transportation Funding Infrastructure for Georgia and I was appointed as one of the two “citizen” members. Over the past four months we have met in Atlanta, Columbus, Tifton, Macon, Augusta, Savannah, Blue Ridge, and Rome, Georgia. We have listened to civic leaders, transportation experts, business executives, and everyday citizens explain not only the transportation problems facing our state but also possible solutions. Our charge is to make recommendations to the General Assembly before it convenes in January, 2015.
As our committee considers our solution options over the next month, we are mindful of the following realities brought out in our hearings:
- At a minimum, Georgia must immediately find additional transportation funding of $1 billion per year just to properly maintain our present transportation system, and in the long run we must also find another $1 billion + per year to meet critically needed future improvements;
- Greater flexibility and coordination between the state and local regions in Georgia are needed to allow our regions to assess and fast forward particularly critically needed transportation projects in their area;
- Public Private Partnerships and toll lanes and roads are a viable option for future improvements in some areas;
- As motor vehicles become more fuel efficient and electric cars more common, the present primary dependency on motor fuel taxes to fund transportation must be re evaluated;
- At the same time, the present policy of allowing the state and local governments to divert sales taxes collected on motor fuel for non transportation purposes must also be reassessed;
- Greater coordination among metro Atlanta transit providers is required to make transit a viable transportation alternative in our urban and suburban area; and
- The following factors need to be adopted in determining which transportation projects should be at the top of the list for implementation: congestion mitigation; economic development; accessibility; safety; and environmental quality.
Throughout history, all great societies must continuously meet their infrastructure challenges or watch their earlier successes slip into the history books. Atlanta and the State of Georgia are not immune to this reality. We are rightly proud of our past success but we desperately need to step up and respond to our transportation infrastructure shortcomings in order to maintain our status as a destination point for economic growth and for people seeking a higher quality of life.
Stay tuned on the Committee’s recommendations.