Several members of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, including Chairman Bill Shuster and 7th District Representative Rob Woodall along with Georgia congressmen Tom Graves and Rick Allen met with representatives of the Georgia Department of Transportation, the Georgia Ports Authority, Coca Cola, and United Parcel Service Tuesday morning. The event was billed as a roundtable to discuss the region and nation’s transportation network, and possible federal legislation that would improve the nation’s transportation infrastructure.
Two major themes emerged from the roundtable. The first is the need for a consistent, long-term source of transportation funding. Over the past few years , the federal government has used a continuing resolution process to keep the highway trust fund afloat. That makes it extremely difficult to make plans when, as the DOT’s Meg Pirkle pointed out, there is a 30 year plan to improve the movement of freight in the Peach State with no available funding.
The other major issue is the one of trust. Congressman Woodall pointed out that voters in Forsyth County, one of the most conservative in Georgia, were willing to pass a $200 million bond issue to pay for local transportation improvements, including the widening of Georgia 400. However, the county failed to pass the regional TSPLOST three years ago, and many county residents opposed House Bill 170, which funded road and bridge maintenance throughout Georgia. Trust that the federal government will spend transportation money wisely is even lower.
Combine an unwillingness to trust succeeding higher levels of government to make transportation decisions with the increased costs added at each level, and there is clearly some room for improvement. Addressing the congressmen, one speaker in the audience noted that the planning process (and expense) is higher if a project is inside a metropolitan planning organization like the Atlanta Regional Commission. Congressman Woodall noted that the environmental requirements of the NEPA approval process can add years to the time it takes to get a project to completion.
In the end, there were lots of questions and issues presented, but there were no firm conclusions reached. Charlie Harper and I live tweeted the event. I put most of our tweets along with some others into a Storify story, which is below the fold.