Moving Forward on Transportation

March 5, 2009

Last week the Senate championed efforts to transform Georgia’s transportation in Georgia by passing SB 200 out of the Senate Transportation Committee. The bill will make its way to the floor this week and introduces a new transportation governance structure that will be responsive to the needs of Georgia’s citizens.

Over the past two years, there has been a considerable amount of attention surrounding the state Department of Transportation. The department has had major accounting problems, cost overruns, and been the center of political infighting. Last Thursday, the DOT board dismissed Commissioner Gena Evans. What gets lost in the headlines is the fact that Georgians continue to lose valuable time with their families and at their jobs because they are sitting in traffic. We can no longer tolerate this gridlock which has a direct impact on our state’s economy.

This is not just a metro problem; it affects every part of Georgia. I have seen this first hand in my own rural district where projects that were approved and started years ago are still not completed.

There are projects that have taken over fifteen years to even get started, let alone finished. As these projects are continually delayed, the costs of steel and concrete continue to increase at a cost worth millions to Georgia taxpayers. This results in increases of millions of dollars more than the original plan, meanwhile driving the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) further and further into debt. The domino effect continues to occur with other projects being delayed or prolonged.

Throwing more money at a dysfunctional agency will not fix this. Despite putting billions of dollars into the Department of Transportation, nothing has changed.

These problems, along with the negative press on the DOT, give a lot of competent employees around the state a bad name. The department’s regional offices and their employees are doing an excellent job maintaining our roads. This plan is not aimed at eliminating DOT jobs, the DOT board or commissioner. SB 200 simply restructures our state’s transportation agencies to equip them to succeed in carrying out their mission, in a more responsive manner through increased accountability. The problem is the department’s ineffective governing structure, lack of accountability, and transparency contribute to the status quo. The department is set up for failure under its current structure.

This is why the Governor and leadership in both the house and senate have come up with the Transforming Transportation Investment Act. This legislation will stream-line the decision making process by combining the State Road & Tollway Authority (SRTA) with the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) into one new agency called the State Transportation Authority. This will allow for a new, transparent model for funding decisions that gives the General Assembly and the Governor direct appropriation powers, much like the way other agencies in Georgia are funded and governed.

This plan will return proper control of local transportation matters to counties and cities through the establishment of a direct local grant program to local governments, so they can choose which projects they want to complete. This will bring funding priorities closer to the people.

As Albert Einstein once said, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” Just like businesses must adapt to challenges in the market place, government must also adjust in order to successfully deliver services efficiently to the citizens of Georgia.

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Sen. Tommie Williams serves as President Pro Tempore. He represents the 19th Senate District, which includes Appling, Jeff Davis, Long, Montgomery, Toombs, Wayne, and Wheeler counties and a portion of Liberty and Tattnall counties. He can be reached at 404.656.0089 or by email at tommie.williams@senate.ga.gov.