Georgia’s latticework of roads to benefit from GDOT’s new freight designation that unties funding rules

By David Pendered

With little fanfare, Georgia has entered a new era in which road construction is to be based less on geography and more on the need for congestion relief.

Georgia's DOT voted last week to designate the roads marked in red as freight corridors, which can be improved without funding restraints the state had previously imposed. Credit: GDOT

Georgia’s DOT voted last week to designate the roads marked in red as freight corridors, which can be improved without funding restraints the state had previously imposed. Credit: GDOT

The step isn’t expected to be a panacea because Georgia doesn’t have any more money than before to spend on road improvements. However, the measure does provide the state with flexibility to target the resources it does have in areas where they’re in greatest demand, according to advocates including Gov. Nathan Deal.

The board of Georgia’s Department of Transportation voted last week to adopt a list of designated freight corridors. Now, these corridors can be upgraded without the legal constraint of balancing highway spending among congressional districts. The list was envisioned in House Bill 202, which Deal signed in April.

“This bill will allow us to better prioritize transportation projects that help to create jobs, decrease traffic holdup for freight and quicken the flow of goods to Georgians,” Deal said in a statement released following a bill signing ceremony at the Metro Atlanta Chamber – nine months after voters rejected a proposed transportation sales tax in nine of the state’s 12 regions.

HB 202 exempted interstate highways from congressional balancing. That’s why potential improvements in metro Atlanta have already been touted at intersections including I-285/Ga. 400, and I-285/I-20 east and west. The bill required that freight corridors other than interstates be specifically designated by GDOT’s board.

The highways marked in red, in Atlanta and Savannah, can be improved without funding restraints the state had previously imposed. Credit: GDOT

The highways marked in red, in Atlanta and Savannah, can be improved without funding restraints the state had previously imposed. Credit: GDOT

The new list of freight corridors is expected to have significant impact outside metro Atlanta, on the latticework of roads that knit the rest of Georgia with the capital city and seaports in Savannah and Brunswick.

One group in west-central Georgia already is uplifted over the inclusion on the list of a proposed highway between LaGrange and Macon. They’ve named the route “Georgia’s Export/Import Highway” and think that getting the route on the new list is a significant step forward.

“This should make it easier to fund the actual corridor study that we have been advocating for all these years,” said Lanier Boatwright, executive director of the Three Rivers Regional Commission, who supports the proposed highway.

A sturdy description of congressional balancing is contained in a 2010 report by the Atlanta Regional Commission.

The provision requires that, “85 percent of federal and state capital investment be divided equally among the 13 congressional districts, one‐third of the remainder must be for ‘economic development purposes’ statewide. The remainder is flexible as long as any district does not receive 20 percent more than any other district. Current excluded from the accounting are maintenance and operations, MARTA, GRTA, the Georgia Ports Authority and improvements on the Development Highway System.”

Before HB 202 was enacted, state law required Georgia to equally distribute, among 14 congressional districts, its state and federal highway dollars, according to a board document.

The balancing program has been under fire for years from critics, including the since-retired chief engineer of GDOT, for a wide range of operational challenges including the changing configurations of congressional districts. In just one glaring example, the formula was thrown off when Georgia picked up its 14th congressional district in 2011.

“Congressional district balancing as we know it and as it has been practiced since 1999 DOES NOT WORK!” concludes a 2008 report by Gerald Ross, GDOT’s former chief engineer. (The capital letters are in Ross’ report.)

Much of the work represented by HB 202 grew out of the Georgia Statewide Freight and Logistics Plan 2010-2050.

The report says that an investment of $18 billion to $20 billion over the next 40 years could generate upwards of $77 billion in additional economic output and the creation of “thousands of new jobs.”

The report suggests almost $10 billion on highway improvements, a task that will be facilitated by viewing them as corridors rather than slices of congressional district. The broad categories cited in the report include:

  • “Add capacity to select long-haul corridors;
  • “Improve congested interstate interchanges;
  • “Develop key bypass routes;
  • “Improve key smaller urban and rural freight corridors;
  • “Improve last-mile connectors in Savannah and Atlanta;
  • “Highway safety improvements.”

About David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with nearly 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.
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4 comments
DougAlexander
DougAlexander

I smiled as I read this because I recall the reason for the implementation of "Congressional Balancing" in the first place: GRTA.  Rural legislators were afraid that they'd be cut off and forgotten by state transportation funding because of the new agency, and so CB was instituted to keep GDOT and Roy Barnes and GRTA from funneling everything to that hated poster-child of traffic congestion, the City of Atlanta (actually, the Atlanta Metro, but none of the rurals hate Cobb or Gwinnett or even north Fulton or much of the rest of the metro area).

For me as a member of the Atlanta City Council, it was a joyous moment.  For years the City had been pilloried be the rest of the state because, as everyone with a lick of sense knew, Atlanta was soaking up much more than its fair share of transportation funds.  But with the implementation of Congressional Balancing, Atlanta suddenly had $20 million MORE to use than it had previously.

I enjoyed bringing this fact to light when someone from outside the city would crow about CB, and how Atlanta would only get its "fair share" from now on.  Watching someone's face fall as reality impinged upon his or her worldview was priceless to me.

That being said, I was never a fan of CB because it did not allow for state-wide transportation issues to be dealt with on a state-wide basis.  I'm glad that there's now a nick in the armor of CB, and I hope that it eventually collapses.  But I also hope that we can bring railroads into the mix for all of this freight corridor funding.  The private railroad companies are just as deserving of public support as the private trucking firms that use the public's highways. 

That's unlikely for the foreseeable future, sad to say, because there are no railroad executives among the members of the State House or Senate.  There are quite a few trucking company executives sitting in those chambers, however, and they will make certain that their interests are served first and foremost.

DougAlexander
DougAlexander

I smiled as I read this because I recall the reason for the implementation of "Congressional Balancing" in the first place: GRTA.  Rural legislators were afraid that they'd be cut off and forgotten by state transportation funding because of the new agency, and so CB was instituted to keep GDOT and Roy Barnes and GRTA from funneling everything to that hated poster-child of traffic congestion, the City of Atlanta (actually, the Atlanta Metro, but none of the rurals hate Cobb or Gwinnett or even north Fulton or much of the rest of the metro area). For me as a member of the Atlanta City Council, it was a joyous moment.  For years the City had been pilloried be the rest of the state because, as everyone with a lick of sense knew, Atlanta was soaking up much more than its fair share of transportation funds.  But with the implementation of Congressional Balancing, Atlanta suddenly had $20 million MORE to use than it had previously. I enjoyed bringing this fact to light when someone from outside the city would crow about CB, and how Atlanta would only get its "fair share" from now on.  Watching someone's face fall as reality impinged upon his or her worldview was priceless to me. That being said, I was never a fan of CB because it did not allow for state-wide transportation issues to be dealt with on a state-wide basis.  I'm glad that there's now a nick in the armor of CB, and I hope that it eventually collapses.  But I also hope that we can bring railroads into the mix for all of this freight corridor funding.  The private railroad companies are just as deserving of public support as the private trucking firms that use the public's highways.  That's unlikely for the foreseeable future, sad to say, because there are no railroad executives among the members of the State House or Senate.  There are quite a few trucking company executives sitting in those chambers, however, and they will make certain that their interests are served first and foremost.

moliere
moliere

This amounts to more administrative shuffling. Until actual money to get these projects done is identified and allocated, nothing is going to happen. 

moliere
moliere

This amounts to more administrative shuffling. Until actual money to get these projects done is identified and allocated, nothing is going to happen.

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