Vance Smith optimistic about transportation funding

By Maria Saporta

He may be the only guy in Georgia who feels this way.

“I can’t wait till January,” said Vance Smith, the new commissioner for the Georgia Department of Transportation. “I’m looking forward to interacting with the General Assembly.”

Smith was speaking to the board of the Georgia Department of Economic Development at the Newell Rubbermaid headquarters. Before becoming GDOT commissioner nearly two months ago, Smith chaired the House of Representatives’ transportation committee.

“After 17 years of wearing a legislative hat, I now have got a bureaucratic hat,” Smith said, quickly adding that he welcomes the challenge. “I absolutely enjoy getting up and going to work in the morning.”

The message Smith shared with the state’s economic development board was more far reaching. In his mind, transportation in Georgia is another way of saying economic development — whether it be in metro Atlanta or throughout the state.

“Mobility in Georgia does not mean all roads and bridges,” Smith said. “We need rail. We need to use all the modes of transportation. The ports are a huge economic development engine.”

But the major issue facing transportation in Georgia today is funding. Although transportation funding bills failed during the past two sessions, Smith said he’s hopeful the legislature will address the issue in 2010.

“I think the General Assembly will approach that issue, and I think it will be successful,” Smith said, acknowledging that not everyone is that optimistic.

Board member Phil Jacobs expressed the frustration that business leaders have had these past two years because neither bill passed. What can the business community do differently, Jacobs asked Smith.

“Don’t lock down on one plan or one proposal too soon,” Smith said. “The business community has got to be flexible. It’s got to be open-minded.”

What’s still unknown, however, is whether the House, the Senate and Gov. Sonny Perdue will be able to agree on a plan for transportation funding. Differences of opinions among them has led to a stalemate. Perhaps they will develop a consensus on a hybrid solution.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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