Reorganization of GDOT diminishes role of transit, rail and intermodal programs

By Maria Saporta

Leave it to Georgia to put the train in reverse while the rest of the country is moving forward.

Vance Smith, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation, distributed a memo on Thursday, Oct. 15 announcing proposed “organizational changes” in his department.

“Over the last few months, we have worked diligently to strategically reorganize the Department to achieve greater efficiency in both functional alignment and program delivery,” Smith wrote in the memo.

He then released the new organization chart which diminishes the role of transit and intermodal transportation in the department.

The Intermodal Division, which had been upgraded just last November, named Erik Steavens as its first director. At the time, it was viewed as though GDOT, often just referred to as the highway department, was finally broadening its mission to other modes of transportation.

But in the new organizational chart, there is no longer an Intermodal Division. Instead, “Intermodal Programs” is listed underneath the Division of Engineering, a demotion no matter which way one looks at it.

And the timing couldn’t be worse. Last month, Ray LaHood, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, came to Georgia where he criticized the state’s lack of planning and development of transit and rail.

Georgia already is being scrutinized closely in Congress for sitting on $87 million in federal funds that are supposed to have gone towards building a passenger rail line between Atlanta and Lovejoy (or preferably Griffin or Macon). The state has been told that it will lose those dollars if it doesn’t move forward with the project.

Georgia also has been slow to plan for development of high speed rail. Compared to North Carolina and Florida, Georgia is riding in the caboose.

So doing anything that dampens the state efforts on intermodal transportation options, with transit and rail in particular, hurts Georgia when it comes to Washington, D.C. and the Obama administration.

After Smith’s memo was released, reaction among transit advocates and progressive modes of transportation was swift.

“This move couldn’t be more out of step,” said an observer who didn’t want to be identified.

It is expected that several GDOT board members and state legislators will “go nuts” when they realize that the reorganization is a demotion and backward step for Intermodal, the observer added.

Once again, Georgia appears to be paving its way to the past, complete with out-of-date transportation solutions.

Here is a copy of Vance Smith’s memo:

DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION STATE OF GEORGIA

INTERDEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENCE FILE:
OFFICE: Commissioner
DATE: October 15, 2009
FROM: Vance C. Smith, Jr., Commissioner TO: GDOT Employees SUBJECT: Organizational Changes In accordance with recent legislation, I wanted to share with you the proposed organizational changes that I shared with the Board just moments ago. Over the last few months, we have worked diligently to strategically reorganize the Department to achieve greater efficiency in both functional alignment and program delivery. Certain structural changes are reflected at the Division level, to include those legally mandated divisions such as Planning, Engineering, Finance, Administration and Local Grants. The statute also provides for optional divisions such as Construction, Operations, Permits, and Public Private Partnerships (P3), which we have chosen to establish. Additional features of this realignment include the following personnel appointments and functional placements:

Appointment by the Governor: Todd Long, Division of Planning Commissioner’s Executive Technical Staff

• Vicki Gavalas – Special Assistant to the Commissioner for Strategies and Development
• Stephanie Carter – Special Assistant for Policy and Projects

Deputy Commissioner’s Executive Technical Staff
• Greg Mayo – Asset Management, to include Strategic Planning

Chief Engineer’s Executive Technical Staff
• Meg Pirkle and Ben Rabun – Executive Assistants to Chief Engineer
• Engineering Services, to include Environmental Compliance
• Program Control, previously in Pre-Construction
• Program Delivery (recent project management initiative)
• Darryl VanMeter – Innovative Program Delivery, previously under Urban Design

Division of Engineering: Ben Buchan
• Intermodal Programs
• Russell McMurry – Design, combining Road and Urban
• Bridge Design, to include Bridge Maintenance (previously in Maintenance)
• Brent Story – Design Policy & Standards, to include Computer Support Engineering (previously in IT) and Location Engineering (previously in Environment/Location)
• Environment
• Right of Way, to include Property Liquidation & Disposal (previously under Property & Equipment)

Division of Construction: Thomas Howell
• Bidding Administration (previously under Procurement)
• Construction
• Materials & Research

Division of Permits & Operations: Keith Golden
• Maintenance, to include Permits
• Traffic Safety & Design
• Utilities
• Transportation Data, previously under Planning

Division of Local Grants & Field Services: Mike Thomas
• State Aid
• Property and Equipment
• Field Districts
o David Millen – District Engineer, District 3
o Todd McDuffie – Acting District Engineer, District 1
o Bryant Poole – Resumes role as District Engineer, District 7

Organizational Changes Page 3 October 15, 2009 Division of Finance: Angela Whitworth
• Budget Services
• Financial Management
• General Accounting

Division of P3: Earl Mahfuz (Dual role as Asst. Treasurer)
• Public Private Partnerships

Division of Administration/General Counsel: Sandra Burgess
• Legal Services
• Construction Claims
• Human Resources
• Office of Audits, previously under Finance

We recognize that questions may arise from the newly announced structure and ask for your patience and cooperation as additional organizational details will be forthcoming. Please know how proud I am to be serving as your Commissioner. Together, we represent a long history of dedicated service for the citizens of Georgia. As we continue to move forward, let’s remain focused on our shared vision and mission to implement a comprehensive plan that meets our state’s 21st Century transportation needs.

cc: Gerald M. Ross, P.E., Deputy Commissioner/Chief Engineer

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.

12 replies
  1. Looking Out says:

    What do you expect? This re-org was orchestrated by Gerald Ross, the most powerful man in GDOT and a modern good-ole-boy, to reward his buddies and to punish those whom he thinks not GDOT enough. I’ve no doubt that Mr. Steavens will leave as soon as he can for more promising possibilities, and with him any hope that Georgia can actually compete with her sister Southern states (other than Ala.)for jobs and investment, much less regionally or nationally. We can only hope that the next Gov. will actually have his head screwed on tight and right, but that is a very long shot, all things considered.Report

    Reply
  2. juanita driggs says:

    This could presage what the General Assembly will or won’t do about transit, rail and intermodal during its next sesson. Probably very little or nothing. Like following the money, it would be interesting to trace back to where and how the idea of this “reorganization” started.Report

    Reply
  3. BPJ says:

    Please call your legislators and tell them you want action on rail this session. The main reason we don’t have commuter rail, intercity passenger rail, or state funding for transit, is that well-intentioned people who support these measures don’t contact their state legislators about it.

    Think about it: have YOU told your state rep & state senator that this is avoting issue for you? If not, you are part of the problem.Report

    Reply
  4. o2bnavw says:

    Please note that it was the legislature and governor that passed and signed SB 200 last year that eliminated the division of intermodal programs. GDOT has no choice under this statute. The bill clearly defined which divisions the Department will and can have – none of which included intermodal.Report

    Reply
  5. Dick Hodges says:

    How much longer will Georgians elect or select so-called leaders completely lacking vision and knowledge about how to solve or alleviate transportation and mobility challenges facing the state?? It’s disappointing and discouraging beyond this observer’s ability adequately to express in words. One has to hope that some members of the DOT and the General Assembly, if not the governor’s office, will show some guts and true leadership, missing in large quantities in recent years. Otherwise, the future of Atlanta and the rest of Georgia most assuredly will get bleaker and bleaker, while several neighboring states continue to outrun us with meaningful investments in proven transit and other modes of passenger rail. It’s difficult to consider any longer Georgia as being “the Empire State of the South.”Report

    Reply
  6. Sandy Jo Layne says:

    I won’t be surprised if the controlling factions in the Legislature allows Fed money for rail infrastructure to evaporate. Fewer cars would mean less dependence on and fewer dollars for all those industries that gain from auto ownership and its ripple effects. Preserving the Victorian era character of GA (concentrated wealth and control) seems to be the planters’ goal, even if its at the expense of generating greater wealth in 21st century industries that GA is uniquely positioned to capture(biotech, logistics, etc.) This mindset will perpetuate the status quo of fiefdoms where connections rule, outsiders are unwelcomed, the talented and/or educated youth often leave and rarely return, and those who remain live in endentured servitude. Look away, Dixieland.Report

    Reply
  7. Dose of Reality says:

    The Atlanta region needs to figure out how to fund rail rapid transit on its own. Any proposal that counts on state funding or federal funds with a state match, should be taken off the table.

    We know the region has tried to go this route in the past couple years with the metro sales tax idea, but this has again been stalled by the legislature. The region needs to look at other taxing schemes that skirt around traditional sales taxes, since these aren’t allowed under the state constitution unless deemed by the legislature.

    Alternatively, state legislatures from the metro area need to figure out how to “divide and conquer” the opponents to recent funding obstacles in the legislature. For too long, there has been an Atlanta vs rest of the state split. Metro Atlanta legislators need to find issues for which one rural region is opposed to another – then deepen that divide and trade their support on side or another for some kind of transit funding.

    Face it, the legislature is never going to fund transit. Atlanta either needs to figure out how to be self-dependent, or else play political hardball.Report

    Reply
  8. The Skinny says:

    Looking Out – if you had any common sense, you would know that Gerald Ross is African-American. Since when are African-American males considered to be “good ole boys?” IDIOTReport

    Reply
  9. Scott says:

    If there is no public gatherings, town hall meetings, forums, or anything on the matter of informing the public, than no one will contact their legislators….

    If rail in Georgia becomes a bigger issue here, like I think it will soon, than we will adopt better plans…

    Georgia has always been last in many areas…. transportation, education, etc….

    i hate you georgiaReport

    Reply
  10. ergonomic mats says:

    state funding for transit, is that well-intentioned people who support
    these measures don’t contact their state legislators about it.
    Think about it: have YOU told your state rep & state senator that
    this is avoting issue for you? If not, you are part of the problem.Report

    Reply

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