By Guest Columnist DICK ANDERSON, executive director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority.
When Gov. Sonny Perdue asked me over a year ago to join his administration and take look at our transportation challenges from an executive perspective, I am not exactly sure what I expected to encounter.
I had experienced congestion as a daily commuter and heard about our funding challenges, but my experience in transportation was limited to being a flagman and mower operator for Kentucky Department of Transportation during college summers.
What I found was a set of business problems very similar to ones we faced at BellSouth, where I worked for 28 years.
Our transportation network (highways, rail, transit, ports), much like the telecommunications network, is a shared network used for many different purposes. Capital for investment in the network is always a scarce resource. Success demands a clear, targeted strategy for improved performance that includes a focus on execution and measurable results.
Given the similar issues, we used a similar approach to one we used many times in BellSouth. At the governor’s direction, we took a strategic look at all the opportunities in Georgia’s transportation network.
The effort was called IT3, Investing in Tomorrow’s Transportation Today. The process drew upon previous efforts, worked extensively with the Atlanta Regional Commission staff, took biweekly direction from the Georgia Department of Transportation board and sought input from citizens across the state.
The result outlines an investment case that could generate up to $590 billion in Gross Domestic Product growth and 320,000 additional jobs across the state through a set of targeted investments in transportation.
During the last session of the General Assembly, the governor and our legislators put in place a system for governing Georgia’s transportation effort with Senate Bill 200, which puts in place a Director of Planning to create the strategic transportation plan for the state and charges the GDOT Commissioner with executing that plan.
In electing Vance Smith as the GDOT Commissioner and appointing Todd Long as the Director of Planning, the State Transportation Board and Governor Perdue have, respectively, put two of the best transportation leaders in Georgia in those leadership positions.
With those positions now ably filled, there are three tasks in front of us – translating the IT3 investment case into a strategic, targeted set of projects with measurable outcomes; selecting and putting in place a sustainable funding source for those and future projects; and executing the projects quickly and effectively.
Strategy and Targets
The IT3 investment case shows significant benefits can be achieved if we focus on improving trip reliability throughout the state. In the metropolitan areas this means investing in projects and programs that make our commutes consistent.
Those programs and projects must include ones that ensure more people can reach our activity centers in 30 to 45 minutes by driving, using transit, biking or walking, that more people can use flexible work schedules or telecommute, and that more areas are designed and built to facilitate those projects and programs.
Trip reliability is also important in our rural areas and for freight logistics. Having ready access to regional business centers and knowing you can reliably move goods across the state in a given time will build Georgia’s success.
In all cases, we must measure the success of these efforts. Without knowing how well we have done, and where we could do better, we cannot guarantee that we can continue the success we are capable of achieving.
In the last two sessions of the General Assembly considerable progress has been made in identifying sufficient and sustainable funding sources for transportation.
In the next session we must finalize that progress and put a funding plan in place. Our current levels of investment are no longer sufficient. Georgia’s continued economic success depends on our leaders making the tough decision to raise the funds necessary to build and maintain a twenty-first century transportation network.
At the same time, we must find ways for the private sector to bring innovative financing, construction and operational efforts to the table. Well-designed, carefully selected public private partnerships must be a part of our future efforts.
GDOT has an admirable record of building and maintaining Georgia’s transportation network. We must beef up that ability. While respecting the numerous federal requirements, GDOT must find and employ the tools necessary to get projects built and operating even more quickly than they do today. Measuring and improving upon GDOT’s success will be vital in this effort as well.
While transportation and telecom networks are different, there is much in common.
Our transportation challenges are really business problems, not political ones. Any business requires a clear strategy, accountability, and funding for success.
While I have had to adjust to the speed of government, I think we will have those three essential elements in place in the next 12-18 months, and that will make an enormous difference in the future of Georgia for the next 30 years.