By Guest Columnist RUSSELL MCMURRY, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation
Transportation infrastructure plays a pivotal role in driving Georgia’s economy, supporting community growth and maintaining Georgia’s position as the No. 1 state in the U.S. to do business. It also makes Georgia more attractive as a home to prospective new business operations like Amazon’s second headquarters, as well as those in the freight and logistics industry and our largest industry, agribusiness.
The Georgia Department of Transportation takes its responsibility for managing the nation’s 10th-largest transportation network very seriously, and we work diligently to ensure it meets the needs of all Georgians. GDOT focuses on innovation, safety, sustainability and mobility to provide well-maintained roads and bridges. But that is just the beginning.
The primary focus of Georgia’s historic Transportation Funding Act of 2015 is to ensure a state of good repair for our roadways and bridges. TFA gives GDOT sustainable funding to maintain and improve Georgia’s critical transportation infrastructure assets. Since TFA was enacted, the department has begun to address the backlog of needs like resurfacing, bridge replacement and repairs, safety and operational improvements. While often not exciting, these projects are absolutely critical.
In addition to keeping our infrastructure in a state of good repair, GDOT must focus on the future of mobility for Georgia to remain competitive, both now and in the years ahead.
This includes expansion of Georgia Express Lanes to create a connected system. Express Lanes rely on variable-price tolling to provide motorists a choice for improved mobility and more reliable travel times. One of the greatest benefits of the Express Lanes network is for existing transit and potential future bus rapid transit. These corridors provide transit users a timely and consistent trip all for one fare.
An expanded Express Lanes network will build on the initial success of the reversible I-75 South Metro Express Lanes in Henry and Clayton counties that opened a year ago. The State Road and Tollway Authority saw nearly 1 million trips in the first six months of operation and usage continues to surpass projections.
Georgia’s second reversible Express Lanes project, the Northwest Corridor Express Lanes in Cobb and Cherokee counties, is scheduled to open this summer. Having 30 miles of reversible Express Lanes will be a game changer for mobility along I-75 and I-575. Both of these projects are designed to benefit not only Express Lane users, but also drivers in the general purpose lanes.
Advancing Express Lanes along I-285 and Ga. 400, as well as other capacity improvements, will be achieved in the future through public-private partnerships utilizing availability payments. This financing method is similar to obtaining a mortgage for a house: The department ensures payments for these major projects are in line with GDOT’s financial plan.
Freight mobility is critical for business. One of our first freight mobility projects is the widening of I-85 in Barrow, Gwinnett and Jackson counties, which begins with early construction activities in 2018. Thanks to an innovative best-value, variable-scope design build procurement, the department encouraged competition to deliver the most lane miles of widening within an allowable maximum budget, and the project gained an additional four miles of capacity beyond its original design. In 2019, construction is expected to start on two other major freight mobility projects: The widening of I-16 and the reconstruction of the I-16/I-95 interchange near Savannah.
Our goal is to provide a balance of maintenance projects while simultaneously advancing projects that move the needle on mobility.
GDOT is also working to create and nurture connections with people around the state. The department is more transparent than ever before and holds itself accountable for the work it does for the people of Georgia.
Social media has been particularly effective in times of crisis this past year – like safety videos released during Hurricane Irma; and telling important stories – like detour information during the I-85 rebuild. The department has seen exponential growth on Facebook and Twitter, where we not only quickly share crucial information, but also create two-way communication with our customers.
The department has also updated its website with improved navigation and the ability to search for projects by location or type. Visit www.dot.ga.gov to see the changes.
The start of a new year is a good time for a reminder about safe driving. While fatalities on Georgia’s roads in 2017 decreased from 2016, Georgia still saw a tragic 1,493 fatalities – about four deaths a day. Many of these are preventable. Don’t forget – wear your seatbelt, stay off the phone while driving and always drive alert.
The year 2018 is full of great promise for Georgia. We at the Georgia Department of Transportation pledge to continue working hard to improve the lives of all Georgians. Please remember to pardon our progress!