As House Transportation chairman, I am keenly aware that time is running out for us to make a real difference in improving transportation in this state. Transportation funding is not just something to be checked off a “to-do” list — just to say we did it. We must adopt the best policy for Georgia, and the question becomes is the best policy a regional or statewide funding plan? I believe that a statewide solution is the best choice for Georgia’s future.
Our citizens work hard for their dollars — even more so in today’s economy. If we put forth a plan to spend even a penny of those dollars, we must be prepared to show how it is going to be spent wisely, efficiently and for the greatest good of the entire state and not just one particular region. I firmly believe that if we build transportation infrastructure outside of metro areas, it will improve mobility and congestion in metro areas like Atlanta.
The Georgia 20/20 Statewide Transportation Act (HB 277) names the projects up front so that you, the taxpayer, know exactly what you are going to receive when you vote on the act in November 2010. Because this bill requires only one vote, these projects can begin as quickly as six months from election day. On the other hand, the competing regional approach will require multiple referendums as well as agreements between numerous county and city governments just to see one new transportation project.
Under the regional plan, voters outside Atlanta will be required to go to the polls to allow Atlanta to allegedly fix itself. A tax in Atlanta will do nothing to improve the interchange at I-75 and I-16 in Macon or to expand Highway 133 from U.S. 19 to I-75, running between Albany and Valdosta. A regional tax in Atlanta will not improve U.S. 1 from I-16 to the Altamaha River, including the Lyons Bypass. Similarly, Atlanta’s problems cannot simply be solved inside Atlanta. Truck and freight traffic needs to be re-routed; commuters need options such as light rail and high-speed trains.
Proponents of the regional approach like to talk about local control and fear that money will gravitate to Atlanta. The truth is that a statewide plan provides infinitely more money to rural counties whose sales tax base on their own is rather small. It provides that money in the form of flex funds, over and above what local governments already receive, and provides local officials total control in deciding how those flex funds are spent.
In addition to the flex funds for local communities, the projects listed in the statewide plan improve safety, connectivity, congestion and serve to enhance the economic viability of communities statewide. From expanding economic development corridors to improving freight routes, these projects go beyond governmental boundaries because transportation does not end at the county line.
In the waning days of this legislative session we are negotiating and working toward a compromise. I urge my colleagues in both chambers to put politics aside and pass the 20/20 Statewide Transportation Act to deliver transportation funding to the entire state of Georgia.
Rep. Vance Smith Jr. represents the citizens of District 129, which includes portions of Harris, Troup and Muscogee counties. He was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1992 and currently serves as chairman of the Transportation Committee. He also serves on the Appropriations, Economic Development and Tourism, and Rules committees.