May 24, 2008

Twists and Turns on the Road to Transportation Solutions

There are some things that Georgians clamoring for a way out of traffic congestion simply must accept. Such as the need to direct more money and innovative solutions to this state's transportation challenges. There are others that policy-makers endlessly repeat in an attempt to condition the public into acceptance. Such as "commuter rail" and "subsidy."

Since transportation funding legislation failed to gain a constitutional majority in the Georgia Legislature, the task of funding the state's needs is tougher. But it's not insurmountable, especially with a little leadership and a lot of restraint. Georgians rightfully are reluctant to give government carte blanche when it appears transportation officials have lost control of what they already had to work with. Or, as Ronald Reagan once said, "Government is like a baby: an alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other."

Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Gena Abraham proffers hope for the future of transportation policy on several fronts. Not surprisingly, the crowd at a recent Georgia Public Policy Foundation Policy Briefing Luncheon nodded in agreement when she said, "We are facing a transportation funding crisis ... We need more funds for transportation."

The DOT is in a heap of trouble, much of it made public since Abraham took over in January. At the Policy Briefing Luncheon, she revealed that 8,476 projects are on the books at the Department of Transportation but just 1,345 actually have someone actively assigned to them. The department workload last year was just 270 projects. The active cases total $29.5 billion; the annual budget of the state DOT is about $2.1 billion. And highway construction costs have risen 35 percent in the last 10 years.

So it was promising that the DOT commissioner talked about prioritizing projects and innovative financing options such as tolling and congestion pricing. Congestion pricing (such as time of day tolls) not only maintains free-flowing traffic, it benefits transit by reducing the subsidy to highway users, making transit more attractive and allowing transit operators to move fares closer to actual cost instead of huge subsidies.

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