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POSTED: June 20, 2009 1:00 a.m.

Georgia’s Department of Transportation has new leadership. The Transportation Board elected state Rep. Vance Smith to the post of DOT Commissioner while Todd Long, a former DOT engineer, was nominated by Gov. Sonny Perdue to be the department’s first planning director.

Though Long still faces confirmation by the House Transportation Committee, there’s little to suggest that won’t happen. That means that these two men will control a $2 billion budget and make decisions on which road projects will be funded and built.

We wish them luck because by any stretch of the imagination, it’s not going to be an easy job.

Under previous leadership, the state DOT got so far behind on road projects a former commissioner at one point estimated it would need $7 billion just to fund those promised, but no one apparently knew just how many of those there were.

Lay at least some of the blame for that on growth, which in recent years has added millions of new residents to our state -- particularly in Metro-Atlanta. In 2007 Atlanta was the second fastest growing metropolitan area in the nation. Other areas in Georgia, including Coastal Empire counties such as Bryan and Effingham, were also among the nation’s fastest growing. With such an explosion of newcomers on our roads, it would be hard for even the best run agency to keep up.

But other factors contributed to Georgia’s traffic congestion, from a lack of a coherent transportation plan to an apparent philosophy that preferred to seek infrastructure improvements after, rather than before or at least when, they were needed. It has been very much like closing the barn door after the horse got out.

Largely, however, it has been a lack of political leadership at a number of levels that has got us to this point. For example, had the state pushed for a statewide transportation impact fee on new commercial and residential growth, it would either have limited the increase in demand on our roads or helped fund new ones. Similarly, local governments had opportunities to push for impact fees when times were good but declined.

That’s water under the bridge at this point, though hopefully whoever succeeds Perdue will not only realize that the bulk of the responsibility for paying for more infrastructure should not fall on the shoulders of longtime taxpaying residents, but also ensure that the DOT recognizes Georgia is not just Metro-Atlanta.

In the meantime, alternative methods of funding roads -- from tolls to higher gas taxes to regional sales taxes -- will be discussed and considered by state officials, and each will have its good points and bad.

Between now and then, and no thanks to state leadership, Georgia at least can afford to go ahead on some road projects because of an injection of billions in federal stimulus money. So far, it appears the lion’s share of that money is headed to Metro-Atlanta projects. We hope that trend doesn’t continue.

Bryan County News

 

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