“Our national flower is the concrete cloverleaf.”
-- Lewis Mumford
Doug Callaway, executive director of the Georgia Transportation Alliance, the state Chamber of Commerce affiliate in charge of transportation strategy advises, “Voters should make an educated decision about what’s at stake, weighing the costs and benefits.”
The normally anti-tax chamber is pushing the Transportation SPLOST monster that critics say will be the largest tax hike in Georgia history. If the con job works, $19 billion will be removed from other areas of the economy to be cycled through questionable transportation projects. The invoice will be presented to Georgians whose per capita income is $5,000 below the national average and whose tax bite per capita is $3,500.
Callaway’s call for education does not include the human factor or the individual T-SPLOST projects. The official, oft confusing, information stream is one-dimensional. One might even consider it myopic.
Cherokee County Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens said, “There’s been a lot of misinformation about the referendum presented to the public.” Deciphering the propaganda could be a problem.
The Georgia Department of Transportation would have us believe the state’s roads are sliding into oblivion. The alliance’s Connect Georgia website chimes in with GDOT back-rubbing comments, “Across the state, bridges are falling apart, roads are unpaved and in disrepair, and truck traffic clogs community streets.” Contrast the data posted to other official websites to that of the road warrior’s line, one has to be wrong.
• “The target is to maintain state-owned bridges such that 85 percent meet or exceed the GDOT standard.” (SSTP Progress Report February 2012) For 2010 and 2011 the percentage was 87 percent.
• More than “90 percent of Georgia’s rural, urban minor arterial and urban collector roads were considered good or smooth. Georgia was the only state to finish above 90 percent in each category.”
-- 2008 National Cooperative Highway Research Program
• “There is essentially no daily congestion on the interstate system today outside of the Atlanta metro area, although small sections of peak-hour and seasonal congestion do exist in some of the other urban areas. The majority (76 percent) of statewide truck delay occurred in the Atlanta region.”
-- GDOT Interstate System Plan
• Georgia drivers spend less ($44) than motorists in any state on additional vehicle operating costs due to rough roads.
-- 2009 American Association of State Highway and Transportation report
• “Georgia’s GRIP network provides inter-regional connectivity. When the interstate system and GRIP are taken together, currently 99 percent of the state’s population resides within 20 miles of a four lane highway. Further, 97 percent of the population is within 10 miles of a four lane highway.”
-- 2010-2030 Statewide Strategic Transportation Plan
The GDOT relishes making comparisons to other states, so here’s a few jewels from the South Carolina DOT website:
• Motorists spend an average of $265 annually in vehicle repairs as the result of poor road conditions; 1 out of every 5 bridges is considered deficient; in 2006, our highways were the 6th most deadly in the nation.
Unless roads and bridges have totally disintegrated during the last three or four years, Georgia’s over 250,000 lane-miles of paved interstates, roads and streets are in pretty good shape.
The Transportation Investment Act’s modus operandi clashes with the Georgia Competitiveness Initiative’s direction. The governor’s initiative, guided by an elite group of public and private officials, “... centered on six key areas that, together, have and will continue to form the foundation for long-term economic success.”
The areas are: business climate (revising tax provisions and incentives), education and workforce development, innovation (access to capital), infrastructure (transportation, energy, ports/airports), global commerce and government efficiency (revising laws, regulations and permitting).
The group asked leaders and planners within Georgia’s 12 Economic Development Regions to rate their top priorities. All but one chose workforce development or business climate, the other region selected infrastructure (multimodal transportation).
The competitiveness initiative report reveals that transportation’s role is but a small piece of a larger, complex economic development puzzle all begging for funding. The point being, the economy and job creation can happen without cycling $19 billion through the GDOT, the T-SPLOST projects overseer, money maze. Millions will be spent on “consultants” and “program management.”
Federal and GDOT highway studies are underway whose findings might have an impact on road projects in multiple tax districts, yet none will be finished prior to the T-SPLOST vote. This is so illogical it would be hilarious were it not so serious a matter for taxpayers.
Two significant GDOT studies in the Middle Georgia district, whose goals are similar to the TIA, are the I-75 South Corridor (Atlanta to Macon) and Connect Central Georgia.
One of the I-75 study’s primary objectives is to “Develop and recommend conceptual improvements and projects ... including specific interchange area recommendations to improve access.” Two interchanges are at I-75/I-16 and Hartley Bridge Road.
Connect Central Georgia’s goal is to “Identify future transportation needs generated by key destinations such as employment centers, freight generators, military bases and agricultural centers. Potential transportation improvements will be identified to maintain and/or improve connections that address the area’s future travel needs.”
The theory that spending huge sums of money on roads and bridges will bring economic success is a useless assumption (that’s all it is) minus consideration of other factors bearing on the economy, as revealed in the initiative. Whether to jam the TIA piece into the puzzle will be left up to the properly educated folks who will be asked to sign the check on July 31st.
Lee Ballard is a Macon resident. Send comments to MidGaSPLOST@gmail.com.