Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Transportation Called Key to Growth; State Officials Join Forces to Seek Funding for Diverse Array of Projects

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Transportation Called Key to Growth; State Officials Join Forces to Seek Funding for Diverse Array of Projects

Article excerpt

Byline: Walter C. Jones

ATLANTA Deepening the Savannah River, levying a sales tax for transportation, launching passenger-rail service, consolidating metro bus lines and beefing up freight routes are all issues that present different combinations of options for Georgia's transportation network.

Adding to the equation are considerations of funding, traffic, air pollution and jobs.

In some respects, the choices simultaneously confronting the state are as significant as all of those made over the last 250 years taken at once.

"This is really a decision about whether we want to continue to be first," said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who wants to build on the state's existing logistics strengths to become the shipping hub of the Western Hemisphere.

To put many of the puzzle pieces in view, a handful of state agencies are cooperating on production of a freight and logistics plan. Although the final installments are still being drafted by a private consulting firm, some of the preliminary results are insightful.

Topping the list is the revelation that Georgia lags other states in transportation investment, and it's costing the state jobs.

The state's level of investment, as a percentage of its economic output, led the nation and the region in the 1970s. The state's economy far surpassed the nation and region for the next two decades.

"This higher-than-average investment in the freight-transportation system was a key factor in the rapid [economic] expansion experienced by the state in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s," a report states.

Georgia led in each of the freight-related sectors, like warehousing, manufacturing wholesale trade and retailing. Then, in the mid-1980s, the state's investment in highways, ports, railways and airports declined as a percentage of economic activity, and the freight sectors' performance eventually began to lag a few years later.

Regaining the 21 percent share of the Southeast's freight market would boost Georgia's economic output by $20 billion over the next 10 years, screams a bullet point in state Transportation Planning Director Todd Long's presentation. That means jobs, he told the State Transportation Board on Oct. 19.

"The bottom line: the bulk of the state's freight moves by interstate," Long said. "... We really need to make sure our interstates are A-plus. The states that haven't done that have suffered."

Some of the so-called "last mile" routes leading to the ports of Savannah and Brunswick and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport also need upgrades, according to the study. It essentially accepts funding for the Savannah River deepening as a given and even shows that consumer demand will require development of the Jasper, S.C., port.

The full range of specific recommendations from the yearlong study won't be completed until the end of the year. …

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