As a rule, engineers are rational, logical, problem solvers. They see challenges, analyze options, and ultimately offer solutions. Sometimes, the solutions are evident while others require extensive research. While it may take an engineer or two to ultimately build the roads, bridges and rail lines our state needs, it does not take one to figure out the clear solution for Georgia’s transportation funding needs.
The problem is not with our project delivery system. GDOT is ranked among the best in the nation for delivering projects on time and within budget.
The problem is not that we don’t have a plan. The state and each of Georgia’s metropolitan planning organizations maintain long-term transportation and capital improvement plans that are updated regularly and undergo stringent review.
The problem — and the solution — is funding.
Our state’s transportation system consists of nearly 120,000 miles of public roads and highways. Much of that infrastructure was built many decades ago and is nearing the end of its useful service life cycle. Within the next 20 years, 80 percent of those roads will be classified as “fair” or worse in condition, in large part because current funding levels only allow for 2 percent of those roads to be resurfaced each year. Georgia has over 4,000 bridge structures that will need to be replaced over the same period of time at a current cost of over $560 million, repairs that really shouldn’t wait, given that one in six bridges are already considered unsafe for the loads carried over them today.
These maintenance and repair problems put the safety of Georgians at risk and come at a real cost. The transportation research group TRIP estimates that current road conditions cost the average family between $750 and $2,000 annually as a result of increased vehicle operating costs and congestion-related delays.
A report conducted last fall by the national transportation consulting firm HNTB determined that Georgia needs to add a minimum of $1 billion to $1.5 billion in dedicated annual funding just to preserve our existing infrastructure. The number grows as high as $5.4 billion to create a truly optimized transportation network.
Members of the General Assembly will soon have the opportunity to vote on legislation that would create the $1 billion to $1.5 billion in dedicated funding required to increase maintenance cycles, address safety concerns, and alleviate growing congestion. Bills have already been passed by both the House and Senate and a conference committee has been charged with working out a compromise solution that can be agreed to by both chambers.
But solutions are only effective if they are implemented, so it is critical that the General Assembly take action before they adjourn. If they don’t, we face at least one more year when repairs remain delayed and problems only worsen.
Transportation is the circulatory system of our economy and has always been one of the critical components of Georgia’s economic growth and vitality. Whether it’s getting Georgia grown or manufactured products to market, connecting communities across our state, or being able to get from Point A to Point B safely in a reasonable and predictable commute time, investments in transportation infrastructure benefit us all.
The problem is clear. The solution has been identified. Now is the time to act. Our state simply cannot afford to wait.
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Michael Sullivan is CEO of the American Council of Engineering Companies in Georgia and board chair of the Georgia Transportation Alliance.