The Appalachian Regional Port in Crandall, Ga., is the Georgia Ports Authority’s new inland port in northwest Georgia. It is expected to handle 50,000 containers a year and potentially double that capacity in the next 10 years. J. SCOTT TRUBEY/STRUBEY@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Opinion: Improving freight transportation will boost Ga. economy

In 1999, I was honored to be appointed by former Gov. Roy Barnes as one of the original directors of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority. I’ve chaired that board since 2001. In that time, we have seen a great deal of rapid change in Georgia, summed up best in one word: growth.

We emerged from the recession with a focus on strengthening Georgia’s economic positioning. In 2012, a swath of communities across rural Georgia passed locally driven transportation infrastructure investment in their communities. In 2015, the state legislature passed a generational transportation bill, increasing our state’s commitment to infrastructure by almost a billion dollars each year. Our elected leadership quickly followed by authorizing a historic expansion of MARTA in metro Atlanta, and then fundamentally reformed metro Atlanta’s regional transit system in 2018.

In March of last year, the Georgia Ports Authority broke ground on the Mason Mega Rail Project, a $126 million investment that will catapult our state’s ports into the most competitive in the United States — all after launching three inland ports around the state, in Cordele, Chatsworth, and Gainesville. And in September, Georgia Ports Authority Executive Director Griff Lynch announced that the Georgia Ports Authority was preparing to handle 8 million containers by the year 2028: that’s double the capacity GPA handles today.

Gov. Nathan Deal’s administration closed on a high note, as Norfolk Southern announced they would be moving their corporate headquarters home to Georgia, becoming the 21st Fortune 500 company to be headquartered in Georgia. Clearly Georgia’s elected leaders understand the importance of logistics for job creation and safety.

So it should be no surprise that policy discussions during the first week of the 155th Georgia General Assembly focused heavily on how to position Georgia as a continued global leader in transportation, freight, and logistics.

At the Georgia Chamber’s annual Eggs and Issues breakfast, House Speaker David Ralston announced a new initiative of the House to convene a working group to examine Georgia’s freight and logistics needs. This, the Speaker decreed, is Georgia’s next big transportation horizon. Commenting on the introduction of a Senate Resolution creating a Joint Study Committee on Freight and Logistics by Senate Transportation Chairman Sen. Brandon Beach, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan concurred, stating that “transportation efficiency is critical to Georgia’s economic future.” These statements echo very strong transportation and infrastructure policy concepts championed by Gov. Brian Kemp on the campaign trail.

As we look back on the last decade, one word seems to sum up Georgia’s posture on infrastructure investment: momentum. We have been extraordinarily fortunate to be a state led by elected officials with bold ideas and long vision. Georgia isn’t home to the world’s busiest airport and one of the fastest growing ports in the United States for no reason.

As the state’s largest organization dedicated to the advancement of economic development, free markets, and global competitiveness, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and its affiliate, the Georgia Transportation Alliance, are ready to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Gov. Kemp, Lt. Gov. Duncan, Speaker Ralston, Chairman Beach, and House Transportation Chairman Rep. Kevin Tanner in pursuit of that vision for building on Georgia’s global reputation for transportation and logistics excellence. In the coming months, we look forward to a thoughtful, methodical process that outlines Georgia’s future transportation opportunities and challenges; clearly defines best practices and potential solutions to maximize those opportunities and meet those challenges; and proposes bold ideas for executing on those solutions.

Through partnerships and persistence, we will continue the track record of success that has made Georgia the best state in which to do business for six years in a row. The movement of the nation’s goods through our ports and the highway system of Georgia is a critical component of the growth of the U.S. economy. We will work through our winning formula of public- and private-sector collaboration to propel Georgia to be the standard-bearer for freight and logistics as an integral part of our state’s continued economic prosperity.

Sonny DeRiso is chairman, Atlantic Capital Bank; chairman, Georgia Regional Transportation Authority and chairman, Georgia Chamber of Commerce.

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