JOHN SPINK /JSPINK@AJC.COM

Opinion: Ga.’s pushing hard on mobility infrastructure

National Infrastructure Week was observed May 13-20 amid hopeful signs that the president and congressional leaders expect to start working on an infrastructure plan needed to rebuild roads and bridges nationwide. Transportation infrastructure plays a pivotal role in driving Georgia’s economy and is the backbone of the nation’s economy. How to pay for the plan will likely be part of ongoing discussions to come.

Recently, Georgia was named the number-one state for business for the sixth consecutive year, due in no small part to GDOT’s ability to build and maintain a reliable and connected transportation network. It supports the connectivity provided by Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport; the bustling ports of Savannah and Brunswick; inland ports; and recent state transportation investments.

Those investments are paying off. A report by MSN Money ranks Georgia’s overall infrastructure as second-best among the states at No. 49 (the best is Florida at No. 50; the worst is Rhode Island at No. 1). As nice as it is to be considered second-best or doing slightly better than other states, we cannot overlook the fact that INRIX ranks Atlanta as the 11th most-congested city in the nation and 71st in the world, costing drivers $1,505 per year.

Our goal is to provide a balance of maintenance investment while advancing projects that improve mobility through better connectivity and transportation options. Georgians can be excited about a future that includes a connected network of express lanes in metro Atlanta along interstates 285, 75, 85 and State Route 400 that move the needle on mobility.

Last summer, GDOT and the State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA) opened what is perhaps the most transformative transportation project in Georgia’s history, the reversible Northwest Corridor (NWC) Express Lanes on Interstates 75 and 575 in Cobb and Cherokee counties. In just eight months of operation, more than 4.2 million trips were registered in the NWC Express Lanes, with speeds 30 percent faster than the general-purpose lanes. The GP lanes, open to all vehicles without a toll, have seen up to a 20 mph speed increase compared to speeds before the opening of the express lanes. As a result, rush hour in the corridor has been reduced significantly. Not only do users of express lanes see a time savings, drivers in the general purpose lanes realize reduced congestion as well.

Transit benefits also abound in express lanes, with bus commuters enjoying a leisurely ride and more-reliable trip times. The SR 400 Express Lanes will include infrastructure supporting Bus Rapid Transit, which can be described as a “train on rubber tires”. GDOT is committed to working closely with our fellow agencies including SRTA, The ATL and other transit partners to realize these transit benefits for commuters.

A number of other transformative projects are in development or under construction statewide to improve the functionality and safety of our roads and bridges. The Transform 285/400 Interchange project, currently under construction, will greatly enhance safety at this interchange, through which 400,000 vehicles pass daily. The interchange of interstates 16 and 75 in Macon is currently undergoing a massive construction project to greatly improve mobility, a benefit that will resonate statewide. And Georgia’s Major Mobility Investment Program (MMIP) consists of 11 initial major projects. Last year, construction began on the first MMIP project, the widening of I-85 which will improve personal and freight mobility in Barrow, Gwinnett and Jackson counties. Construction is also expected to start on two other major mobility projects in southeast Georgia - the widening of I-16 and reconstruction of the I-16/I-95 interchange near Savannah to address the increase in freight traffic.

With Georgia’s population expected to grow by 4.6 million over the next two decades, we will continue to work diligently to maintain and improve our rankings. A long-term federal funding commitment to infrastructure is vital if Georgia is to continue making strides in deploying innovation and the most effective transportation solutions to keep Georgia moving.

In terms of transportation infrastructure, GDOT aims to be the best in the nation. With the ongoing support of local and state officials and the federal government, we will most certainly get there.

Russell R. McMurry, P.E., is commissioner, Georgia Department of Transportation.

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