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Technology could help solve transportation woes

POSTED: July 20, 2009 10:23 a.m.
To buy and sell goods, make money and interface with others, humans relied on the horse and buggy back in the 18th Century.
Trains became the way to travel in the 19th Century. The automobile and planes followed in the 20th Century as the method to travel and, more importantly, to engage in commerce.
In the 21st Century, however, the most cost-effective model may not be to repeat the past but move into the future. Instead we need to get humans off traditional roads and onto the information superhighway via broadband, digital media and emerging technologies to conduct business as more cost-effective method for taxpayers.
Too often we hear complaints that our state is not unified: There are “two Georgias” with metro Atlanta and rural Georgia having absolute separate economies. What better way to interconnect this state than to make public/private investments in digital media and new media than promote entrepreneurs who can also conduct business globally without much traveling. It certainly would be cheaper than investing billions in transportation projects.
An information superhighway could mean more telecommuting for everyday workers, a new way of “interfacing with the office” and moving products and data from point A to point B. Instead of actually being present at a meeting, real time video conferencing, for example, could be available in communities throughout the state — perhaps even in public libraries — making such meetings more accessible to workers of all income levels. This concept isn’t just about traffic it’s about growing the economy.
Telecommuting, for example, has taken on a new following throughout the country. More residents of metro Atlanta now work from home than take mass transit, according to a 2006 survey by the U.S. Census Bureau.  
Increasing the amount of telecommuting, digital media and new technologies via entrepreneurs have the potential to eliminate at least 136 billion miles of vehicle travel and significantly reduce greenhouse gases by 2020, according to The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation. That’s certainly a cheaper way to clean up the environment than any cap and trade effort now before Congress. It’s also more palatable than raising taxes to build an endless supply of roads, sidewalks, bridges, buses, train and interstates. One recent study put our state’s transportation needs at $160 billion.
For more than a decade the General Assembly has debated whether to increase the gasoline tax, a statewide or regional sales tax or other schemes to finance transportation. In this economy, no voter would ever consider approving a tax increase for transportation. Georgia politicians would likely push back on the idea as well.  
Even if we had a sudden, new revenue stream, why should we continue to finance sidewalks, bike paths, bus rapid transit, rail projects, highways and other ideas when they harken to a bygone era? None looks to the future and how we could be conducting business in three or four decades. Think iPods versus vinyl records.
Instead, we should shift our focus to digital media and new technologies that will take the pressure off investing in expensive projects such as highways that can average $1 million per mile or rail projects which cost astronomically more. With new technologies supported with public-private initiatives, Georgians and entrepreneurs can get to work quickly, stay out of congestion and invest in our economy for far less money. I can’t think of a better way to jump-start economic recovery in Georgia.

Smith represents District 113, which includes portions of Clarke, Morgan, Oconee, and Oglethorpe counties.
 

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