For nearly 30 years, I have held elective office in Georgia and been involved, at one level or another, in shaping and implementing public policy.
For 10 years, I was fortunate to have the power of a small-town mayor; for another 16, the influence of a state legislator. I am proud of every day I was privileged to spend in both positions. Now, as the new chairman of the state transportation board, I perhaps have my greatest opportunity to truly make a difference.
Georgia is a special place to live and work. Whether it remains so depends to a great extent on what we do about transportation in the days ahead. Our coming transportation decisions will shape our economy and quality of life for generations to come in small towns and rural counties such as my hometown of Lakeland in Lanier County; in busy, crowded Atlanta; and in cities and counties of all sizes in between; for Georgia’s ports and the businesses, industries and tens of thousands of jobs that depend on them; for farmers trying to get their crops to market; and for commuters just trying to get home.
To a large extent, we already know the things we need to do. There are things we’d like to do – make our roads safer; expand Metropolitan Atlanta’s managed lane system, transit options and pedestrian facilities; launch a robust passenger-rail system; build more economic-development highways in rural areas; develop a designated network of freight corridors to serve our logistics industry; help the state’s general-aviation airports grow; etc.
That’s an agenda representing many tens of billions of dollars — dollars we don’t have and won’t get from our existing funding sources. Forty-six proactive Georgia counties took a step forward last year by approving Transportation Investment Act Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax investments in their communities. But 46 of 159 aren’t near enough. We will soon need to revisit — and resolve — how we intend to pay for the transportation system we want and need.
Before that, however, the Georgia Department of Transportation has work to do. The TIA vote last summer opened our eyes to a deep disconnect between the department and its constituents. We learned the transportation board and the department must convince legislators, local elected officials and the public that we are good partners, trustworthy stewards of their money and that they really would get something worthwhile in return for any new transportation investment they might make.
That is my most immediate priority as chairman. The Georgia DOT is, after all, a taxpayer-funded, customer-service industry. It has 4,000-plus talented and dedicated employees. But in the course of complying with all the rules and regulations imposed upon it, the department can lose focus on customer service. It is not a problem unique to the Georgia DOT. The public has shown time and again at all levels of government that it no longer will tolerate poor service. If the transportation board and the department expect to someday be given the resources to do all those things I outlined earlier as critical to our future, we first must prove to our many audiences that every decision we make and every dollar we spend are in their collective best interest. Do that and everything else will take care of itself.
That’s why keeping the Georgia DOT consumer friendly is my job one.
Shaw is the chairman of the Georgia's Board of Transportation.