Executive Director's Corner

Dave Wills

Dave Wills

Today’s Investment for Tomorrow’s Progression

“Beam me up, Scotty.” That phrase uttered by Captain Kirk to Scotty on the Starship Enterprise, as depicted in the original Star Trek series, is famous but obviously based upon fiction. While the crew of the Enterprise could be “beamed” from the starship to remote locations, we are limited by current realities of available modes of travel.

 

For as long as people have existed, they have been mobile. Bipedal, people have and continue to walk places. Our early ancestors harnessed the power of animals to travel faster and transport more weight than people could physically carry. For thousands of years transport by watercraft has enabled movement across the expanses of lakes and oceans that otherwise physically separate people and places. Later, trains and then automobiles dominated the transportation scene.

 

In the last century travel by air and space developed to the point where we think little of traveling at 500+ miles per hour through the air in a jetliner, and those few who have traveled in space think it ordinary to travel at 17,000+ miles per hour. But progress of the past does not negate the need to invest in our future.

 

The Commission on Freight and Logistics, created by the Georgia General Assembly in 2019 and on which I, Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor and Lowndes County Commissioner Mark Wisenbaker serve representing counties, is charged with examining the plethora of issues that must be addressed in order for Georgia to not only meet its needs related to transportation in coming decades, but to continue being one of, if not the top state in the country in which to do business. The price tag for being near or at the top is significant.

 

The report issued in January by the Commission on Freight and Logistics indicated that the 30-year need for funding will be between $135.7 to $153.3 billion and that based on historical investments, funding would come in at $31.8 billion, or $3.4–$4.0 billion per year less than needed. The gap is large, but I think the focus should be on the word “investments.”

 

An adage says, “you get what you pay for.” Concerning Georgia’s future needs related to transportation and infrastructure, policymakers have choices. They can maintain the status quo, increase the investment, or reduce the amount from current levels. Maintaining the status quo would be the easiest choice because it does not require any action. Reducing funding might be politically appealing because the policymaker could claim to be “cutting the fat.” Increasing the investment would be the most difficult of the choices, but I reprise the adage in the form of a question. Do we want what we pay for?

 

In 2015, the Georgia General Assembly passed legislation increasing motor fuel taxes. Some politicos argued that the increase was not needed. But what was obvious to most observers and users of the transportation system is that more money was, in fact, needed. The results of more funding are obvious, even to the casual observer. Highway rights-of-way are being maintained, roads are being resurfaced, new construction is proceeding, etc.

 

The rock band Green Day sang in “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” that “another turning point, a fork stuck in the road” lies ahead. For Georgia policymakers, the same is true. Later this year or early in 2021, the Commission on Freight and Logistics will issue another, perhaps its last, report. It seems likely to me that whatever recommendations are set forth will require significant funding, likely more than would be generated by current revenues. Time will tell, but it seems that bold action might be in order.

 

Matthew Wilder, in “Break My Stride,” sang “Ain’t nothin’ gonna break-a my stride. Nobody gonna slow me down, oh no I got to keep on movin’.” And Eddie Money, in “Drivin’ My Life Away,” sang “Well the mid- night headlights blind you on a rainy night, Steep grade up ahead, slow me down, makin’ no time, but I got to keep rollin’.”

 

 Will Georgia remain a leader among states in investing in its future needs for transportation and infrastructure? If not, will continued population growth and the transport of goods to serve it “break our stride” and “slow us down?”