This article appeared in the January 2018 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
For five years in a row, Georgia has been ranked the number one state to do business. Georgia has unprecedented quality of life, an excellent technical college and public university system, deep employee pools and a favorable tax climate. The icing on the cake is that we have seen unprecedented leadership in transportation network investment over the last decade. In 2012, 46 counties passed a regional T-SPLOST. In 2015, the state adopted sweeping transportation reform legislation in HB 170 that increased our annual transportation investment by almost a billion dollars. The following year, the legislature approved a $2+ billion plan to expand MARTA. Over the past eight years, the General Assembly and the governor have invested over $250 million in state dollars toward the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project.
Due to strong legislative and political leadership, this progress has truly positioned Georgia to become the transportation, logistics and mobility capital of the United States. However, there is still work to do. To achieve our goal, the state needs to continue to foster bold, visionary leadership into the future.
The Transportation Investment Act of 2015 and the MARTA expansion legislation that passed in 2015 and 2016 were truly transformational pieces of legislation. After they passed, many Georgians were asking, “What’s next?”
To answer that question, the House passed House Resolution 848 in April 2017, which created the House Commission on Transit Governance and Funding. Under the leadership and vision of Speaker David Ralston to build on the work done by House and Senate study committees in 2016 and develop legislation for a true statewide transit network in Georgia.
The House Transit Commission began its work in June 2017. Since then, the commission has met in different communities around Georgia, hired a consulting team to work with the commission to develop a true statewide transit strategy, and heard testimony from dozens of experts from all across the country and the world. As the commission continues its work through 2018, I am confident that our work will produce real policy solutions centered on several primary principles.
First, our recommendations for the statewide transit network will recognize that Georgia is a “hub and spokes” state. It’s critical that we come up with a transit strategy for the broader Metro Atlanta region that is financially stable, seamless, strategic, flexible, and most importantly, built around the transit our people want and need. If Atlanta is to continue its position as a world class city, we must deliver a public transportation solution that meets these key principles.
Second, our recommendations must keep a strong eye towards providing economic opportunity to the un- and underemployed. In many communities we have unemployed citizens who want to work but are unable to reliably access job opportunities. A strong, cohesive network of local transit systems will help overcome that opportunity barrier, particularly in disadvantaged and rural communities across the state.
Third, we acknowledge that a strong transit network involves all the parts of the system working together. Achieving this relies on clearly defining everyone’s roles and responsibilities, and incentivizing partnerships for a strong and stable future. This begins with participation at the federal level, leadership and participation at the state level, and ends with strong input from, and partnerships with, our local governments all across Georgia.
The work of the House Commission on Transit Governance and Funding has only recently begun, but has already been extraordinarily intense and focused. We anticipate possible legislative action in 2018, and will also continue to develop solutions through the end of 2018 and look forward to many more fruitful conversations with stakeholders all across the state as we work together towards the goal of a true statewide transit network.