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Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - 9:23am

Outsider View Of Ga. Transportation

A national researcher says Georgia’s transportation issues are “pretty severe”. That's one outsider’s view of the state’s approach to solving its problems.

To be fair, Samuel Staley says Georgia’s lawmakers are doing "ok" in attacking some of the state’s transportation issues...but,

“You really need to focus on getting ahead of the curve, not trying to catch up to the curve.”

Staley studies national transportation for The Reason Foundation, a non-profit California think tank. He says state politicians’ slow response to transit problems the past decade is a prime reason Georgia’s trying to play catch up.

Staley’s not a big fan of tax initiatives, like the one Georgia voters will decide on next year -- the penny tax to fund regional transportation projects.

“It’s a general tax that’s applied to everyone, irrespective of how they use the roadways or the transit system. And that means that trying to come to consensus on what projects deserve the most priority, will always be problematic, and be a highly politically charged environment.”

Staley says a better approach is more of a free market focus on what ‘customers’ of transportation want and would pay for. Staley gives praise to managed lanes projects currently in the works for the Atlanta area.

And he says state lawmakers recognize the economic need to expand the Port of Savannah.

“Georgia is a very, very important state all along the Atlantic Coast. So when you have traffic backing up in Savannah or Atlanta, that affects the entire southeast region.”

The state, with the help of its U.S. Senators, is pushing to lock-in federal funding to deepen the Savannah port.

As for high speed rail, even though Georgia's been behind other states in embracing the idea, Staley says the state shouldn't feel too bad given the current national political climate.

“I don’t think Georgians are really out at this point. I think if anything, they were saved from spinning their wheels too much, which a lot of other states have done.”

Staley says with proposed deep cuts to the federal budget, some national high speed rail funding is coming off the table. And political focus continues to be elsewhere he says, like health care. In addition, he cites high speed rail projects nationwide with "dubious benefits": A proposed Orlando to Tampa line has already been scrapped by Florida officials, and a California project already ripe with problems of over-estimates on revenue. Staley pegs the most potential for high speed rail growth in the Northeast Corridor project.

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