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Comprehensive Transportation Plan Needed for Georgia's Prosperity
By State Sens. Robert Brown and Jeff Mullis
The geography of Georgia has always presented its residents and visitors with an abundance of resources: from the mountains in the north, to the commercial centers in Atlanta, to the coastal plain of the southeast, and throughout the acres and acres of rich farmland in between.
As the largest state east of the Mississippi River, however, this same geography also presents us with difficulties. The lack of a structured and cohesive transportation system has denied many Georgia residents access to this state’s varied resources.
A few months ago, the two of us crossed the partisan aisle and organized a Statewide Transportation Summit in Macon. We hope that the summit marked only the beginning of a truly comprehensive and bi-partisan plan that will strategically grow our state’s transportation system. We both think we are on the right track.
At the October summit, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood spoke to a room filled with Georgia political and civic leaders. His message was clear.
“Georgia needs to get its act together,” he said. “And I think you’re starting to do that.”
LaHood told us that the federal government has $2.5 billion available for high speed rail projects. He said he’d like to see Georgia get some of that money for a passenger rail line connecting Macon to Atlanta. Beyond that money, the federal government has expectations to put together a six-year $500 billion transportation plan. But for us to access these financial resources, we must work together to show that Georgia needs a cohesive transportation system, that Georgia wants a cohesive transportation system and that all Georgians are actively working toward that goal.
The transportation summit – in and of itself – was proof that we are on target. We are working together to form a consensus on what we need and how we’re going to get it.
What does a transportation plan mean for the state and its residents?
Well first, it means access. Passenger rail lines can once again provide fast, inexpensive and direct routes from small towns and remote areas to our larger cities and our points of interest. Whether an onion farmer in Vidalia wants to attend an Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee meeting at the Capitol; whether an underprivileged student in Milledgeville wants to attend classes at The University of Georgia in Athens; whether a businessman in Columbus wants to spend the weekend in the North Georgia mountains; effective transportation can make that happen.
Likewise, a manufacturing company in Cairo that wants to ship its goods to the seaport in Savannah or to the bigger cities’ retail hubs can benefit from cargo rail or cargo air services. In short, an effective transportation system will make Georgia even more attractive to recruit businesses.
Right now in Georgia, we are in a position where we can use transportation infrastructure to take a great leap forward socially and economically. We are uniquely situated to make it happen. Georgia has powerful leaders in powerful national positions. As examples, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is Chair of the Transportation and Communications Committee of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and one of our Georgia congressmen, U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, is a member of the powerful Congressional Appropriations Committee.
We feel we must point out that, although we are both state senators, one of us is a Republican from Chickamauga in the northwest corner of the state. The other is a Democrat from the middle of the state. We agree on the need for a transportation vision that would include road improvement, include expansion of regional airports, include expansion of coastal and inland ports and include passenger and cargo rail service across this state.
It’s time for everyone to come on board. Let’s make a plan.
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