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Roundup: April 18, 2016

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Unfortunately for Georgians, twice – Senate Transportation Chairman and former President Pro-Tempore of the Georgia State Senate Tommie Williams (R – Lyons) has announced his retirement from the Georgia State Senate.

Kudos to new House Transportation Chairman Christian Coomer (R – Cartersville) on completing his first session as Chairman, handling several difficult issues with tact and leadership.

Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport has, yet again, taken home the title of the world’s busiest airport in 2015, fending off a challenge from Beijing.

Funding Opportunities

The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration has announced the availability of in competitive grant funds to improve transit options that increase healthcare access.

The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration has announced the availability of $266 million in competitive grant funding for bus programs nationwide – $211 million for bus and facility projects, as well as $55 million for the FTA’s low emission program.

The United States Department of Transportation Federal Railroad Administration has announced the availability of $25 million in competitive grant funding for the implementation of positive train control (PTC).

The Georgia State Road and Tollway Authority has revealed that the Go! Transit Program established with $75 million in state bonds as a part of the landmark 2015 legislative session has begun with resounded success and interest. 10 of the state’s 122 transit systems have applied for a portion of the funds.

Freight and Logistics

The March 2016 logistics market snapshot is now available.

In a move significant to one of America’s largest industries, the United States Department of Justice has formally opposed a request from Canadian Pacific for the Surface Transportation Board to move towards the acquisition of American railroad Norfolk Southern. House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster (R – PA) has also announced his opposition to the controversial, unsolicited bid from Canadian Pacific to merge with Norfolk Southern. This week, Canadian Pacific announced that they were abandoning the merger proposal.

The Food and Drug Administration has submitted its final sanitary transportation rule to the Federal Register by a court ordered deadline of March 31, 2016. The rule is one of the final needed under the Food Safety Modernization Act and outlines safety procedures for shippers, receivers, and carriers.

Unfortunately, Murray County residents are banding together to block a much needed inland port slated to be constructed in an obscure part of the county. The port could remove up to 50,000 trucks annually from metro Atlanta highways, improving both commute times and logistics costs for shippers. The project, a partnership between the Georgia Ports Authority, CSX Transportation, and Murray County, is yet another piece in building out Georgia’s logistics network to handle the increased traffic that will come from a deeper Savannah Harbor.

Technology

Earlier this year, President Obama’s administration announced plans to spend approximately $4 billion on the development of autonomous vehicle technology – driverless cars. The pilot program has hit a rough patch on the Hill, with many lawmakers viewing the concept with skepticism.

The FAA has announced their intention to expand online drone registrations to those who use drones for commercial purposes. The fee will continue to be $5. The agency also recently raised the ceiling for permitted drone flights from 200 feet to 400 feet. At the same time, divisions have appeared within drone lobbying coalitions between companies like Google and Amazon (primarily interested in commercial applications) and GoPro and Parrot (interested more in smaller, boutique applications).

Miscellaneous

The senior adviser of the Federal Transit Administration, Carolyn Flowers, took over as administrator of the agency last week. The move came on the heels of acting Administrator Therese McMillan accepting a position in California. McMillan had been nominated by President Obama two years ago, but never received a confirmation vote.

Georgia and Florida are working on finding common ground in the water wars.

North Perimeter Contractors has received a notice to proceed with an $800 million contract to rebuild the GA-400 / I – 285 interchange.

Our View

In February, Rhode Island Governor Gina Riamando signed legislation that would fund road and bridge improvements through a system of tolls exclusively on commercial vehicles. While Rhode Island has faced a similar situation as Georgia in being overly dependent on federal funds, they have also set a bad precedent in allowing transportation dollars to be siphoned into the state’s general fund. Having taken the step of a nominal (one-cent) motor fuel tax increase in 2014, the state now has declined to continue to build upon the user-fee model and has instead penalized commercial vehicles with an exclusive tolling charge. This isn’t only short-sighted – it’s simply bad public policy. Rhode Island could have expanded their current system of user fees and dedicated those fees, assuring voters that the funds collected through transportation would be used to improve transportation. Instead, the state has relied on a plan that will cause commercial vehicles to bypass the state, suppress economic development by encouraging logistics firms to locate elsewhere, and cost the state jobs, all while creating a faulty expectation of solvency and revenue projections.

As we look to continued growth of Georgia’s transportation infrastructure, the situation in Rhode Island should prove instructive – while we acknowledge that commercial vehicles in Georgia DO cause more damage to our infrastructure due to their size and weight, it’s also important to note that they also PAY more through permitting fees and high motor fuel taxes. It would be unwise for the state to pursue any sort of public policy that unfairly targets a certain industry in order to “fix” transportation through means that are more “politically palatable.”

Meet the Experts:
Georgia Department of Transportation 
Planning Director
Jay Roberts

Where were you born? Ocilla, Georgia

Where did you go to school? I graduated with a B.S. Criminal Justice from Valdosta State University

Tell us about your family. My wife is Sarah and we have two children: Justin (23), and Jana (21).

What do you like to do in your spare time?  I love to hunt and fish.  I enjoy golf occasionally but if I have free time and I am not spending it with my family, I am going to be in the outdoors. I really enjoyed coaching Justin in several different sports when he was growing up – it really gave me the opportunity to help young boys/girls be not only better athletes, but teach them to be better people when they grew up.

You spent quite a bit of time as a state legislator before becoming an agency executive. What was the biggest challenge when you were an elected official? I played baseball in college.  This experience taught me to understand the true meaning of teamwork.  I really believe that this played a role in being a successful legislator.  I learned how to work with others and to always look at every issue as a “win-win.”  In other words, we need to try and seek common ground on issues so that everyone for the most part could walk away with a win.

What was your biggest challenge in the legislature?  Without a doubt the most challenging issue was the Transportation Funding Act of 2015 or HB 170.  We had to make the case not only to the people, but also get the Legislature to vote to increase the motor fuel tax.  This was a group effort – no way I could have passed this bill by myself.  We had the support of the Governor, the Speaker, and the Lt. Governor as well as the business community.  Their Leadership helped with passing the bill.  HB 170 was also probably the most rewarding issue I worked on.  I knew that we needed to pass this measure if we were going to try and solve transportation funding here in Georgia.  I believe that this bill will now help move the state forward both now and in the future.

What has stuck out to you the most in your transition from the legislature to GDOT? I would say the biggest challenge was getting everyone in my old district to understand that I am no longer in the House.  I still get calls a year later from constituents and they don’t know that I am no longer their state representative.  Also, it has been a learning curve to understand the structure of how everything works in a state agency.  I have always pretty much worked for myself.  I also still struggle to keep people from dragging me into legislative issues that don’t have anything to do with transportation.

What is the outlook at GDOT now? GDOT’s view of transportation in Georgia is great.  We have not had the ability to move projects forward for a number of years.  Now, with the passage of HB 170 and the feds passing the FAST Act, we are finally able to move the needle on transportation in Georgia.  GDOT is very excited about what we will be able to accomplish.  The most enjoyable part has been the announcement of the 11 major projects that will now get built in Georgia – they are truly transformational for our state.  Without the funding in HB 170, we would not have been able to even consider these types of projects.  Georgia is now the envy of a lot of other states concerning funding and I have had the opportunity to talk to several other states about what Georgia has done.  Many of them are now looking to Georgia as the model concerning funding.  The most challenging aspect of being at GDOT now is that everyone believes that we have a golden faucet that has money flowing all the time.  HB 170 was great, but we actually recommended that we raise $2.5 Billion to take care of all of our needs.  We only raised right at $1 billion the first year.  This is great, but we don’t have an unlimited amount of money like some people think.

How can we support the mission at GDOT moving forward? The business community was a great help with the passage of HB 170.  They were a key component in getting HB 170 passed.  They need to just continue to talk about the great success in Georgia and be an ambassador for the state to other companies looking to locate in Georgia.  Basically, y’all need to keep doing what you’re doing right now.



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