Georgia has a long, unfortunate history of making transportation decisions based on the needs and whims of politicians rather than the data-driven advice of transportation professionals.
With his appointment of Toby Carr as the state’s transportation planning director, the most important transportation job in the state, Gov. Nathan Deal has made it pretty clear that tradition isn’t going to change anytime soon.
Carr may be a fine person. However, he has no training in transportation engineering or planning. His professional background and area of expertise is in politics instead.
According to a short bio provided by the governor’s office, Carr has served as executive director of the state Republican Party. He was also executive director of Deal’s transition team.
In 2008, he was campaign coordinator for the House Republican caucus, and he also worked as a political consultant. He has bachelor degrees in finance and agricultural engineering. His only apparent background in transportation has been his service since January 2011 as Deal’s transportation policy adviser.
According to Deal spokesman Brian Robinson, that makes Carr a good pick for the job.
“The position is the governor’s advocate within the [Department of Transportation], which is governed by a separate board,” Robinson said. “Toby is very well qualified for such a job. He knows what the governor’s priorities are and he can work toward them at the DOT.”
In effect, he’s saying that the governor views the job of transportation planning director as a political rather than a policy job. And under the job description provided by Robinson, Carr is indeed well-qualified to serve as “the governor’s advocate within the DOT.”
However, that’s not how state law describes the job. Under state law, the duties of that position are far more extensive and require far more knowledge and experience in transportation planning that Carr possesses.
Statutorily, the director of transportation planning is charged with “developing the state transportation improvement program and the state-wide strategic transportation plan and coordinating transportation policies, planning, and programs related to design, construction, maintenance, operations, and financing of transportation.”
I don’t think running the state Republican Party prepares you for all that.
In addition, the director is charged with developing a statewide transportation asset management program, an asset improvement program and a local maintenance and improvement grant program. Under the Transportation Investment Act of 2010, he or she also plays a critically important role in the drafting of regional project lists to be funded with the proposed 1-percent regional transportation sales tax.
Carr’s predecessor, Todd Long, left the job a month ago to become deputy transportation commissioner. From the outside, it’s now pretty apparent that he was pushed out to make room for Carr.
And unfortunately, the contrast between the two is significant: Long has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in civil engineering from Georgia Tech, plus almost two decades of experience in transportation and transportation planning. His background and the credibility that it gave him were valuable as he worked with regional officials around the state to draw up project lists for the July T-Splost.
The decision to appoint Carr, on the other hand, doesn’t exactly boost voter confidence that politics won’t dictate how their transportation dollars will be spent. The revenue from that particular tax can be spent only on the projects already approved, but in general it’s not an encouraging sign.