Transportation power shift needs standards, openness

It’s likely not to be particularly noticed, but the most revolutionary change Republicans will have wrought under the Gold Dome is on the verge of becoming law. It’s the shift of power from the Department of Transportation to elected officials. If successful, it is truly the end of an era that was in its heyday under the legendary highway czar Jim Gillis, a former Treutlen County commissioner who served in both houses of the General Assembly and who reigned from 1948 to 1955 and again from 1959 to 1970 as state highway commissioner.

The era when legislators and county commissioners came hat-in-hand to the State Highway Department for roads was preceded by an era in which a winning governor’s political supporters filled patronage ranks. That practice was effectively ended by creation of the state merit system under Georgia’s best reform governor, Ellis Arnall, in office between 1943 and 1947.

The point here is that the politicians and the road-masters have never quite found the balance. Under Senate Bill 200, as amended Friday by the House Transportation Committee, the politicians are intriguingly close to getting it right.

The state’s best interest is a statewide transportation plan that does not invite regionalism nor “my money-your money” parochialism. A statewide transportation plan should be professional and data-driven. In that sense, politics absolutely has to be pushed out. There is, however, a role for politics. Veteran legislator Mickey Channell noted Friday that every voter thinks that legislators decide which roads get built. The best that most of them can do, he said, is to get them put on the “long-range” projects list. “If you don’t know what that means,” he said, “it means ‘never.’”

Over the years, my views have changed on the role of legislators in bringing home the bacon, whether it’s cash grants for local projects or for asphalt. I’ve given up trying to take politics out of politics — and now am satisfied merely to bring it in the open. Give me open and honest government, with transparency in everything politicians and bureaucrats do, and I will not try to box them in unreasonably on campaign finance, on pork or on which roads get built or paved when.

The greater problem for me is that government is growing more remote, isolated into nonaccountable authorities or other structures that put decision-makers beyond the reach of voters. Regional commissions, for example, should never have dedicated sources of revenue that give them public money without having to face the voters.

Too, we’ve seen with the State Road and Tollway Authority that the state has collected $32 million to cover a $26.6 million debt on Ga. 400, but will continue to collect 50-cent tolls at least through 2011, when the bonds are paid off. The extra money goes to pay for the authority and to plan more toll roads.

Georgians are about to be asked to commit vast new sums to transportation, either as direct taxes or as tolls. The absolute, threshold question before committing a penny of new money is whether the planners and the politicians can be trusted to make the right choices based on what’s best for all of Georgia.

Trust. First, last and always, it’s trust. Keeping that toll on Ga. 400 beyond the implied contract with users is the kind of decision that undermines it.

The proposed reorganization of DOT maintains the legislator-elected DOT board. It adds a director of planning, appointed by the governor, who is responsible for devising a statewide transportation plan by Feb. 15, 2010.

Legislators will control which projects get funded and will, furthermore, have a separate pot of money that could be spent on local projects.

A complete data-supported, cost-benefit system would mean that some projects essential to communities across Georgia would not get built. You should be able to go to elected officials and get results when projects have merit. Politics, with transparency, is a frustration-relief valve.

Change the system. Give politicians the final say — or otherwise they’re controlled by unelected officials parceling out favors.
But set real standards and keep everything in the open.

21 comments Add your comment


March 31st, 2009
6:52 am

Welcome to Wooten Fairy Land.

Road Scholar

March 31st, 2009
7:11 am

Sets aside separate monies for legislators to select their projects (20% of budget). Sounds like earmarks to me! The projects should be added to the long range plan, evaluated, and then prioritized for implementation. Where is that in the bill? So many of politicians projects are NOT the most needed, and the most cost effective based on an honest evaluation.

Projects are needed to go through an evaluation (what is the real scope, impact, cost,etc) before going to a short term plan to implement. This is something Sonny called for, but he and his cohorts are ignoring under this scheme.


March 31st, 2009
7:14 am

Jim, while I agree with your argument’s merit I honestly thought you were for less government. But tell me Jim how do you think these projects will be doled out here in Georgia? Based on which construction firms lobbys the hardest? Which Legislature is buddy with the Governor? Will the selection of the companies also be transparent as this so called new government? If the companies do not perform like we the voters or the Governor think they should (i.e. GM) do we keep them? Tell me honestly how long do you think the transparancy will last? How long before the Good Ol Boy network is doing it’s thing behind close doors? Georgia legislature is full of the same me-against you arguments when it came to expanding transportation into their areas! I hope it does change but as you say whenever Government gets involved it becomes organized choas without the organiztion! Redneck Convert what says you, sir?

Redneck Convert

March 31st, 2009
7:49 am

Well, maybe I’ll get that entrance ramp onto GA 400 from Simpsons Trailer Park after all. We finally got some good old boys we can reach in charge of road building. A campaign donation here and another one there will get the result you want.

Course, I know a buck will only stretch so far. For every buck set aside for roads about 80 cents goes for the lawsuits from land owners till they get the price they want for their place. Just look at what happened in Buckhead when they decided to run GA 400 all the way to I-85. The homeowners sued and sued and it took years for them to get the price they wanted but they got it.

Anyhow, you ain’t fit for politics if you think all the deals are going to be out in the open. If you think like that you were probly the little boy that found a big bag of horse poop under the Christmas tree and went looking for the pony. We’ll still get expressways to Unadilla and Soperton and other big citys like that and maybe some money, but not much, will Trickle Down to where there’s real traffic. Let’s put it this way. If you live where there’s lots of traffic better plan on needing a hour or so to go five miles for the next 20 years or so.

That’s my opinion and it’s very true. Somebody needs to tell Wooten that the big bag of horse poop he’s found don’t mean his Mama and Daddy hid a pony somewhere. It’s time he growed up. Have a good day everybody.

Chris Broe

March 31st, 2009
8:07 am

Prayer has merit.

Churchill's MOM

March 31st, 2009
8:21 am

Now these liberals have the people of Alaska mad at our next president. There is no justice in the press.

Ga Values

March 31st, 2009
8:33 am

I voted against Roy Barnes because he changed our flag and the hope that Georgia would ge a 2 party system. We did not get to vote on getting our flag back and we certainly did not get a 2 party system. Goergia will not get better until we have a 2 party system rather than a system where our legislature spend their time dividing spoils.


March 31st, 2009
9:02 am

A state transportation plan should have as a priority making U.S. Highway 411 four lanes from I-75 at Cartersville to the Tennessee line.


March 31st, 2009
10:06 am

Why don’t we think big and consider a national transportation plan? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could travel by train to visit our family, friends, customers and colleagues in places like Memphis, Charlotte, Orlando, Raleigh-Durham, Jackson, and Mobile? We already have the infrastructure. Aside from a virtual lobotomy on the part of our elected officials, what would it take to develop a viable passenger train transportation system?


March 31st, 2009
12:28 pm

Want to see why a national passenger rail system won’t work? Just look at the proposed Beltline as a a microcosm. The original proposal was simple: since the rails are already there, all we need to do is put railcars on them and build out some stations. Since then, it has mushroomed into a huge bureaucratic boondoggle with million-dollar stations, comprehensive community planning, architectural conceptions, park acquisitions and it’s still not a sure thing that it will ever actually happen.

Just imagine taking that nationwide.


March 31st, 2009
1:13 pm

I was too young to remember but I can only imagine what it took to get the interstate highway system started. It was six short months ago that we were hysterical over $4.00 a gallon gas, skyrocketing prices of airline tickets, the OPEC stranglehold, etc. Gas is back to $2.00 a gallon and the short attention span Joe Six Pack America is back in lala land. As soon as the economic recovery starts and gas prices increase we are going to be screaming about that again. We deserve all the bad government we get.


March 31st, 2009
1:36 pm

Where are all the Wooten supporters? I guess they don’t like or can’t defend this far right assinine idea.

Road Scholar

March 31st, 2009
3:26 pm

Is Sister Sarah in town? Where are the moonbats? Or are they handing out tax breaks at the State capitol for businesses again? I hope so because as a citizen I really aapppreciate the oppertunity to financially support the business community and their infrastructure costs. It is only less enjoyable than having the politicians send my gas taxes to rural Georgia to four lane a dirt road.


March 31st, 2009
3:27 pm

Jim, you need to start paying more attention to China. President Teleprompter is about to hand over the USA to them.

fearless fosdick

March 31st, 2009
3:55 pm

Hey Commie…A little dull over here dont ya think? I guess I’ll head on over to Jays’ blog. Too bad, so sad, you can’t join me and the other 90+ posters.



March 31st, 2009
4:10 pm

fearless fosdick, boring over here? No, because I don’t have to constantly point out how stupid you idiots on the left are. 90 plus bloggers? You can not be serious because out of 120 comments on one blog belong to 10 bloggers. Go back over to Bookmans blog and root him on in his new venture to clean Chris Matthews toilet.


March 31st, 2009
4:11 pm

A Rookie President

By Thomas Sowell

Someone once said that, for every rookie you have on your starting team in the National Football League, you will lose a game. Somewhere, at some time during the season, a rookie will make a mistake that will cost you a game.

We now have a rookie President of the United States and, in the dangerous world we live in, with terrorist nations going nuclear, just one rookie mistake can bring disaster down on this generation and generations yet to come.

Barack Obama is a rookie in a sense that few other Presidents in American history have ever been. It is not just that he has never been President before. He has never had any position of major executive responsibility in any kind of organization where he was personally responsible for the outcome.

Other first-term Presidents have been governors, generals, cabinet members or others in positions of personal responsibility. A few have been senators, like Barack Obama, but usually for longer than Obama, and had not spent half their few years in the senate running for President.

Chris Broe

March 31st, 2009
4:23 pm

It’s likely not to be particularly noticed, but the most revolutionary change Republicans will have wrought under the Gold Dome is on the verge of becoming law. It’s the shift of power from the Department of Transportation to elected officials. If successful, it is truly the end of an era that was in its heyday under the legendary highway czar Jim Gillis, a former Treutlen County commissioner who served in both houses of the General Assembly and who reigned from 1948 to 1955 and again from 1959 to 1970 as state highway commissioner.

Craig Spinks /Evans

April 2nd, 2009
2:18 am

Do we need to give to a greasy-looking politico like Glenn Richardson any power at all, much less power over the lower house of our state legislature and over how we move to solve transportation problems in our state?


April 17th, 2009
6:20 am

nice, really nice!

Republican turned DEM.

September 21st, 2009
9:14 am

Once again the real problem is missed. First, eliminate all these “transportation agencies/authorities” and create one Transportation center for Georgia. Dam other states do it and they make us look like country fools. Second, create a statewide transportation tax, like all of the Northern states do, that will be utilized for transportation projects only through the general assembly. Third, understand that we are trapped on expanding interstates because of poor planning, plan better with a Statewide approach, create laws that prevent homes and business from being built right ontop of our roads. Fourth, please do the right thing, get rid of GRTA. It has become Governor Perdue’s dumping ground for stupid campaign givers. Thanks Perdue, you have allowed Anderson to do nothing but barely show up for work, and for Ritchey to continue to steal money from the Region for a service that should have already been turned over to the Counties or Marta. Do the right things as we move forward, Take the Transportation Trash Out, Clean the Transportation Gutters of OLD crap (current Leaders) and pave a new means of transportation options for the PEOPLE OF GEORGIA, NOT JUST GOVERNOR PERDUE’S FRIENDS.