Georgia Transportation Alliance director discusses economic impacts at Cartersville event
By JAMES SWIFT
By 2040, Georgia Transportation Alliance (GTA) Executive Director Seth Millican said the state could be the fifth most populous in the entire country. And with 1.5 million more cars anticipated to come onto Georgia’s roads between 2015 and 2030, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce representative said substantially more money is needed to address the state’s ever-increasing transportation woes.
“We need another $2.7 billion a year in recurring funding just for our freight and logistics infrastructure,” he said at a Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce event last week.
The lecture in Cartersville represented the first stop on the “Georgia Can’t Wait for Freight” campaign.
Citing findings from a report by the Georgia Commission on Freight and Logistics (GCOFAL), Millican said that, over the next 30 years, the State’s “unmet investment needs” could top $120 billion.
That includes $3.7 billion in projected traffic and safety funding needs, $7.6 billion in projected road maintenance funding needs and $82 billion in projected interstate capacity funding needs.
Such infrastructure shortfalls, he said, would undoubtedly have a major impact on Georgia’s economy.
“One of the things that we’re looking at is how the poverty rate will change in different areas around the state,” he said. “And that matters for freight and logistics, because from our perspective, transportation investments is one of those areas where we can really see stimulation and economic development all across the state of Georgia.”
The local community, Millican said, could certainly feel the crunch of a rapid increase in freight loads throughout the state, noting that Georgia’s port volume is expected to increase from 4.5 million containers a year to 8.5 million.
“83% of those containers go on a truck,” he said. “And Bartow County is uniquely positioned on the I-75 corridor, which is the busiest corridor for truck traffic in the entire state of Georgia.”
Naturally, he said that raises the question of what the State can do to lessen the impact of truck traffic on the metro Atlanta area.
“We know that at least 30% of those containers are going somewhere other than Georgia,” he said. “Wherever they are going across the United States, they don’t have to go into metro Atlanta … for those containers that don’t have to go to Atlanta, how do we get them to their final destination without them going inside 285?”
To address that problem, Millican said he wouldn’t be surprised to see the State make even more investments in inland ports — such as the ones already in operation in Murray County and Bainbridge — in the years ahead.
“I think their plans are to have, probably, two to three more,” he said. “The strategy behind those inland ports is basically to divert traffic around metro Atlanta.”
At this juncture, Millican said the GTA isn’t pushing for any specific funding solutions to address Georgia’s freight and logistics concerns.
He did, however, touch upon several findings from a 2019 GCOFAL report, including a proposal urging the Legislature to create a bill providing for a line item in the State budget explicitly for freight rail appropriations.
“That legislation is actually in process in the General Assembly, House Bill 820,” Millican said.
The GCOFAL does have a local connection. One of the committee members is Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor.
A resolution seeking to reauthorize the GCOFAL for 2020 passed the Georgia House of Representatives Feb. 5, 169 votes to zero.
“Just in time for the long recess,” Millican said. “They may not agree on the budget, but I think they all agree that we need to keep looking at this freight and logistics issue.”
Georgia’s rail transportation companies certainly have “a lot of skin in the game,” Millican said.
“Primarily, because there’s no public funding for private railroads in Georgia,” he said. “Between CSX and Norfolk Southern, they’re putting between $250 million-$300 million a year back into their infrastructure here in Georgia alone.”
Millican said that one aspect of HB 820, which is sponsored by District 9 State Rep. Kevin Tanner (R, Dawsonville), would include a line item for State-owned rail.
Unsurprisingly, the discussion of freight issues in Cartersville turned towards the matter of at-grade blockages.
Cartersville Mayor Matt Santini said he would like to see better communication and cooperation from CSX regarding downtown stoppages.
“In addition to truck traffic, we might be increasing problems with trains and public safety when roads are blocked,” he said. “To me, the larger issue is Mission Road … if we’ve got a house on fire or somebody’s got a medical emergency, they’re sending somebody down the road, there’s no way to reroute that. And if our public safety folks know, we can at least accommodate it — ‘Hey, this crossing’s going to be blocked for 20-30 minutes.’ We don’t need specifics, but if there’s a timetable, we can plan for it.”
District 14 State Rep. Mitchell Scoggins (R, Cartersville) said legislative efforts have been made to address that particular issue.
“We did introduce a bill last year to try to prohibit — or stop, or slow down — those blocking the crossing,” he said. “And we never did get it before a hearing.”
Millican said that Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regulations greatly limit what can be done to address the matter.
“That’s the other challenge,” he said. “The FRA has preemption over a lot of this stuff, so as it relates to railroad right-of-way, there’s not a lot of wiggle room in terms of what the State or even the local government can do.”