It’s no secret that the state of Georgia is the transportation hub of the Southeast. Atlanta was founded as the terminus of the Western and Atlantic railroad and the state’s transportation leadership legacy is clear: we now boast the world’s busiest airport; the 4th busiest port in the U.S.; the largest rail network in the Southeast; and the 12th largest air cargo hub in North America. Additionally, 80 percent of the U.S. population is within a two-day truck drive and Georgia interstates facilitate the movement of more than $620 billion of cargo each year.
Over the last decade, that momentum has increased dramatically as Georgia leaders have advanced important legislation to improve infrastructure. Since 2012, thirteen counties and four regions have passed local transportation project funding referenda to repair and expand local infrastructure. In 2015, Governor Nathan Deal signed the Transportation Funding Act to provide predictable and sustainable revenue for the repair and maintenance of statewide roads and bridges. In May 2018, Governor Deal also signed legislation into law creating the Atlanta Region Transit Link Authority creating integrated transit planning for the 13- county Metro Atlanta area and opportunities for those counties to raise funds through transportation local optional sales taxes. Over the last eight years under the leadership of Governor Deal, Speaker David Ralston, and Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, the state has invested almost $300 million in the Savannah Harbor deepening project.
However, our state is growing – rapidly. By 2030, Georgia will experience an estimated 60% growth in port traffic; 16% energy demand growth; and 1.4 million more cars on our roads. Georgia’s population will grow by 19% and flights through Hartsfield Jackson International Airport will increase by 130,000.
Clearly, Georgia leaders must prioritize investment in infrastructure to keep up with this growth and remain competitive. Investments are needed to expand our freight and logistics network by completing the Savannah Harbor deepening project; improve the Port of Brunswick; expand Hartsfield Jackson International Airport cargo capacities; and build a plan to expand all our statewide freight assets. The expansion of broadband technologies is essential to economic development, health care, education, and public safety. Providing solutions that lead to improved economic opportunities including critical infrastructure needs that increase access to broadband, continues to be a priority for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. As the quality of life and business climate are directly impacted by broadband connectivity, we must be intentional in our efforts to create an effective and sustainable solution in expanding broadband deployment.
We also must encourage infrastructure development through streamlining the regulatory framework and market-based incentives. Georgia can’t afford to be grounded by lagging infrastructure. Companies depend on the ability to move their products efficiently through the state. When businesses thrive, opportunities for employment and improved quality of life will abound for citizens.
It is also critical that people are able to move efficiently throughout our great state. There must be increased focus on growing and developing transit networks statewide. Strategic plans that include benchmarks for predictable commutes for commuters and job access for consumers must be developed and maintained to strategically prioritize investments. Georgia must increase mobility by driving down congestion, allowing individuals to spend more time at work, school, and home with their families.
Building and maintaining modern infrastructure is more than transportation. The state of Georgia must modernize investments in energy infrastructure to include a diverse mix of sustainable, reliable and affordable sources. Additionally, Georgia must continue to fund water management and conservation efforts to ensure long-term, statewide quality water access. Our state must have the necessary resources to support growth of existing businesses, attract new businesses and increase economic opportunities for Georgians.
Georgia has been named the number one state in the nation in which to do business for five consecutive years. To further this success, our state must prioritize investments in infrastructure that increase opportunities for mobility for Georgians. Put simply, infrastructure investment equals economic opportunity, and opportunity should define Georgia’s future.
The author is Chris Clark, President & CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.