The Georgia Department of Transportation has been a dysfunctional, politically torn-and-twisted state agency for over 50 years. Because of the amount of money involved and the political sensitivity of transportation projects, it has never functioned as a provider of cost effective, functionally effective transportation solutions.
The entire HB277 circus was created to get around the dysfunctionality of GDOT. We believe that must change and recommend the following:
A. Elected board
The current GDOT board, one member for each congressional district, is currently appointed by a panel of state and federal legislators to 5-year terms. The position is essentially unpaid, and there are few if any provisions against conflicts of interest. This is an insider’s game in a pay-to-play culture. A quick study of the Statewide Transportation Plan reveals the convoluted, Fed-speak-filled thinking of the GDOT. Its mission is NOT defined as the most cost-effective way to move us from origin to destination.
We believe the GDOT board should be elected and compensated in a similar manner to the Georgia Public Service Commission. There is a strong case to be made that there should be a smaller board, instead of a position for each Congressional District and that the candidate member from each newly-defined district should run in a statewide election, just as PSC members do.
B. Professional Management
The senior positions in the DOT management should require very high minimum standards of experience and expertise, which should be set by the GDOT board and approved by the legislature. Academics, political cronies and revolving-door contractors should be kept out of GDOT management.
C. Financial Reform
We have witnessed the mismanagement of enormous sums of money by the GDOT, with a public statement by auditors that it is the worst they have ever seen and a rumored $1 billion in lost or misallocated funds. The GDOT should operate in a highly public, fully auditable manner, with an annual audit formally required. All project data, including individual project estimating, financing and tracking data should be available to legislators and the public in an easy-to-access manner.
Simply continually crying that "we need more money" is an inadequate plan. We need to first assure that the money that is there is properly allocated and accounted for and that the projects are defined to achieve the best possible results.
Having the governor "take control of transportation planning" is also an inadequate response. It's obvious from the voting results that very few people have any confidence in our state government or GDOT. They will need to earn the people's trust.
Georgia, we can do better than this and we must. An elected GDOT board and a reformed organization will be a great first step.