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First, Let's Get to the Root of the Problem

The Georgia Department of Transportation has been a dysfunctional, politically torn-and-twisted state agency for over 50 years. It's time to focus on fixing it.

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.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Richard Arena August 01, 2012 at 09:23 PM
Bravo Mike Lowry! You are exactly right. For Georgia to have a transportation network that effectively handles the state's current and future needs, GDOT must be professionally manged and all eyes focused on cost effective solutions. One of the most troubling problems with the T-SPLOST was the hidden agenda -- and I don't just mean special interest cronyism; I'm referring to the underlying strategic plan to dramatically change the distribution and density of Metro-Atlanta's population. At the highest political level a decision was made without public consultation to fundamentally change Metro-Atlanta from a network of suburban communities and into a high-density hub and spoke urban center replete with forests of high-rise apartment buildings. So, it's not just GDOT in need of reformation. Solving Atlanta's traffic congestion requires office holders who understand, respect and respond to the will of the people.
JAH August 02, 2012 at 12:52 AM
The question is how to pursue this type of reform. I hold little hope that our elected office holders are up to the task. Whether its the current Republicans, or the Democrats that controlled the state for the previous 100+ years, the politicians are in the pockets of the monied interests, in this case the developers and pavers. Whether it's Wayne Mason or Matthews Paving, they have plenty of dollars to throw around, and politics = dollars, regardless of party affiliation. So - Mike, how to we get to point B from point A?
Truthseeker August 02, 2012 at 12:12 PM
Mike, One of the best solution based arguments I've ever heard. That said, none of it will ever happen. Too much money and power would be lost. Those losing the money and power will never allow that to happen. I'm waiting for the punishment phase after the elitists were smacked down with the TSPLAT vote.
Monica August 02, 2012 at 01:48 PM
Great article, must tweet.
Susan Stanton August 02, 2012 at 06:29 PM
Did anyone notice the the Governor is now planning to take this on personally with the legislature? Hey Gov. Deal. This time, how about asking "We the People" for real traffic solutions? The last time, we were given pre-determined "solutions" without true input. Here's one for you: We have cameras about every 1/4th mile on major roadways. While I detest my privacy being invaded by them, they are there. Use them for accident investigations rather than closing major arterials for hours to determine how an accident occurred! Cost? $0.
Amreeta Regmi August 02, 2012 at 09:07 PM
Excellent pragmatic recommendations for reform!
ACC-SEC Booster August 03, 2012 at 10:04 AM
Mr. Arena, The decision of the state to pursue this T-SPLOST debacle as a means of transportation funding and the public backlash against it in the form of the resounding defeat of the T-SPLOST actually helps to contribute heavily to the hidden agenda that you speak of to dramatically change the distribution and density of Metro Atlanta's population over the long term, much more heavily than the passage of the convoluted T-SPLOST would have done as there are some extremely severe and highly ill-advised road construction funding penalties that were attached to the T-SPLOST legislation. Road construction funding penalties that included requiring the passage of the T-SPLOST first before getting federal roadbuilding funds and requiring local governments in regions that defeat the T-SPLOST to pay 3 times as much for road construction projects than they paid before the T-SPLOST vote by requiring them to pay a 30% match to state funds for local road construction projects instead of the 10% that was paid before. The historically anti-road construction environmentalists at the Sierra Club knew full well of the fatal consequences to roadbuilding in the Atlanta Region and North Georgia with the defeat of the T-SPLOST which is why they did not hesitate to join with the Tea Party (and the DeKalb County NAACP) to oppose and defeat the T-SPLOST.
ACC-SEC Booster August 03, 2012 at 10:22 AM
Needless to say, it was extremely foolish and completely ill-advised for the Georgia Legislature to attach the road construction funding to the T-SPLOST by making virtually all future road construction funding completely dependent upon the passage by the voters of a piece of such fatally-flawed legislation. It is because of the State Legislature's extremely idiotic decision to severely restrict already inadequate road construction funding upon the defeat of the T-SPLOST, that there won't be much in the way of new road construction going on in the Atlanta Region or throughout much of Georgia in the near future. By tying in the pursuit of greater transportation funding with the extremely misguided and porkbarrel-ladel T-SPLOST misadventure, a supposedly conservative Georgia Legislature may have unwittingly (of course) thrown the Atlanta Region from the course of being a network of suburban communities into a course of being a high-density hub-and-spoke urban center like Mr. Arena speaks of.
Brian Davis August 03, 2012 at 03:42 PM
Mike your post contains factual errors and is delusional. State Transportation Board Members are elected by state legislators not federal officials. The State Transportation Plan follows federal guidelines because whether we like it or not it is motor fuel dollars with Federal strings (unfortunate) that pay for roads and bridges in this country. Why in the world would you want to elect board members. Until Gov. Carl Sanders administration transportation, and road projects were controlled and used by the Governor to reward and punish political enemies. Under Gov. Sanders a Transportation Budget Board the precursor to the State Transportation Board was established to decide how to spend motor fuel dollars. Today we have an independent board with an independent funding stream (motor fuel dollars are required per the constitution to be spent on roads and bridges) that has total control over projects and hiring/firing decisions within the Department. I have been very impressed with the new Commissioner Keith Golden and the Deputy Commissioner Todd Long, you should look at their resumes.
Mike Lowry August 03, 2012 at 04:23 PM
Brian, To call a group of legislators sitting around the table an "election" is a bit of a stretch. The DOT board is one of the most highly politicized appointments in state government. The members are not responsible to and cannot be removed by the public. That's why we think they should be elected. I am familiar with both Todd Long and Keith Golden. I know Toby Carr, the governor's recent appointee as planning director. I am also familiar with the Statewide Transportation Plan that Todd developed and the last 4 audits of the DOT. Anyone who reads those documents cannot conclude that the DOT is anything but dysfunctional. Their priorities are misplaced. Their project selection is badly skewed. Their performance by any standard other than their own measures is dismal, perhaps because of the environment they are in or for other reasons. Going on the DOT website with the intention of learning anything useful is not a productive exercise. A wholoesale reform is very badly needed.
Brian Davis August 03, 2012 at 07:21 PM
If you talk to Russell Hinton he will tell you the audits showed poor performance because the Federal Govt changed computer software at US DOT which did not talk to any State's system. As money came back from the Federal Govt that lack of communication caused lots of trouble.

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