The Georgia Department of Transportation was all over the news last week. According to the new commissioner of the agency, the place is like Thunderdome. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution story cuts right to the chase:
“The state Department of Transportation is a mess, its new leader said Wednesday, after learning over the past month that no one knows how many hundreds of projects it really has going —- but that just one group of them will cost a staggering $4.2 billion more than estimated. Gena Abraham, eight days in office as commissioner of DOT, said Wednesday that her new staff couldn’t tell her how many projects the department has on its books, giving her answers ranging from 1,100 to the latest answer: 9,211, of which 2,470 are active.”
I think the Department of Bridges and Highways would be a better name for the agency. While it does have a bicycle and pedestrian program and a picture of train on its Web site, the GDOT’s main goal is to maximize the flow of automobiles. This is almost always accomplished by the installation of larger pipes, meaning wider roads. In this regard, it’s not unlike transportation departments in other parts of the country. Take, for instance, this description of the New York City Department of Transportation:
Run mostly by engineers, the DOT treated streets as an engineering problem: How do you move as many motor vehicles as possible, as quickly as possible? The streets themselves have mostly remained grim, unattractive, and (ironically) jammed.
That’s from a New York Magazine story about “Reasons to Love New York.” No. 35 on the list is transportation chief Janette Sadik-Khan. How do her views diverge from those of other transportation officials?
“According to Sadik-Khan, New York streets should be brimming with activity, not cars. She wants to see broad sidewalks filled with people and elegant street furniture, public plazas with places to sit and chat, and bike lanes where children feel safe on their bikes.”
Could Abraham be our Sadik-Khan? Opinions are mixed. A story in the Albany Herald doesn’t provide too much to get excited about:
“Emory Morsberger, a Gwinnett County developer and chairman of Georgians for the Brain Train, the head cheerleader for a planned commuter rail line linking Atlanta and Athens, noted that Perdue’s strong backing of Abraham isn’t a positive sign for rail enthusiasts. ‘She’s the governor’s person, and the governor has been our main roadblock,’ Morsberger said. ‘(But) I’m optimistic that she’s going to be able to get the governor to realize we’re falling behind other states and cities.’”
The Gilmer County Times Courier is a little rosier:
“According to Abraham, the majority of projects have been focused on road and bridge building and maintenance as opposed to developing methods of public transportation. Public transit is a definite consideration in the future of the department of transportation. Additionally, Abraham emphasized that she is deeply concerned about preserving the integrity of the environment.”
Either way, the current chaos at the GDOT provides an important opportunity to refocus the agency on projects that serve all Georgians, not just those who own and operate automobiles. Here’s hoping Abraham is the woman for the job.