DOT chief offers a new view on transportation

Thu, 02/07/2008 - 4:13pm
By: Ben Nelms

DOT Comissioner offers new look at transportation

New Georgia Dept. of Transportation Commissioner and Sharpsburg resident Dr. Gena Abraham is nothing if not plain spoken and down to earth. Those qualities served her well Feb. 5 at the annual South Metro Outlook at Georgia International Convention Center in College Park, as her remarks on state transportation challenges and opportunities came through as being both believable and forthright.

“We’re still unable to produce a financial statement for our organization,” said the new commissioner who assumed leadership of the department in December. Those were some of the first words she spoke to a room full of interested citizens, business leaders and developers from across metro Atlanta. “We’re going to be open, honest and transparent. And that’s something a little new. And we’re going to take a different approach to look at a statewide comprehensive transportation plan, something we don’t have now.”

Abraham said it is important to look at a comprehensive plan that includes metro Atlanta and all of Georgia, noting that in past years some portions of the state have received more than their fair share of transportation funding.

In her brief remarks near the beginning of the half-day conference, Abraham said DOT would be focusing on three main issues, including the statewide plan, alternative funding mechanisms and project delivery.

“We’re known as DOT, but we also want to be known as the department of land use and planning. We have to be cognizant of that as we look at a statewide transportation plan,” Abraham said, noting the 9,211 projects DOT has on its books with only 269 projects let in a time frame spanning approximately two years.

Alternative transportation methods are needed within the statewide plan, Abraham said, with MARTA as a likely backbone of that plan.

“We can’t build ourselves out of congestion. That congestion has to be fixed in metro Atlanta. If not, we will have problems with freight movement throughout the state. To solve the problems, they have to be solved statewide,” she said.

Alternative funding mechanisms will also be needed for some DOT projects, said Abraham.

“The funding shortfall is a significant issue in DOT. Plans referred to as ‘long range’ means they’re not funded,” Abraham said. Those remarks were followed by a response, including a few chuckles, from the audience that indicated that they had heard the truth as it was spoken. “Funding will be huge in this legislative session. And alternative like public/private partnerships are not a panacea.”

But it was in the focus area of project delivery where Abraham’s comments really hit home.

“Project delivery is based on a schedule, on a good budget and a quality product,” she said. “When I make a commitment to you my job is to deliver. And if I can’t deliver I’ll tell you. There are a lot of people I love in Georgia, but I’m not going to jail for them.”

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