Square One: Georgia’s Transportation and Infrastructure
Want to learn about Square One before you dive into our disucssion on transportation and infrastructure? Check out the introduction.
First off, what’s the difference between transportation and infrastructure?
These words can often be used interchangeably depending on what you are talking about, so we’ll start by differentiating the two. Transportation focuses on how you and I get around in a less economic sense. It describes how you get to work, I get to a Braves game, or how Spencer gets to his parent’s house in Griffin. Did you walk, drive, take a bus, bike, or take MARTA? While we impact Georgia’s economy through these activities (you make money and produce something at your job, I bought Braves tickets, and Spencer bought gas to get all the way to Griffin), we’ll separate this use out and call it personal use. On the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Report Card (which we will explain below), this would include the categories of Bridges, Parks, Rail and Roads.
Infrastructure, on the other hand, deals with the tools of economic growth for our state. From the ASCE Report Card, this includes Aviation, Bridges, Dams, Drinking Water, Energy, Parks, Ports, Rail, Roads, School Facilities, Solid Waste, Stormwater, Transit, and Wastewater. This list includes the tools business leaders use to get from one place to another (Roads, Transit, Aviation), the tools Georgia manufacturers and agriculture use to get their products to market (Ports, Rail, Roads, and Bridges), and the general tools that support the operation of our homes and businesses (Dams, Drinking Water, Energy, Solid Waste, Stormwater, and Wastewater).
So what is the American Society of Civil Engineers and what’s this report card?
According to their website, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) is an organization representing more than 145,000 members of the civil engineering profession worldwide with the goal of advocating infrastructure and environmental stewardship to protect public health and safety and improve quality of life (among other commitments to their members). There is a Georgia Chapter of the ASCE that serves Georgia Civil Engineers and releases the Georgia edition of a national report card.
The Georgia report card is an assessment of Georgia’s infrastructure as measured in the following criteria: capacity, condition, funding, future need, operations and maintenance, public safety, and resilience. Grades are assigned in a simple A-F format. Overall, the cumulative GPA in Georgia’s report card was a C, with Aviation (B+), Energy (B), and Rail (B) receiving the highest assessments and Dams (D-), Transit (D-), Parks (D+) and Stormwater (D+) receiving the lowest assessments. The report card states that Georgia should aspire to the HOPE Scholars in our report card by earning a B average.
Are there any other assessments of our Transportation and Infrastructure?
The ASCE Georgia Report Card appears to be the most comprehensive look at Georgia’s infrastructure, however:
The Georgia Department of Economic development provides a brief description of Georgia’s infrastructure assets including air, sea, rail, and road transportation. The Department notes that the Port of Savannah is the fourth largest and fastest growing U.S. container port, the Port of Brunswick is the nation’s busiest seaport for automobile imports, and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport provides access to 80 percent of American markets within a two-hour flight.
The Georgia Department of Transportation issues annual reports to highlight efforts made in construction and maintenance of roads and bridges. The most recent report (2012) focused on continued improvements made in safety on Georgia roads, profiled the first diverging diamond interchange opened in Dekalb County, and described the $16.2 million project to widen and reconstruct Jennings Mill Parkway in Oconee County.
The Georgia Ports Authority and Georgia Environmental Protection Division also provide assorted annual or occasional reports.
How is this related to economic development?
Let’s look at two ways in which infrastructure impacts economic development. The first is through the competitive advantage top-notch infrastructure gives a community or a state. Standard and Poor’s Rating Services argues that industries like higher education, health care, and housing are reliant on utility and transportation infrastructure for growth. Universities, in turn, provide significant benefits to states through increasing education levels of the workforce and providing centers for research. They also note that smaller universities and community colleges are reliant on commuters instead of resident students, and poor transportation infrastructure could hurt enrollment. In places that have underinvested in infrastructure, corporations like IBM are reshaping downtowns by providing their own infrastructure funding for things like parks, transit, and better sidewalks. IBM’s investment in Dubuque, Iowa has revitalized their downtown and brought in four times the number of jobs that were there before they arrived. The effort isn’t just limited to corporations however. The report from Governing Magazine notes that local investments from universities like Penn and Georgia Tech, health care entities like the Texas Medical Center, and religious organizations like the Mormon Church have restructured their communities to spark job growth.
The second way infrastructure impacts economic development is through the jobs produced simply by investing in our infrastructure. A report by Joseph Kane and Robert Puentes of Brookings took an in-depth look at the jobs impact of infrastructure investment. They found that in 2012, 14.2 million people were employed in infrastructure related jobs across the U.S. This amounts to 11% of all American employees. Truck drivers, electricians, and civil engineers are the most common infrastructure-related professions. These jobs are also continuous as they are primarily meant to operate infrastructure rather than construct it. By having the world’s busiest airport, Atlanta specializes in professions like pilots, aircraft mechanics, and freight agents. Infrastructure jobs also serve as an important source of employment to less-educated workers, as they pay 30% more than other professions on the lower end of the income scale and have relatively few post-high school education requirements. Finally, infrastructure investment has enjoyed bipartisan support in recent history. President Reagan proposed a 5-cent increase to the gas tax in 1982 saying, “The program will also stimulate 170,000 jobs, not in make-work projects but in real, worthwhile work in the hard-hit construction industries, and an additional 150,000 jobs in related industries.” President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 invested in transportation, energy, and water projects creating between 100,000 and 500,000 jobs.
What are the latest developments in Georgia related to this?
President Obama recently signed the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, which we reported on here. As we find more stories related to this Square One, we will include them.Got any developments that we should be writing about? Drop us a line on our new feedback email for Capitol Corner.
What are other cities around the country doing about it?
Atlanta faces some stiff competition related to infrastructure investment. The city, known for a long time as the Capital of the New South, is seeing competition from around the region in cities like Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, Nashville, and Charleston. Former Athens Mayoral Candidate Tim Denson ran on a platform of meeting the public infrastructure investment of Clemson and Chapel-Hill by providing free bus service.
How do they do it? Charlotte is providing aggressive infrastructure investment through the General Community Investment Plan. The plan provides a 22.4% increase over the current five-year capital program and is explained in this video. It includes a broad base of investments in transportation, facilities and equipment, neighborhoods, and affordable housing. The investment expects to support 18,000 jobs in the city at a cost of $4.60 per month to the average Charlotte homeowner. Oil and Natural Gas infrastructure is expected to provide the West South Central block of states (a census designation comprised of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas) 542,422 jobs and $58 billion in economic growth between 2015 and 2024. Finally, the four of the five highest profile infrastructure projects are occurring in urban centers in Washington DC, San Diego, Chicago, and Seattle. The fifth is the Crescent Corridor Expansion, a Norfolk Southern rail project spanning 13 states including Georgia. This project is expected to create 122,820 jobs by 2030, reduce 1.9 million tons of carbon dioxide, and remove more than 1.3 million long-haul trucks annually. Birmingham, Memphis, Charlotte, and Greencastle, Pennsylvania are building new terminals for the project.
This is interesting, but why should I be worried about it?
From the transportation (personal) perspective, you probably don’t want to be sitting in traffic any longer than you have to. If you aren’t primarily a driver, you probably don’t want to get delayed at a MARTA or bus station, and/or you probably do want safe places to walk or bike. Ultimately, we all want to get from point A to point B quickly, with the least stress, and at a reasonable cost.
From the broader economic perspective, Georgia manufacturing and agriculture rely on rail and ports to move their goods to market. If you are (or work for) a Georgia manufacturer or farmer, you have an interest in seeing that this process is smooth and reliable. Flooding caused by a poor stormwater system results in serious economic costs in our homes and businesses. Finally, Jim Thompson at ABH points out that businesses that rely primarily on human capital should be wary of poor infrastructure related to quality of life like transit, school facilities, and parks.
While we have differentiated between the two, transportation (personal) and infrastructure (economic) are intricately linked and investment in one will almost certainly serve as investment in the other. An integrated, 21st century economy depends on the well-being of workers and businesses. As a community and a state, we should strive to support both.