Thursday, June 18, 2009

Vance Smith elected new DOT commissioner

Posted By on Thu, Jun 18, 2009 at 4:24 PM

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The state Transportation Board this morning unanimously elected state Rep. Vance Smith, R-Pine Mountain, as the new Georgia Department of Transportation commissioner. Once he resigns from the Gold Dome, Smith's expected to move into GDOT offices on June 25th.

What exactly Smith's duties will be is rather murky. Earlier this year, the Georgia General Assembly passed a bill pushed by Gov. Sonny Perdue that restructured the transportation planning power structure. Whereas previously the DOT board called the shots, now most of the people-moving decision-making will be made by a planning director appointed by the governor. It wasn't what Perdue originally wanted, but he signed the bill. The governor hasn't named his planning director pick.

Dick Pettys of Insider Advantage reports that there was some debate among boardmembers over how to interpret the governance reform bill, but that they've decided to hold off until all the pieces of the bureaucratic puzzle come together.

In a released statement, Smith says the state and DOT must work together to finally solve Georgia's transportation woes. He adds that the deep-in-the-red department sorely needs new funding. During his time under the Gold Dome, Smith pushed for a statewide one-cent sales tax that would fund new roads, bridges and transit. Like all transportation funding proposals in the Legislature, it never passed.

In today's statement, Smith voiced his support for a regional proposal that would allow counties to band together and levy a sales tax to fund transportation fixes. Smith's colleagues in the Senate pushed for such a concept, referred to as a T-SLOST, the last two years. (UPDATE: Maybe not. See the comments below.) Smith also says he's dedicated to all modes of transportation, which might be good news for rail lovers. We'll believe it when we see it, however. (His full statement is pasted at the bottom of the post.)

Nonetheless, welcome to Atlanta, Commissioner Smith! Octane's got great coffee and families seem to love laser shows at Stone Mountain. As far as tips and pointers about your new job, I'll yield to Icarus at Peach Pundit:

Now let’s all just hope and pray that none of the DOT board members fall in love with Vance Smith so we have to do this crap all over again in less than 2 years.

Here's Smith's statement:

Statement by Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner-Elect Vance Smith, Jr.

I am honored and humbled to have been chosen commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation and excited to start work. It is probably not a huge secret that I have wanted to serve in this capacity for awhile now – because I believe I can help make a difference. There are great challenges facing the Department. I see these challenges as opportunities to take a good transportation system and make it better.

I look forward to working with the Board, the Governor, the General Assembly, and our partner agencies. I also want to listen and learn from the dedicated, knowledgeable and experienced men and women of the Georgia DOT – they have much to offer. We must ALL continue building a collaborative approach to make these opportunities reality. The Department cannot solve these issues alone; neither can the governor; nor the legislature. We have to work as a team – in close coordination with our local governments, federal, state and local transportation agencies; metropolitan planning organizations, regional development districts and the business community. With all of us working together – we can. We will.

In my capacity as a state legislator, and especially as transportation committee chairman, I have worked to understand the issues confronting not just the Department, but all transportation interests in Georgia. I know that Georgia needs a seamless, interconnected transportation system made up of multiple modes of transportation that will serve urban commuters as well as rural communities. Each and every Georgian deserves a safe, dependable, well-managed transportation system that helps improve their quality of life, as well as economic opportunities - by offering enhanced connectivity and less congestion that will help attract commercial, industrial and retail businesses to cities and towns from Toccoa to Thomasville.

Georgia DOT’s greatest need is new funding sources. We need a comprehensive, sustainable source of revenue that will allow us to take advantage of every opportunity to grow our transportation system in all modes and in all corners of the state. I’m committed to exploring every possible funding option. We will continue to look for ways to be more efficient in our day-to-day operations. We will work with the Georgia General Assembly to implement a T-SPLOST that will serve the whole of Georgia. We will work with our representatives in Congress to keep them apprised of our needs and help them fight to bring our share of the federal funds home. We will move swiftly and expeditiously on Public Private Partnerships. We cannot wait any longer to take advantage of this funding alternative to help relieve congestion, increase mobility, and better connect our ports to our highway and rail systems so that we can move goods and products quickly and efficiently.

Most folks know that I did not support Senate Bill 200 –the governance bill. I believed in my heart that was not the path we needed to travel. BUT, it is the law, and I will uphold it and abide by it. I will work with the planning director to offer Georgia a comprehensive transportation plan that will meet our needs and address our problems. Georgia DOT will deliver these projects, within federal and state guidelines – as quickly and effectively as humanly possible.

The time has come to put differences aside, to commit towards bettering transportation in Georgia. We need to roll up our sleeves and get to work – side by side – towards a common goal. I’m confident that together we can put Georgia in the national forefront for meeting its citizens’ 21st Century transportation needs.

(Courtesy House Communications Office)

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