Carol Comer, director of the Georgia Department of Transportation’s Division of Intermodal, spoke to the Griffin-Spalding Chamber of Commerce Governmental Affairs Committee, Thursday morning on both upcoming projects and some of the successes with non-highway transportation projects across the state. Comer explained her division oversees aviation, trains, transit and waterways “or everything not highways.”
It also administers federal funding for aviation and transit and oversees the safety of railways as well as being the local sponsor for the Army Corps of Engineers’ harbor dredging projects in Savannah and Brunswick. The deepening of the port in Savannah is one of the pending projects which once completed will allow larger cargo freighters to come through the Panama Canal to Savannah, which is already one of the busiest ports in the U.S.
Comer talked about the financial impact of aviation in the state at $62.6 billion a year, with $58 billion of that at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, but $1.2 billion is from the state’s 95 general aviation airports.
In the statewide study of aviation, she cited the case study of the Statesboro-Bulloch County airport, a general aviation airport which extended its runway twice, attracting 43 new industries and businesses, creating 4,000 new jobs.
“Georgia Southernis a power user,” she said. “People fly into the airport to do business with the university.”
In a video on the economic impact of aviation in the state, the Thomaston-Upson County airport was featured with officials said crediting the new airport facility for attracting new industries including two plastics manufacturers.
“Without the airport we wouldn’t have either,” they said.
Comer said in the video, “adequate airport facilities may not be a reason for business to locate in a community, but it is the first reason they don’t.”
She also explained Thursday how intermodal transportation funding is different from highway funding from GDOT, primarily in that there’s a prohibition from using funds from the state motor fuel tax for anything except highways. “There’s a public perception we’re not doing enough,” Comer said, “but there’s a huge set of handcuffs on us.”
She said “we’re trying to do more with less,” and noted “no stone is left unturned in the search to find funds for our projects.”
She noted some of the public/private partnerships including leases of some of 540 miles of GDOT owned short line rail lines, with one in northeast Georgia providing rail service for area industries. Another is the multimodal transportation plan for the “Gulch” area in Atlanta “to fill in the hole by CNN, the Georgia Dome and Philips Arena,” with a bus, rail and trolley station and commercial development.
She said “we are reaching out to find synergy with the private sector to fund these projects.”
With regard to the airport and other local projects, Comer said, “it’s up to you at the local level to embrace this.”