Transportation investments create jobs

Posted: 2:00 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014

By Janice L. Mathis, vice president of the Citizenship Education Fund, an affiliate of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.

Georgia is hurting.  Despite new construction downtown and feverish campaign rhetoric, we need jobs, and we need them now. The U.S. Department of Labor recently reported that Georgia leads the nation in unemployment. The state’s unemployment rate barely moved over the past year — from 8.2 percent in August 2013 to 8.1 percent one year later.

The South fared better overall. The regional unemployment rate dropped from 7 percent to 6.3 percent over the same period. Miami, Birmingham, Charlotte and Greenville, S.C., have jobless rates significantly lower than metro Atlanta’s 8 percent.

Before we blame Georgia’s malaise on Atlanta, it is important to understand that Columbus, Albany, Brunswick and Rome had unemployment rates of 9 percent or more in August. Only two of the state’s 14metropolitan areas experienced unemployment lower than the state as a whole — Athens and Gainesville. Yet low-wage work and high rates of poverty predominate in both cities.

As we attempt to create opportunity for all, from aging baby boomers to millennials, Georgia must carefully examine its transportation options as part of the mix of a healthy economy. Georgia has many elements needed for a strong economy. As Gov. Nathan Deal pointed out, “Georgia boasts a strategic location as the gateway to the American Southeast as well as a strong collection of competitive assets, including two Class 1 rail lines, the most capable airport in the world along with an extensive network of regional airports, and the fastest-growing ports in the nation.”

The challenge is translating Georgia’s abundant assets into shared economic prosperity. In 2012, the TSPLOST went nowhere in metro Atlanta because many feared the benefits would not be equitably distributed. Despite last-minute assertions to the contrary, large segments of the powerful African-American voting constituency rejected the idea that jobs and contracts generated by TSPLOST would be felt in under-served pockets of metro Atlanta.

There was good reason for skepticism. A 2012 disparity study found that Georgia Department of Transportation projects persistently under-utilize firms owned by African-Americans and other minorities. And Georgia’s 8.1 percent unemployment rate translates to 25 percent for young African-Americans.

Meanwhile, TSPLOST funding projects are underway in Savannah, Columbus and Augusta. During the first 18 months of the program, 114 construction projects valued in excess of $140 million have been let. GDOT forecasts letting an additional 79 projects through December.

According to a recent report, in the first 18 months through June, TSPLOST tax collections brought in nearly $200 million extra dollars for transportation projects. Local governments received $50 million as discretionary funds for transportation needs in their communities. These funds are helping GDOT provide work for 17 Georgia construction companies and 29 consulting firms.

To its credit, GDOT is studying its pre-qualification criteria to determine what reasonable approaches might bring improvement. We must dispel the persistent myth that inclusion requires lowering quality.

Georgia has a robust supply of experienced and highly qualified construction contractors and service providers. Every proponent of a more democratic contracting process understands that compromising quality is the death knell for inclusion. Opponents should stop to consider that capturing Georgia’s abundant economic potential is more likely if all qualified participants are at the table.

The 2014 Regional Transportation Plan contains many useful goals. Friday afternoon, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx is to visit the 15th annual Rainbow PUSH Coalition Creating Opportunity Conference in Atlanta. We expect the secretary to address the U.S. Department of Transportation’s efforts to enforce Titles VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, guaranteeing fair employment and contracting. We also hope the secretary’s visit will help to galvanize broad-based support for future transportation infrastructure investments in Georgia as a proven means of job creation.

 

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