Well, we’re out another one.
When Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Vance Smith resigns at the end of the year, that’ll mark the end of the fourth GDOT commissioner in as many years.
Smith, a former Republican state legislator whose family’s construction and grading business went bust with the rest of the housing market, will have served about two-and-a-half years in his post.
Those two-and-a-half years haven’t been extremely productive. As of late, GDOT has seen the departure of a number of high-ranking executives, leaving vacancies that Smith proved incapable of filling. Instead, Smith tapped one member of his staff – Gerald Ross, GDOT’s chief engineer – to serve triple duty, as the head engineer for the department as well as interim deputy commissioner and, just weeks ago, as interim director of GDOT’s toll roads program (the one that’s going to make you pay private companies to drive on roads for which you’ve already paid in gasoline taxes when you filled up your car).
Finally, the 13-member GDOT board decided it was time to “go in a different direction” – which, presumably, means something other than straight down.
The problem here is beyond that which Smith was capable of facing. The economy of our region depends on effective solutions to our transportation problems. Every advantage our region has – an educated workforce, an abundance of technical schools and universities, etc. – is for naught if workers cannot get to their jobs. No company in its right mind would relocate to metro Atlanta such as it is, with the region so unwilling to address what is its single greatest challenge.
Part of the problem is that the region is comprised of 13 counties – with 13 county governments – as well as many, many more municipalities. Each of these entities has its own transportation priorities, and few of them play nice together. In Douglas County alone, we’ve seen flare-ups over such issues as the new Bright Star Connector, right down the road from my house, where the county government put up concrete barriers to prevent traffic from accessing Bright Star Road from the city of Douglasville’s new connector.
The only arbiter who can effectively address these problems – the only one with the sovereignty to do so – is GDOT. Their job, ultimately, is pretty clear: make sure people can move around. But in the past several years, GDOT has encountered such uncertainty at the top through a series of politically-appointed leaders who lacked the diplomacy and management to take on the region’s obstacles.
Counties and cities exist at the pleasure of the state, and are obligated to do what the state tells them to do. GDOT needs a leader who can be heavy-handed, who can recruit and retain top talent, and who can last longer than a year or two to ensure that the incredibly important projects that begin on his or her watch have continuity to reach fruition.
Unfortunately, the state’s leadership – such as it is – will probably find another politically-connected incompetent boob to head the agency, leaving the citizens of Georgia making right turns from here to oblivion.