Whenever a public discussion begins about needed improvements for Georgia’s infrastructure, camps quickly form and divide into a battle of mass transit versus roads. The debate devolves into whether people want to ride together through mass transit, or whether we can build enough roads for everyone to be able to drive in the most congested parts of the state.
While we continue to argue about moving people, trucks moving freight continue to fill Georgia’s highways.
Truck traffic is great enough on Atlanta’s Interstate 285 bypass that the law requiring trucks to stick to the right two lanes is all but unenforceable. There just isn’t room in those lanes to fit all the trucks anymore. Motorists are left generally with one lane that is usually exclusively for cars, and then trying to navigate three lanes of trucks when it’s time to exit. It’s like a real world version of the video game Frogger.
In the rest of Georgia, the problem usually manifests itself with lines of traffic backing up on two-lane interstates waiting for a slow truck to pass an even slower truck. There are also places well known to the state’s travelers such as trying to navigate the Interstate 16/Interstate 75 interchange. Merging there isn’t for the faint of heart.
The upside of all the truck traffic is that it’s a sign of a growing economy, and additional jobs for Georgia’s logistics industry. Distribution Centers now line I-16 and most freeways leading in and out of Atlanta on all sides.
Then there’s Georgia’s ports, which continue to grow and set new records monthly. Some have taken to blaming the ports for the increased truck traffic, but that’s an exercise in finding a scapegoat.
Atlanta, specifically, would be having a truck problem if the ports were growing or not. The fact of the matter is that Atlanta continues to grow, and with a metro Area population now bigger than 30 states, it’s a concentration of people whose roads – for trucks and for passenger cars – haven’t kept up for a generation.
All of the things Georgians buy via the internet or at brick and mortar stores have to get to us somehow, and at some stage that’s likely going to involve a truck or three on our highways. We’re a state with more people, buying more things.
The Georgia Legislature will take up the matter of truck traffic with a joint House-Senate Commission this summer, seeing both an issue to be solved and economic development opportunities. The Georgia Freight and Logistics Commission will “find ways to move freight more efficiently throughout Georgia spurring economic growth and job creation.” per the press release announcing the house speaker’s and lieutenant governor’s appointments to the group.
The group includes three state senators and three representatives, six members from the logistics industry, and four representative members from local governments. Representatives from the Georgia Municipal Association, Association of County Commissioners of Georgia, the Georgia and Metro Atlanta Chambers of Commerce, the Georgia Department of Transportation and the Georgia Ports Authority will serve in an ex-officio (non-voting) capacity.
Without trying to over-simplify their work, the study will be a matrix of alternatives. Reducing truck traffic likely means increasing the amount of freight shipped by rail. Every box car or container on a train represents a truck not on Georgia’s roads.
In addition, Atlanta’s traffic problem is one that many other Georgia communities see as an opportunity. Upgrading the state’s highways with routes suitable for large trucks that bypass metro Atlanta would alleviate some traffic issues while opening the door for smaller, rural communities to attract their share of employers in the logistics field.