A special state commission is recommending the expenditure of billions of dollars over the next 30 years to enhance the flow of freight across the state.
Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor, a member of the Georgia Freight and Logistics Commission, said the focus of the panel for the past year has been on ways to move freight across the state without making traffic any worse than it already is in the metro Atlanta area.
“Part of this is to figure out how to get more trucks on the rails and through Atlanta and North Georgia, particularly to the inland port up in Murray County,” Taylor said.
Taylor said the desire to get more truck cargo trailers onto rails comes with some opposition from community leaders along the rail lines who are worried about longer and longer trains. He said some city and county leaders across the state want to see fewer and shorter trains.
The report, which was published last week, recommends the allocation of between $3.4 billion and $4 billion a year — of both state and federal money — for upwards of 30 years to facilitate the kind of improvements the panel believes may be necessary.
The commission did not specifically say where the new money would come from but it is expected to develop a series of recommendations with respect to funding by the end of the year.
State Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, chairs the House Transportation committee and is co-chair of the logistics commission. He said the state also needs to be spending more money on roads and bridges.
The commission has also identified a need to recruit and train more truck drivers. Taylor said truck traffic is only going to increase in the future.
“As the economy continues to heat up — and it looks like it’s just not stopping — that means more and more tractor-trailers on the road. The only alternatives you have are highways or rails,” Taylor said.
“There have been a lot of great ideas thrown out but each one has a consequence,” he added.
Longer trains cause longer delays at grade crossings, but that would mean fewer tractor-trailers rolling through Atlanta on the interstates. The trucks not only clog traffic, but they lead to the need for repaving on a much more frequent basis.
Another factor that has just cropped up is that some lawmakers out of Tennessee have expressed interest in an Amtrak passenger line from Atlanta through Chattanooga to Nashville.
“They would have to build a separate line for passenger service right beside the existing rail,” Taylor said.
In most cases the railroad has a lot of right-of-way, Taylor said, but a passenger line would likely need a major infrastructure investment.
“It can take place but it’s going to take huge investments from just about everybody involved,” he said.
The House Transportation committee has extended the mission of the Freight and Logistics Commission through the end of 2020.