Transportation: ‘Think like the People Coming up Behind Us Might’

By Vance Smith

(Excerpted from remarks by Georgia Rep. Vance Smith (R-Pine Mountain), chairman of the House Transportation Committee, at a Georgia Public Policy Foundation Policy Briefing Luncheon on transportation.)

I know we’ve talked to a lot of you here this past summer when we had the transportation funding study committee. I appreciate you speaking up, letting us know how you feel, because that’s the only way we’re going to arrive at a solution to transportation.

There’s no one person, as Senator Jeff Mullis said, no “silver bullet.” There’s no one solution out there. And there’s certainly room for everybody’s opinion; I think that’s very important. If we take our time, be very patient, we have the responsibility first of listening, and then we have a responsibility of communicating what we hear. And what we’re after is what’s best for all the people outside these walls.

There are 9 million people in the state of Georgia. They will be, hopefully, the beneficiaries of what we do on the Joint Study Committee on Transportation Funding, for the legislation that we come up with, and we have some very important bills. I don’t know if any of you pulled up the Web site on the joint study committee. If you have not done that, pull that up ( You can go back to the very first meeting we started in the end of June, and it lists all the testimony of every individual from all over the United States, all the way from the Secretary of Transportation.

Our responsibility now is to compile this information and to come up with those solutions. And I wish I could stand up here – and I know (committee co-chair) Senator Jeff Mullis does – I wish I could stand up here right now and tell you we’re fixing to do A, B, C, D. I think it’s important to get it right; I wouldn’t want to dare speculate on what we think we’re going to do. Because if I speculate, it would be what Vance Smith thinks we ought to do, and we’ve got a great committee. We’ve got people from all over the State of Georgia who have served on this committee, and we’ve had a lot of great discussion. We’ve listened a lot.

And now it’s at the point of debating what we’re going to do. I use the example of when you’re in school. They give you all the books and all the homework and you go home. And the first thing you do is you do the simple things first. You do the stuff that’s very easy, to get it out of the way. Then about 9 o’clock at night you’re down to that crunch time and you’ve got to get ready for a test or write a report right quick. Well, we’re in crunch time mode.

We’ve been talking about a lot of legislation: design-build legislation, value engineering legislation. All those are very important, and all those are just things that we hope will assist the Department of Transportation.  But we’re down to crunch time. We’re down to the funding part. 

It’s got to be a joint effort. We can’t just run out of the room as a group of eight and say we have a solution to the problem unless we’ve got everybody on the team, working together. It’s hard to get everybody on the team together, but to do it right and do what’s most beneficial for the citizens, we’ve got to be together. It may mean that we have to give up a little bit over here to make sure we get this person on the team; a little bit over here to bring the other person in.

But it’s all a matter of negotiation. You all know that; you’re businesspeople. You don’t always get what you want, but you can get as close as you can to what you want. And I think it’s important, it’s been exciting.

We’ve heard some great testimony. We’ve heard testimony about state infrastructure banks from Ohio and Florida, and how well they work there. We’ve heard from Missouri about their bridge program, that they’re doing: PPIs (public-private initiatives) on some 800 bridges in Missouri. We heard about the design-build legislation that they use, and practical design, from C.W. Matthews. So I think all this is a total package.

You know we’re coming down to that, that final hour. I wish I could tell you this bill is going to do this, and this bill is going to do this.  But we’re slowly getting there. And I just ask for you to be a little patient. We’ve got to do it; if it doesn’t happen you won’t see me anymore.

I guess we all get set in our ways when we’re talking about effectiveness, and being a more effective and efficient DOT. I look at my own business – I’m in private business – and I do drive a dump truck occasionally. I’m in the truck and bulldozer business. And my son comes up – he’s 31 – and he says, “Dad this is ’07, it’s not 1987.”

That’s what we have to do: We have to get our mindset rolling. We have to realize that the generation coming behind us may want to live in Atlanta, Georgia. They’re not going to own a car. They’re going to walk down to the corner, catch a bus and catch a little light rail or ride the bike into work. So we’ve got to realize that in the future if we’re going to keep growing like we’re growing, we’ve got to think like the people coming up behind us might. Like our children and our grandchildren think. Because we don’t know, it may look like “The Jetsons” by the time my grandkids are big enough.

And I think we need to be open to the process. I think we’ve had some great leadership in the state of Georgia. I can remember since ’93, being in the Legislature, and the DOT has won a lot of awards. They’re recognized nationally as a great highway system, and that’s great. But this is ’07, we’ve got to keep pushing, keep pushing, and we need to hear your positive comments, but we more need to hear what’s negative. We need to hear that. And don’t be shy about telling us about it. Tell us what’s wrong. Tell us where we’re going wrong. And I feel sure that the members of that committee and the people in the House will listen.

Georgia Rep. Vance Smith (R-Pine Mountain) is chairman of the House Transportation Committee and co-chairman of the Joint Study Committee on Transportation Funding. To view the Georgia Public Policy Foundation Policy Briefing Luncheon on transportation, go to

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© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (January 18, 2008). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and his affiliations are cited.