More Robust Rail Strategy Anticipated in State Freight Plan

Mike Klein, Forum Editor

Georgia has many transportation challenges but with an eye on simplicity, you can group them into about two categories: moving people through congested urban areas and moving freight everywhere.  The idea is you want to minimize how often people and freight compete in the same space.

Governor Nathan Deal is expected to discuss state freight transportation strategy during his keynote address Wednesday morning at the fourth annual Georgia Logistics Summit in Atlanta.  The strategy with all its detail is targeted for release at this month’s Department of Transportation board meeting.

Georgia transportation assets include the Brunswick and Savannah ports, thousands of rail miles, the Atlanta international airport and interstate highways that bisect nearly every section of the state.

Transportation challenges include better access for moving freight at those ports, better use of those rail lines, ensuring that air cargo can move easily around airports and – here’s the big one – bypassing Atlanta when trucks carrying freight do not need to be in conflict with metropolitan commuters.

Page Siplon, Executive Director, Center of Innovation for Logistics

One long haul freight strategy is a western bypass along state Route 27 that would create a loop from near Macon to Chattanooga.  The bypass would alleviate congestion caused by long haul truckers who use Interstates 75, 85 and 285 for north – south transit.   Another strategy is the Fall Line Freeway option that could create a middle Georgia freight hub between Columbus, Macon and Augusta.

“Logistics impacts more than just trucking and rail,” said Page Siplon, executive director at the Center of Innovation for Logistics.  “It impacts us as individuals.  I joke when I do presentations, who here in the room is involved in logistics and a few people raise their hands.  Then I say who here has ever bought anything?  Then I say the folks who raised their hands the second time are more important than the folks who raised their hands the first time.”

Siplon said freight strategy proposals will include a more robust reliance on rail than seen in earlier state plans.  “We know there’s no silver bullet, but if we’re going to move cargo efficiently, railroads become increasingly important,” Siplon said.  “The plan reflects that.”  He described the next plan as “all very big number items, billions and billions of dollars that need to be invested.  This is not a one year strategy.  This is a looking out to the year 2050 kind of thing.”

Georgia’s fourth Logistics Summit will draw 1,600 attendees from 28 states and seven countries.  About 400 primarily Georgia based attendees were at the first summit three years ago.  The event moved from Atlantic Station to the Cobb Galleria Centre when attendance jumped to 800 in 2010.  It was back in Cobb last spring when 1,200 attended.  Now it has moved to the World Congress Center.  Sold out with 1,600 registered, there also is a 200-person waiting list.

“State agencies don’t generally have conferences that draw people from all over the world,” said Siplon, “We talk about that a lot.”  The Center is attached to the state Department of Economic Development.  Its primary office is on the Georgia Tech campus in Savannah.  MODEX 2012 – a giant supply chain solutions conference – is also being held at the World Congress Center this week.

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