Mike Klein Online

Georgia Will Seek Federal Funds for New National Transportation Institute

Mike Klein

Georgia intends to pursue federal funds to create a National Transportation Institute at Georgia Tech. Governor Nathan Deal made the announcement Tuesday morning in Atlanta, probably to the chagrin of the state’s northern neighbor because Tennessee has an institute in Knoxville.  And, here’s the rub, the federal government would not have funds available for both centers.

Governor Deal’s announcement was made during his morning speech to some 1,200 attendees at the 2011 Georgia Logistics Summit. The Atlanta-based Robert W. Woodruff Foundation has provided a six-figure seed grant that will enable the state to prepare its federal funding proposal.  At least six Georgia universities — their researchers and students — would become project partners.

“We plan to partner with other southeastern universities giving this plan a regional context as well,” Governor Deal said. “I plan to reach out to the governors of the other southeastern states to propose a comprehensive logistics study that will help all of us coordinate our planning and our investments as we move forward.”

State executives who briefed reporters later said Georgia will apply for a National Transportation Institute designation from the U. S. Department of Transportation.  Designation would bring $2.25 million in annual federal dollars that would be supplemented with public and private funds.

Georgia is a natural location for a regional transportation institute. The Georgia Ports Authority in Savannah and Brunswick handles 12% of the nation’s total export traffic to all U.S. major trading partners. The state has the world’s busiest passenger airport, several thousand miles of freight rail lines, three north-to-south interstates and one east-to-west interstate.  Logistically, it makes sense.

The University of Georgia, Georgia State University, Georgia Southern University, Spelman College and Southern Polytechnic State University would become partners. The institute would help to coordinate real-world transportation planning within southeastern states and it would become an academic center for logistics industry students.

Georgia’s announcement sets up some fairly interesting dialogue possibilities with Tennessee, which proudly boasts about the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Georgia officials said the region would not need two such centers.

The Center for Transportation Research website notes that a National Transportation Research Center was recently established with Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. CTR’s site says the 41-year-old University of Tennessee center has $10 million in ongoing projects and that it “strives to address these needs for the nation, our region and our community.”

Governor Deal’s announcement was the biggest early headline from a daylong summit that brought together experts on how logistics impacts agribusiness, air freight, life sciences, energy, manufacturing and ocean freight.  The consistent summit theme was how to improve Georgia-centric logistics and then make that model interact properly with regional and national models.

Jack Wells, chief economist for the U.S. Department of Transportation, described many federal government priorities and initiatives during his logistics summit morning keynote address.

But Wells did not tip his hand on the biggest elephant in Georgia logistics; federal funds that Georgia needs for the $580 million Savannah River and harbor deepening project.

Wells said the U.S. DOT is conducting a project study; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has studied the Savannah project for several years and Congress first discussed funding some 12 years ago. It could be another year before the federal funding question is resolved.

“The Savannah harbor expansion project is one that the Corps of Engineers and hopefully the White House will recognize as great significance for the future of our country,” Governor Deal said Tuesday morning. “It makes sense for Georgia. It also makes sense for the southeastern region and it certainly makes sense for the country as a whole.”

Wells said four southern ports – Savannah, Charleston, New Orleans and Norfolk – handle about 39% of the nation’s product exports and one-fourth of all exports and imports. Southeastern states grew their exports by 80% in the last decade while the nation grew by 71%.

“I do want to emphasize, the federal government will not select a single port on the East Coast and support just that one port,” Wells said. “What we want to do is look at each individual port, what its needs are, what its contributions are to the national economy and then make appropriate investment in that port. We won’t be picking only one port.”

State officials gave Wells’ prepared remarks a favorable review.

“When you look at it from an economic point of view, from a facts and figures point of view, we’re going to be coming out on top of that argument because we have such an impact on the national economy,” said Page Siplon, executive director of the Georgia Center of Innovation for Logistics. “All those things are music to our ears.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

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May 10, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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