A recent state report criticizes the Georgia Department of Transportation’s process for selecting and prioritizing transportation projects in the state, and raises important questions about the objectivity and transparency of the agency’s process to make billions of dollars’ worth of transportation decisions.
The 2015 passage of transportation funding bill HB170 in increased GDOT’s budget by almost $1 billion dollars per year. Yet the process used for deciding how to spend this new money has been remarkably opaque, providing very little insight into how decisions are made.
The report, issued by the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts, makes 19 recommendations for how GDOT’s project selection and prioritization process should be improved.
Among the issues raised in the report:
- The uncertainty about the exact scoring methodology GDOT uses for evaluating projects
- The uncertainty about the extent to which the results of this project evaluation are actually guiding GDOT’s decisions
- Whether GDOT can adequately explain the rationale behind decisions that differ from the prioritization process results, such as when a low-scoring project gets funding priority over higher scoring projects
- And whether the project evaluation information is ever made available to the public in a clear, understandable way.
The report also concludes that politics often plays a role in how GDOT selects projects, and identifies a $2 billion proposal to build truck-only lanes for I-75 as an example of a project that GDOT is advancing without a clear explanation of why.
The report also provides several examples of how other states like North Carolina and Virginia use more objective, data-driven, and transparent processes. Closer to home, the Atlanta Regional Commission, the regional planning agency for the metro Atlanta area, has developed a project prioritization process that is much more transparent and incorporates safety, environmental impact, and equity into its project evaluation.
“Two years ago, Georgia taxpayers entrusted Georgia DOT with an additional $1 billion per year in funding. Without more transparency and information to support those decisions, it is impossible to know whether this money is being used effectively,” said SELC Senior Attorney Brian Gist. “Georgians deserve an objective, data-driven, and straightforward process for understanding where these transportation dollars are going.”