Sympathy for the 18 Wheeler

Atlanta has a traffic problem. And don’t boo me for stating the obvious. My concern is not for the suburbanites who are delayed an extra half hour on their commutes home. Georgia’s economy is largely dependent on another type of traveler, albeit an unpopular one. This is a driver who might have forced you into an emergency lane when you were coming down the exit ramp or ran you into the median while merging lanes. Yes, the 18 wheeler trucker is who I refer to, and before the compact-driving Davids lose all human sympathy for the proverbial Goliaths of the interstates, take a moment and consider why we might want to keep them around.

Our lives would not be nearly what they are without truckers. The containers on the backs of semi-trailers contain everything we cherish in metro Atlanta—the construction materials that have built our suburbs, the food that fills the shelves of our Krogers, the Amazon purchases that keep us waiting by the mailbox, etc. And it doesn’t stop there. Atlanta’s tremendous economic growth has also been fueled by freight trucks. With Hartsfield Jackson International Airport and the Port of Savannah providing entry points to regional markets, Atlanta has become the largest hub in the southeast for moving and storing goods. It has the seventh-highest freight volume in the country, with nearly 150 million tons of freight, 75 percent of which comes by truck, moving through the city each year. Freight-dependent industries account for a whopping $200 billion in output, which is nearly 40 percent of metro Atlanta’s GDP, and they support 800,000 jobs in the area.

Many of the trucks are traveling to warehouses and distribution centers that are located near interstate highways. When high density freight traffic combines with high density commuter traffic, bottlenecks arise and cause a number of problems including more collisions and less reliable delivery times. Competitive firms value precision above all else, especially when a truck’s delivery is time sensitive. They are likely to locate in areas where the delivery time is low and predictable.

With globalization, expanding e-commerce, and the widening of the Panama Canal (which allows larger ships to come up the east coast), there is ample opportunity for Georgia to draw in companies who want to move goods through the Port of Savannah and into Atlanta. However, traffic bottlenecks, including those on I-75 South, both directions on I-20, and the upper half of I-285, might prove problematic. Slowdowns in these areas could make Atlanta a less attractive business location, especially if the city does not plan for more growth over the next two decades. By 2040, there will be twice as many freight hauling trucks on metro Atlanta roads and traffic is expected to increase by 76 percent.

To hedge against the impending freight congestion, the Georgia Ports Authority has begun investing in inland ports, which are way stations that allow goods to avoid traveling through Atlanta traffic. They recently announced that $19.7 million will be spent on the Appalachian Regional Port in Chatsworth, Georgia near Chattanooga. The ARP will be connected to the Port of Savannah by rail. CSX Transportation will move cargo to and from Savannah without having to rely on Atlanta’s road system. The GPA estimates that the ARP will offset 350 truck miles per container, which is about 18 million miles of truck miles per year. It will begin operating in 2018.

The ARP is part of GPA’s Network Georgia initiative, a $1.4 billion plan which aims to “create a web of rail connections that will make access to the [Port of Savannah] easy and convenient.” An inland port in Cordele was connected to the Port of Savannah in 2013, opening up access to Alabama markets. The GPA eventually wants to create enough inland ports so that the Port of Savannah is connected to cities throughout Georgia, opening access to markets in Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Locations for additional north Georgia inland ports will be particularly important because they will stem the tide of trucks taking I-75 through Atlanta.

Installing truck-only lanes on interstates is another idea for reducing congestion that has become popular in Georgia as of late. Governor Deal and the Georgia Department of Transportation are already moving forward with a plan to add 40 miles of truck-only lanes on I-75 North between Macon and McDonough. The project will cost over $2 billion, with most of the funds coming from revenues raised by HB 170, the transportation funding bill passed by the General Assembly in 2015.

The project’s success is questionable though. No other state has tried such an ambitious truck-only lane project and it would be twice as expensive as the costliest Georgia road project to date. There are critics on all fronts saying that the project has not been appropriately researched, that it gives special favors to the trucking industry, and that a commuter train from Macon to Atlanta could be built for the same cost and would do a better job of alleviating traffic. Still there are no signs that the project is slowing down. If successful, truck-only lanes could become standard issue in Atlanta’s bottleneck areas.

The Atlanta Regional Commission recently updated its 2008 Freight Mobility Plan to account for the expected increase in freight traffic. It recommends that Georgia spend $1.8 billion to fix traffic bottlenecks, a relatively small cost compared to the $200 billion that the freight industry brings into the Atlanta region each year. Whether it is inland ports, truck-only lanes, or other ideas like widening highways and adding toll express lanes, Georgia has a strong interest in getting 18 wheelers out of traffic.

Funding these solutions is a win-win situation. Nobody likes losing businesses to states with better transportation networks and nobody, not even truckers, likes sitting in traffic. The plight of truckers does not always elicit sympathy from America’s driving public, but they are an essential part of an integrated economy that makes all of us better off. So please, throw aside your prejudices and, next time the truckers ask, give them more of your tax dollars. Believe it or not, they’ve earned it.

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Will DurantDave Bearseblakeage80Jack FitzLTWill Recent comment authors
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gcp
gcp

I like the Chatsworth intermodal project because it takes trucks off the road. It will benefit Ga. and VW in Chattanooga. Two billion dollar truck only lanes between Macon and McDonough are not a good idea because it does nothing to ease traffic in the metro area.

Charlie
Charlie

What if I told you there were traffic problems outside of metro Atlanta? Also, what if I told you that Georgians outside of metro Atlanta pay taxes too?

LTWill
LTWill

I’d say those taxpayers should vote for candidates that prioritize and fight for infrastructure improvements.

gcp
gcp

If we prioritized our transportation spending based on traffic congestion, two billion for nb truck lanes between Macon and McDonough would not be a high priority. Now go ahead and make your case for this particular project.

Charlie
Charlie

That’s an entirely different point now. I-75 in that area is where the vacation/tourist/snowbird traffic from Florida meets the trucks from the Ports off of I-16. The truck lanes will segregate that traffic from the cars up until the point where the new express lanes pick up around McDonough. Thus, that extends the 2 extra lanes from Atlanta to Macon, with trucks only on about 2/3 of that stretch. It also is the largest demonstration project of its kind. If it proves to be successful, you could expect to see truck only lanes on I-16 and other Georgia freeways as… Read more »

blakeage80
blakeage80

Yikes. What do they expect to happen when everybody re-merges around McDonough? Sounds like it could turn into a another bad spot. It seems like it would work better north of the city heading north to alleviate traffic sooner.

Charlie
Charlie

The lanes will end where the two Express lanes begin. So you have 2 extra lanes being built from Macon to Atlanta.

gcp
gcp

Truck only lanes would be safer for all drivers but if your intent is to move traffic then why not add lanes and open them to all drivers? I am not advocating this approach but just asking the question. Also is that 40 mile stretch the most congested stretch in Ga?

Charlie
Charlie

Most truck accidents are Truck vs Car, often when a car darts in front of a truck thinking it can stop in 170 feet just like their subcompact can. Physics doesn’t work that way. It also takes several times longer to clear a truck accident than a car vs car accident on the freeway. Much of the real traffic problems occur due to accident, not normal traffic. So this should have a congestion reduction above and beyond what normal lane expansion would achieve. Thus, you’re taking one of the most truck-centric part of the congestion, and separating the cars and… Read more »

Saltycracker
Saltycracker

Trucks are an essential part of the service, convienence and the abundant choices of well priced goods we expect in our daily lives. Unfortunately we can’t make them invisible like the underground Disney experience.

If it were not for the high tech logistics used today, it would be multiple times more complex. Nor can we ignore mass people movement, planes or trains, but…..

Our lifestyle choice of sprawl, strip centers and the convienence of our own car or uber suggests our top transportation priority is addressing vehicular traffic.

chefdavid
chefdavid

If they would just pass a law that keeps them in the right lane on I-24 that would help out things up here. They try and pass another truck and then can’t make the hill and it backs up traffic forever.

Ellynn
Ellynn

Can we fix the bottle neck of semi over use going out of Savannah first please? We have two lanes that now carry 3 times more residential traffic and 5 times more commercial traffic then they were designed to handle in the late 1960’s. There is a suicidal clover leaf connecting I16 and I95, the back up traffic of semis to get out of the terminal entrances onto GA 21 and Dean Forest – and then either to I16 or I 95 is crazy at any point between 7 am and 7 pm. Plus the bridge over the river on… Read more »

drjay
drjay

they are supposed to be working on sav’hs issues, the dot had a forum not too long ago that showed a new 95/16 interchange with flyovers that gets rid of the cloverleaf (one of the dumbest forms of interchange possible in my opinion) and the jimmy deloach connector is now open so trucks from gc terminal can go pretty much straight to 95 without getting on 21 or dean forest or 25…i also think extending jimmy deloach all the way to 16 is a goal of theirs…

Ellynn
Ellynn

It’s all good to plan, and I’m not disregarding any of it, but… They have been talking about the I16/I95 and planning since the delays of Huge in 1989. Yet always something more important in another part of the state. What – we got the Olympics, lets focus on that, now we have airport expansion, the loop is exploding, we need a better route to Athens, we need a better connection between Atlanta and Chattanooga, Dalton needs to move more shipments of carpet, and blah blah blah. In 1999, I16 backed up by another hurricane and what a bottle neck… Read more »

Charlie
Charlie

It’s not that better things have been happening in other parts of the state. It’s that we tried to use a construction financing plan set up in the Nixon administration to fund infrastructure for the 4th fastest growing state with the lowest per capita transportation budget. Much of the state was covered in “plans” for two or three decades. Now the state is starting to fund these projects (equally needed, I-75/I-16 interchange in Macon). As for the Cobb Braves Stadium expansion, the work being done now has been on the books for 20 years. And the money/effort going into that… Read more »

Ellynn
Ellynn

If I start fist rattling and soap box raging now maybe by the time both of Charlie and I start collecting whatever is left of social security, the construction for the new bridge over the Garden City train tracks out of the terminal that cross GA 21 will be starting demolition.

I call it ‘planning’.

Saltycracker
Saltycracker

E, Misery loves company. Thousands more homes are underway along SR140 in north metro……nothing going of substance……I’ve been on several committees for over a decade…..when the locals get vocal, the state forms a feel better progress committee to get a tax ok to stall another decade….cynical ? Absolutely.

Jack Fitz
Jack Fitz

I’m sorry but $2B for 40 miles of northbound freight capacity does NOT sound like an efficient use of everyone’s capital. But then again what do I know about transportation planning, I mean I’m not a farmer from Irwin county. The feasibility of the largest project in state history should be studied to death. Then debated. And then studied some more. I understand that freight capacity is a key issue facing our transportation future, but $2B hot lanes SCREAM pet project. Call me cynical, but ambiguous anecdotes like “Freight-dependent industries account for a whopping $200 billion in output, which is… Read more »

Charlie
Charlie

Fitz, we’re spending almost $1BN to redo one interchange. 40 Miles x 4 lanes is 160 lane miles. This stuff isn’t free, and as noted in comments above and below there’s a whole big state out there beyond Metro Atlanta. And that stuff you buy on Amazon and at Publix doesn’t levitate itself to metro Atlanta.

Jack Fitz
Jack Fitz

Highlighting another inefficient use of capital regarding the interchange isn’t exactly selling me on how this project is good for Georgians. I understand there’s a whole state out there and if I thought this was to benefit anyone other than long-haul freight carriers then I’d be more willing to entertain the benefits. What about contracting with Norfolk Southern about expanding their freight capacity? Rail miles are exponentially cheaper to build/obtain than highway miles and inherently better for the environment. That’s just one of many options that should be explored and evaluated before GDOT shells out money for a “demonstration” project.… Read more »

Charlie
Charlie

There’s an active plan on increasing rail freight capacity which is sorely needed as well. You’ll see a lot about it over the next 6 months. You should also note that no matter how much freight rail is expanded, you’re still going to have to have trucks going in and out of metro Atlanta. We’re now a region of almost 6 Million people, and expect 2-3 Million more in the next quarter century. We’re already as big as the 21st largest state. Trains will move a lot of freight around Atlanta. But you’re still going to have to move goods… Read more »

Ellynn
Ellynn

Surly… (Snicker). I’m not so much gripping as I am being inpatient. I get and know how long things take to become finalized in the construction and planning field. I even get that some things have more value and impact on the state or even ‘need’ more then other stuff. I don’t even mind paying for it if it all goes towards the greater good. However, in the 29 years I have been living in and out of this state, people have been planning things that never really seem to get done. It’s not until a ‘deadline’ or a ‘we… Read more »

Jack Fitz
Jack Fitz

I look forward to seeing more information about the rail freight expansion, that’ll definitely help to meet the increased freight demands out of the port and northbound to trans-load facilities. I think the payback per dollar spent is something that everyone can agree on. You’ll have to forgive me for my first pass of judgment on this project, but before today I hadn’t heard anything about it. I’m definitely not a spending hawk and I’m not naive enough to realize how budgets work. At the same time, I think everyone would agree that we need to work hard to spend… Read more »

Charlie
Charlie

Points taken and accepted.

One thing to remember: Gas tax money is road and bridge money per the Ga Constitution. You don’t seem to like the interchange of 400/285 nor the truck lane project in Macon. Understand that highest and best use is as compared to another road project. This isn’t a “transit” vs “roads” argument. Transit is going to remain in the purview of TSPLOST type funding mechanisms for some time to come.

Jack Fitz
Jack Fitz

Good point and its spending handcuffs like those that make ME surly.

Dave Bearse
Dave Bearse

Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I think the I-75 project is two lanes northbound only. That’s $25M per lane mile….one-half mile of the new roadway costs 25% more than the Chatsworth port. FWIW, the lanes will reduce non-truck congestion some.

LTWill
LTWill

Anyone remember the Northern Arc debate?

Dave Bearse
Dave Bearse

When more of something is sought, subsidize it. We’ve long subsidized trucking wearing out pavements and bridges. I-75 truck lanes will subsidize trucking as concerns congestion. I’d be supportive of truck lanes if they were tolled (if that is something that could be permitted) to recover some of the subsidy.

Forgive me if this is too off-thread, but trucking seems to be an example of free-market labor failure. Trucking isn’t employment subject to undercutting by illegal immigrants. Long standing (reprieved some perhaps during the 2009-2011 recession) driver shortages doesn’t seem to be increasing wages.

Will Durant
Will Durant

Yeah, the $20 million for the inland port rail yard near Chatsworth seems like spare change in comparison to $2 billion. Like Mr. Fitz above this is the first I’m hearing of this one and I’m suffering from sticker shock.