ATLANTA – Georgia is going to need $135 billion to $150 billion during the next 30 years to keep up with the demand for freight capacity of a fast-growing state, a logistics industry executive said Wednesday.

Capitol Beat News Service
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That’s far too much money for the state government to cover, Brad Skinner, a board member at Denver-based freight railroad operator OmniTrax, told members of the Georgia Freight & Logistics Commission. Georgia is going to have to turn to the private sector for help, he said.

“There’s not enough money to do some of the things Georgia needs to do,” said Skinner, who also serves as a member of the commission. “You have to find private investors with deep pockets.”

Georgia has experience with public-private partnerships in the transportation sector. The interstate toll lanes that have begun to pop up across metro Atlanta during the last several years are being built and financed by private consortiums that are recovering their investments from toll revenues.

Another example is the Appalachian Regional Port near Chatsworth, an inland terminal built by the Georgia Ports Authority, Murray County and CSX Corp.

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A subcommittee headed by Skinner recommended Wednesday that the commission submit legislation to the General Assembly expanding the role of the State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA) – which oversees the toll lanes – to negotiating public-private partnerships for freight infrastructure projects across the state.

“There’s a lot of money out there that I believe can be captured,” Skinner said. OmniTrax operates a four-mile rail link just east of the Port of Savannah. The track runs between CSX and Norfolk Southern tracks, connecting warehouses with main lines.

Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, one of the commission’s co-chairmen, said financing freight infrastructure improvements through public-private partnerships would give the state a new economic development tool.

“Expanding the role of SRTA could really be a game-changer, especially for rural Georgia,” he said.

While the state courts private investment in freight projects, some public funding will also be required.

Tanner said he and state Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, the commission’s other co-chairman, plan to meet with officials from the Georgia Department of Revenue this month to talk about potential sources, including creating a dedicated trust fund for freight improvements.

But Stephanie Smith, senior vice president of supply chain and delivery for The Home Depot and a commission member, warned against imposing any taxes that might damage the state’s reputation for welcoming corporate investment.

“Georgia is a very business-friendly state,” she said. “We need to be careful not to do anything that makes Georgia less competitive.”

The commission, formed last year to look for ways to move freight more efficiently through Georgia, is expected to deliver its recommendations to the General Assembly before the 2021 legislative session begins next month.Logistics exec: Georgia’s freight capacity needs will require private investment.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a service of the nonprofit Georgia Press Education Foundation.

Dave Williams is bureau chief for Capitol Beat News Service, a service of the Georgia Press Education Foundation.