Georgia DOT on Sound Footing After Receiving Pivotal Transportation Funding
With the passage of a state transportation bill and a five-year federal program, Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) Commissioner Russell R. McMurry, P.E., is upbeat about the future.
“We are at a pivotal and most important time in transportation history since the creation of the Interstate program,” McMurry says. “Now the focus of our department and our contractors is to deliver and make good on the work the legislature and governor did to get transportation funding. It has given Georgia DOT the ability to plan our future and get projects out to the traveling public.”
The Georgia Transportation Funding Act (TFA) of 2015 will provide about $800 million in additional funding and the federal Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, passed this year also, will provide funding for five years. The State Transportation Board appointed McMurry commissioner on January 20, 2015, prior to passage of these bills.
McMurry views the state funding a “game changer” for Georgia, because it provides for sustainable funding for infrastructure needs and eliminates the state’s total dependence on federal dollars.
McMurry has taken a three-prong approach to Georgia’s existing infrastructure. The first being preventative maintenance. GDOT will contract $200 million per year for maintenance. It is outsourcing all grass mowing and now contracting for pavement preservation, crack filling, pothole repair, spot asphalt overlays, storm drain placement, and tree and brush clearing from the right-of-way.
Secondly is capital maintenance, resurfacing roads. The state has 15,000 miles of roadway. The budget for resurfacing has quadrupled from $100 million annually to $400 million.
Thirdly, McMurry is focusing on bridges. GDOT will nearly triple its bridge budget from $115 million to $300 million annually.
“We have a big desire to replace or strengthen all of the bridges that cannot adequately hold up the legal hold ratings for commerce,” McMurry says. “We can have freight and agribusiness use the bridges and not have to go around them. We will be aggressively replacing and reinforcing bridges.”
GDOT during the next 10 years plans to invest $1.8 billion to finish some the 300 miles of road identified by the Georgia Statewide Freight & Logistics Plan as needed. Freight movement is an essential component of economic development.
“These are missing pieces to the freight network that exists today,” McMurry says. “On top of that, we are excited about the ability to advance people and freight mobility projects throughout the state.”
GDOT has identified 11 projects, totaling $14 billion. These projects include work around metropolitan Atlanta, Savannah and Macon, The work will go to contract within the next decade, using a design-build-finance delivery method.
“We plan to accelerate these projects,” McMurry says. “In 10 years, some will be built and some will be under contract."
In Atlanta, GDOT plans to add express lanes on Interstate 285 and State Road 400 and under take several major interchange projects, including improvements to the I-285/SR-400 interchange. GDOT selected North Perimeter Contractors, led by Ferrovial Agroman US of Austin, Texas, to design, build and finance the $679 million interchange project.
“We have had some great experience with public-private partnerships,” McMurry says. That includes the Northwest Corridor project in Atlanta, which is 40 percent complete, and an I-285 and SR 400 interchange, which came in $300 million less than expected by the agency.
In addition to the construction priorities, McMurry says he is very concerned about road safety. Last year, the state had a 21 percent increase in highway fatalities, higher than the 15 percent national jump.
The department has started a “Drive Alert Arrive Alive” campaign. The state has a high percentage of single vehicle fatal accidents, which could be related to distracted driving, and a large number of drivers are not wearing seat belts. The campaign focuses on buckle up, turn off the technology device and not driving impaired, which McMurry says includes medication use and drowsy driving.
About the Commissioner
McMurry, a graduate of Georgia Southern University, began working at GDOT in 1990 as an Engineering Trainee, and went full time the following year. Since then, he served a variety of positions, including Chief Engineer and Planning Director. He has been responsible for the P3/Innovative and Program Delivery, Construction, Operations and Intermodal divisions.
“I’ve been fortunate to have worked in a lot of different offices,” McMurry reports. “That’s given me a great perspective of what work has to be done and what it takes to do the work. Knowing people and staff is important too.”
McMurry takes a collaborative approach to management and tries to come to consensus, no mater what the initiative.
“I’m also very much a performance management guy,” McMurry says. “I like to make sure we keep our eye on the prize and stay successful.”
GDOT does quarterly employee performance reviews. Performance ratings are tied to the department’s goals and successes.
McMurry oversees 4,000 employees and a $1.6 billion annual budget. He reports staffing has stabilized after years of attrition to reduce the size of the workforce. Department employment shrunk about 14 percent during the past three to five years. People have been repositioned as they are needed to manage the increased outsourcing taking place.
“We have hit the staff size we need to maintain so we can provide for emergency services and maintenance through our Operations division,” McMurry says. “We continue to look at how we redeploy staff to be most effective.”
GDOT continues to set aggressive construction and maintenance goals. McMurry recognizes the department will need private industry to help it achieve those goals.
“It gives me satisfaction seeing our staff succeed in whatever we set out to do,” McMurry concludes. “We need contractors to do the significant amount of work coming. This funding is sustainable. For the long-term, that’s exciting.”