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MARAN: Work needs to be done on transportation

Jobs. The need is greater than ever before. New transportation funding is critical to creating those jobs.

Once again, the General Assembly has a chance to pass new transportation funding legislation that could generate 320,000 new jobs for Georgia.

As the bill is debated in the conference committee, the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce would like to remind lawmakers that similar local legislation has greatly benefited our county and strongly believes that what has worked for Gwinnett County will also work for the rest of the state.

Here's how:

Through local SPLOSTs and bonds, residents in Gwinnett County have voted to generate approximately $1.5 billion in local roadway improvements since 1986. That foundation and investment is one of the reasons that Gwinnett County, even in the worst economy since the Great Depression, has generated more than 6,200 new high-wage jobs and more than 115 corporate relocations and expansions in less than three years.

Gwinnett was also the only community in the entire United States last year to successfully recruit two global Fortune 500 corporate headquarters -- NCR and Asbury Automotive. Passing legislation that allows voters to decide how and where to invest their own dollars to strengthen and increase their transportation networks will result in similar benefits across the state.

It's about more time at home and less time in the car. It's about safer, faster commutes. But most importantly, it's about new jobs all over Georgia. The state stands at a critical crossroads and the passage or defeat of new transportation funding legislation in the next few weeks will lead to two very different Georgias. Which Georgia do we want to be?

If new transportation funding does pass, we can expect a Georgia that sees:

* Long-term job creation: An estimated 320,000 new jobs over the next 20 years and up to $590 billion in economic benefits to Georgia over the next 30 years.

* In metro Atlanta alone: 230,000 jobs created over 20 years and $306 to $345 billion in economic benefits over 30 years. Since Gwinnett County is roughly one fifth of metro Atlanta's economy, approximately 46,000 of those jobs and $61 billion to $69 billion of that economic benefit could be in Gwinnett alone.

* In medium-size cities and rural areas: 90,000 jobs created over 20 years and $156 billion in economic benefits over 30 years.

* For freight: $57 billion to $88 billion in economic benefits would be realized over 30 years.

If new transportation funding does not pass, we can expect a Georgia with:

* Worsening congestion: Congestion costs per person will be double what they are today in metro Atlanta, while medium-sized cities will see "Atlanta- or Charlotte-like" levels of congestion by 2030.

* Restricted access to jobs: Reliable commutes will grow in length, talent pools will shrink by one-third, and existing transit services will be cut or eliminated.

* Impeded freight flows: This is due to growing volume without corresponding capacity investments.

* Reduced competitiveness: Georgia will continue to trail its competitors on GDP and job growth, as its transportation gap widens. Georgia also risks losing its leadership on freight and logistics as other states move aggressively.

Today, the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce is the sixth-largest chamber of commerce in the Southeastern U.S. with more than 7,200 members stretching from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport to the University of Georgia in Athens. We join our peer chambers, Georgians for Better Transportation, Get Georgia Moving partners and others on behalf of our member businesses with interests across metro Atlanta and all of Georgia to encourage our state's leaders to finish the job on transportation funding this year.

The time to act is now.

Jim Maran is president and CEO of the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce.