Lawmakers talk traffic woes, more at pre-legislative breakfast
MARTA extension, self-driving cars among topics at annual meeting
Local lawmakers attend an annual pre-legislative breakfast Tuesday morning at the Forsyth Conference Center. - photo by Kelly Whitmire

Traffic is one of Forsyth County’s major issues, and local lawmakers are looking into creative ways to find solutions for drivers and some of the county’s other pressing needs.  

On Tuesday morning, the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce hosted members of Forsyth County’s legislative delegation at the Forsyth Conference Center at Lanier Tech to speak on the upcoming legislative session beginning on Jan. 8.

The event sought to give lawmakers a chance to answer pre-submitted questions from the audience. 

Attendees were also asked to text in their answer whether they supported “an extension of MARTA to south Forsyth County to provide a transportation alternative to residents who commute daily south of Forsyth to work.” 

Moderator Paul Chambers with AT&T said the response was “a little bit surprising, especially maybe compared to 10 years ago.”

Out of 61 who voted by text, 40 answered yes.

Attending the event were District 27 state Sen. Michael Williams, District 51 state Sen. Steve Gooch, District state 24 Rep. Sheri Gilligan, District 25 state Rep. Todd Jones, District 26 state Rep. Marc Morris and District 9 state Rep. Kevin Tanner. District 22 state Rep. Wes Cantrell was not in attendance. 

Other than expanding MARTA, members of the delegation also gave other potential options for dealing with traffic woes. 

Jones said he was passionate about upcoming technological changes, including autonomous, or self-driving, vehicles. He said the private sector has invested more than $300 billion into the vehicles and felt Georgia should be making strides to be ready when the technology becomes widespread. 

“Each one of the manufacturers have already stated that they will have full autonomous vehicle capabilities by 2019,” he said. “I think we all know if the private sector lays down a third of a trillion dollars, it does it pretty much with an expectation that we will see a return on investment.”

Gooch said the state senate passed legislation earlier this year to set up the framework for such vehicles. 

Gilligan said there should also be consideration given to the jobs that will be replaced by the vehicles.

“We’re going to have to make sure that Georgia is in a place where we can help these people to get a career because their career may be going away,” she said. 

The delegation was also asked about ongoing transportation projects. Tanner said the state needed to learn from this summer’s I-85 bridge collapse.

“One of the things that works is incentives,” Tanner said. “If there is a project that is of vital importance to get the road opened or widened in a very quick fashion, being able to put incentives in a contract works.”

While transportation was a big focus, lawmakers answered questions on several other topics. 

When asked about religious liberty legislation, which was previously approved by the Georgia General Assembly before being vetoed by Gov. Nathan Deal in 2016, Williams said he did not think there would be a negative impact on Georgia’s economy.

“I believe that our country was founded upon being able to exercise our religious liberties,” Williams said. “Anybody who says that having this and passing this bill is going to hurt our economy, I think they’re believing a false narrative.”

Morris, who was elected on Nov. 7, said there needs to be an increased push to get rid of texting and driving.

“It destroys families, it destroys lives, it is a burden on our community and we need to be the example in this,” he said. 

There was also some discussion on possibly raising the minimum age to obtain a driver’s license. 

While discussing education, Gooch said Georgia needs to look at more technical college programs.

“We have a huge need for a workforce that is not being met,” Gooch said. “I talk to employers on a daily basis … I can tell you just every company that I speak to in [Lumpkin County], they’re looking for employees today.”