Transportation was front and center Wednesday during a luncheon to discuss issues facing the 2014 Georgia General Assembly.
The six members of Forsyth County’s state legislative delegation focused on the topic, which was also a concern for about 66 percent of the attendees who responded to a text message survey.
About 130 people attended the annual event, organized by the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club of South Forsyth, at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center.
Since Forsyth has a quality education system and water source, it’s understandable that traffic would be the primary concern, said District 51 state Sen. Steve Gooch of Dahlonega, “especially on the Ga. 400 corridor.”
Gooch, who like the rest of the local delegation is a Republican, noted that Gov. Nathan Deal kept his campaign promise by ending the Ga. 400 toll last month.
But he said that decision could actually hurt the corridor, which now finds itself lumped with all other state projects in the general fund.
“The $21 million a year that was being collected at the toll plaza in Buckhead was being used only on Ga. 400 improvements. We’re going to lose that money now,” Gooch said. “Revenue for the DOT is continuously a challenge statewide.”
And rail is not an option, according to District 27 state Sen. Jack Murphy of Cumming. Until the bus system — which fights the same traffic congestion as motorists — improves, it is “not going to be a viable option for us up here.”
“It could be if we could put the express lanes down to the middle of the express way to where the buses are dedicated,” Murphy said. “And if we could do that, I would ride.”
To District 9 state Rep. Kevin Tanner of Dawsonville, the economy and jobs are top priorities statewide for improving the quality of life. Growing the economy, he said, affects so many other areas.
“But we’re not going to be able to do that in Georgia if we don’t find ways to improve our transportation system,” he said. “And as Georgia continues to grow and as Forsyth County and Dawson County on this Ga. 400 corridor grow, it’s going to get more and more difficult.
“We cannot continue on the same track. We have to find alternate funding sources for transportation, and I don’t think anyone has the magic answer.”
With traffic solutions not anticipated in the foreseeable future, District 26 state Rep. Geoff Duncan of Forsyth County said maybe the discomfort of congestion could inspire more local job creation.
“This community is well positioned to bring a lot of high-end, quality jobs to the county here,” he said. “When that commute becomes unbearable, we will continue to bring industry here.”
That high-quality employment, Duncan said, could also be a fix for health care, another topic brought up during the luncheon. “If people are employed, they’re not going to need government assistance … to have health insurance.”
District 25 state Rep. Mike Dudgeon of south Forsyth described the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, as a “train wreck,” but added that Georgia has to come up with its own solutions.
Dudgeon said he supports District 21 state Sen. Brandon Beach’s suggestion to reform the state’s medical malpractice rules.
“Medical malpractice is a source of extra costs,” Dudgeon said. “Between 10 and 30 percent of all medicine is defensive. They’re are worried about being sued ... and doctors are so afraid of that, they overprescribe tests.”
According to Dudgeon, Beach’s proposal involves an administrative review board, where a group of doctors can review the case on an anonymous basis to determine if medical malpractice has occurred.
Keeping the decisions out of court would lower legal costs for both doctors and patients, many of whom Dudgeon said don’t receive any money even if they win due to the high legal fees.
After discussion on health care, the conversation shifted back to transportation and the deepening of the Savannah River, a project legislators have called critical for Georgia to keep up with world trade.
District 24 state Rep. Mark Hamilton of Cumming said while the project is far from Forsyth County, it is an “extremely important project for Georgia.”
“Transportation around that port is a huge thing, so that’s a huge expense,” he said. “But to me, that’s one of those projects that will benefit every single one of you in this room, because of the amount of tonnage that will come there. And simply stated, if we don’t dredge out that additional 4 feet, we’re going to lose out.”