Last week, State Transportation Board Chairman Jay Shaw wrote of the importance of customer care: It is no less important to a government agency providing services than to a private concern marketing products.
Quality customer service is as much about the “how” as the “what.” For the Georgia Department of Transportation in metro Atlanta, the “what” is obvious — more convenient mobility and access. The rub is in the “how.”
Already, there are more metro Atlantans than residents of 30 states, and growth continues unabated. Building an urban expressway is expensive; just one more lane on a metro interstate costs upwards of $3 million a mile; a new interchange is more than $30 million. (And those prices don’t include what often is the costliest part – the right of way on which to construct.) Even if money was abundant, is a new lane the answer when even now our interstates flow freely some 18 hours a day?
All this has caused Georgia DOT to rethink “how.” We’ve come to realize the need not just to grow our transportation system, but to maximize its existing capabilities; to wring from it every modicum of mobility.
An obvious need is clearing roadways of crashes and breakdowns as quickly as possible; every minute traffic is stalled requires as many as seven to recover. So we’ve broadened the number and range of the Highway Emergency Response Operators – our HEROs. In a unique partnership with the Department of Public Safety, Georgia DOT also funds state troopers dedicated to responding to incidents so traffic keeps moving.
Peak-hour shoulder lanes on sections of Ga. 400 help move southbound morning commuters faster. And new connector distributor lanes along part of I-20 are producing astonishing time savings of nearly 200 percent. We’ll apply both innovations elsewhere.
The award-winning diverging diamond interchange at Ashford-Dunwoody Road and I-285 is so successful, there are five more in the works.
Ramp meters on entrance ramps have improved interstate traffic flow by 14 percent.
Our Regional Traffic Operation Program is a multi-jurisdictional, cutting-edge, signal-timing program; department engineers actively manage and synchronize more than 4,000 traffic signals on some 18,000 miles of roads and streets. They have improved traffic flow and reduced stops by nearly 10 percent.
Roundabouts instead of signalized intersections can result in safe, efficient traffic flow at a fraction of the cost.
Our new “Quick Response” operational improvements program allows us to expedite projects like restriping or installing medians or turn lanes — small efforts that yield big improvements to drivers.
Next year, we’ll implement variable speed limits on the top end of I-285 – a program that will enhance motorist safety while reducing travel times.
Big issues and challenges remain. But every minute and every dollar we save through innovation help us move forward and better define the “how” of Georgia DOT’s customer service.
Todd Long is deputy commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation.