Transportation & Infrastructure: The County’s Role
with Liz Hausmann of the National Association of Counties
Infrastructure is a vital component of the U.S. economy. Liz Hausmann, Fulton County, Georgia Commissioner and chair of the Transportation Steering Committee with the National Association of Counties, joins Tetiana Anderson to discuss the role counties and local municipalities play in the operation and maintenance of public works.
May 28, 2021
Anderson: Bumpy roads, potholes, uneven pavement -- Whether driving a car or traveling by foot, we all deal with them every single day, and roads in disrepair are not only frustrating, they can also be dangerous. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. Connecting communities to commerce and people to opportunities through the movement of goods and services for trade, infrastructure is a critical component of the U.S. economy. And joining me to talk about all of this is Liz Hausmann. She is Fulton County, Georgia, commissioner and also chair of the Transportation Steering Committee with the National Association of Counties. And, Liz, thanks for being here.
Hausmann: Thank you for having me.
Anderson: So the last time the U.S. saw a massive infrastructural push was with the New Deal. It happened in the 1930s. It meant better bridges, roads, tunnels, railways, and it really sort of opened the door to increased commerce and expansion. But the fact of the matter is, is we sort of haven't reached the same level as other places when it comes to our infrastructure, places like Asia, places like Europe. Why has the U.S. had such a tough time in achieving the same thing?
Hausmann: Well, I think the New Deal was followed up in the '50s with the implementation of the Interstate Act. But since then, you're correct. There hasn't been any massive effort like potentially we're talking about having now. I guess the real issue is always, how do you pay for it? You travel to Europe, you see a lot of rail service. You come back to the States. People are always very interested in that. It's just how do you pay for it? So I'm encouraged that we are now on the brink of having a conversation about really doing some major things and hopefully having the money to pay for it.
Anderson: And you're actually in the midst of doing some major things. You're leading a massive $134 billion infrastructural push in Fulton County, Georgia. That's where Atlanta is, as well as 14 other cities. What's going on there? And what can other municipalities look to you as an example for as they undergo similar processes?
Hausmann: Well, we've we've been working for years on this. The state changed the gas tax a few years ago to an excise tax, which gave the state DOT an additional billion dollars a year to deal with traffic throughout the state. In Fulton County, we followed that up working with our legislative delegation for two or three years to allow us to go to the voters for a penny sales tax for transportation that was divided up from throughout the county, so that $134 billion effort, for the last five years, we have raised about a billion dollars in order to address our traffic needs. But it's a lot of work. We are making a lot of progress. But it's incremental progress. And so while we are working hard and being very transparent with our projects, everyone, each individual city really shares that with their community and they're engaged. It's a drop in the bucket for what we need.
Anderson: So, Liz, it strikes me that a lot of people might not understand the really important role that local governments play when it comes to infrastructure. I mean, the stuff doesn't just magically happen at the federal level. Talk about the role of local governments, counties, municipalities, in all of this.
Hausmann: Well, you're right. And thank you so much for that question. Most people do not realize the important role that local governments, counties play in our national transportation network. For example, 45% of the nation's roads are owned and operated by counties. 38% of the bridges are county owned and operated. And in our transit systems, 78% are directly supported by counties. So you can see the important aspect of maintaining our national infrastructure is directly in the hands of counties across this country.
Anderson: So a lot of the money that is pouring into counties right now is because of coronavirus. It's part of a larger relief effort. So this might all be happening under a Biden administration. But historically, infrastructure is something that has been pretty bipartisan. Explain that.
Hausmann: Well, I haven't seen a pothole yet that was a Republican or a Democrat, but everybody that encounters that pothole doesn't want that pothole. So we have to come together. This, to me, is a natural thing we can all agree on. We have to maintain the safety and security of our road network for our livelihoods, for our health, for our quality of life, so I'm very, very hopeful that we can begin to focus on this particular issue. It's one that touches everybody in our country. And I'm very hopeful that we will see some sort of massive aid package that will help us get our infrastructure up to the levels that it needs to be.
Anderson: And, Liz, if people want to find out more about the work that NACO is doing across the country, is there a website they can go to?
Hausmann: Yes, it's naco.org. And there is sections on all of our policies, including transportation, on the website. And you can find out everything you need to know. Can also go to the Georgia Department of Transportation website and see the good work happening right here in our state.
Anderson: Liz Hausmann, thanks so much for being here.
Hausmann: Thank you for having me.
Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well, for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, log on to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.