State funding for local mass transit across metro Atlanta and the rest of Georgia may soon shift from "pipe dream" to reality thanks, in part, to someone who might once have been an unlikely champion: The man from Blue Ridge.

He represents rural Georgia in the State House, and he is also Speaker of the House—David Ralston, one of the most powerful leaders in state government.

And Ralston is making sure legislators from rural and suburban and urban Georgia hear him, loud and clear: Unless the state considers helping Metro Atlanta loosen its "Gordian Knot" of traffic and helps pay for more transit to unclog the region's traffic, the entire state economy will suffer.

"Integrate transit into the state's transportation future," Ralston said Thursday at a meeting at the State Capitol in Atlanta. “Transportation won't guarantee you economic development. But I can tell you this: without transportation, you will not have economic development and job creation."

And with that, Ralston's new, special legislative commission, the “Georgia Commission on Transit Governance and Funding,” was off and running to come up with the first-ever state plans for more local transit--buses, trains, subways--across Georgia, including Metro Atlanta.

One of the state commission’s members is Fulton County Commissioner Liz Hausmann, who said Thursday that Speaker Ralston’s support for mass transit is “profound.”

“We can't do it without state funding," she said. "I think that people recognize that in today's global economy, that Atlanta is the economic engine of the entire state. And without the success of Atlanta, it's hard to have success in other parts of the state."

Hausmann said she expects the state commission will, in the next 18 months, “see what would be the ideal solution for each local community, and see how we can go about making it happen," and then submit the proposals to the State House and Senate.

So, it turns out, a rural Georgia legislator’s willingness to consider statewide transit funding, with local control, within, perhaps, five years, might finally be what loosens Metro Atlanta’s “Gordian Knot.”