When it comes to transit funding, the State of Georgia is missing in action

Through all the chatter over what should be included on the Atlanta region’s transportation projects list, a loud vacuum can’t be ignored.

The vacuum? The State of Georgia.

Just what role, if any, will the State of Georgia play in contributing to metro Atlanta’s transit systems? And what role will the State of Georgia play in controlling the future of our region’s transit governance?

Consider this. The one-penny regional transportation sales that will go before voters next year will be raised (and invested) in the 10-county Atlanta region. If passed, this is money that metro Atlantans will contribute and invest in their own region’s future.

But exactly how much will the State of Georgia contribute to building and maintaining the Atlanta region’s transit systems — from MARTA, the Xpress buses, Cobb County Transit, Gwinnett transit, Clayton County’s buses to commuter rail between Atlanta and Griffin?

Unfortunately, the answer so far appears to be more of the status quo — virtually nothing.

The State of Georgia does not appear willing to step up to the plate to sustain and expand metro Atlanta’s transit infrastructure — despite the fact that the Atlanta region is the engine that drives the state’s economy.

For those who ask why should the state contribute to metro Atlanta transit systems, the answer is simple. Metro Atlanta contributes billions of dollars to the state’s coffers through the 4-cent sales tax and the 7.5-cent motor fuel tax.

The state has a vested interest in helping metro Atlanta thrive, and that means having a healthy regional transit system.

Unfortunately, the agonizing process of developing a $6.1 billion list of transit and road projects has made it painfully obvious that there’s just not enough money to pay for metro Atlanta’s near-term transportation needs.

One key way to bridge the gap between metro Atlanta’s needs and ability to pay for them is for the State of Georgia to become a full partner in supporting the region’s transit systems.

But at the meeting of the executive committee of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable on Aug. 4 when it was prioritizing the possible transit projects, financial participation on the part of the state seemed doubtful at best.

Todd Long, director of planning for the Georgia Department of Transportation (who has been orchestrating much of the formulation of the project lists across the state), told Roundtable members not to expect any support from the state.

Here was the context. Members of the Roundtable had not included $180 million to provide funding to maintain the Xpress buses over the next 10 years as part of its top priorities.

Now remember, the Xpress buses are under the control of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority — a state entity that is completely governed by members appointed by the governor.

“As state planning director, you need to include the Xpress buses,” Long told the Roundtable members. “The state is not going to pick up the cost of Xpress. They will shut down Xpress. They don’t have the money in their budget to keep going.”

An interesting aside, Long — a DOT guy — was standing up for a GRTA expense, but was totally silent on whether money should be included to finance a commuter train between Atlanta and Griffin, as well as its sister project — a Multimodal Passenger Terminal in downtown Atlanta — a DOT project.

In fact, the overwhelming number of public comments at the end of the meeting was in support of the commuter rail project. And the Roundtable already had decided to include the commuter rail line as part of its second tier of transit projects.

Now consider a well-known fact. The largest transit agency in the state — MARTA — receives no regular operating support from the State of Georgia. In fact, MARTA is the largest transit agency in the country (the ninth largest) to receive no operating support from its state government.

As a result, MARTA (the backbone for all the region’s transit systems) has been operating on a starvation budget. It has had to cut back its rail and bus services, and it has had to approve a fare increase that will go into effect later this year.

To add insult to injury, the any money raised with regional transportation sales tax can not go towards supporting existing MARTA operations. Without a doubt, the most cost-effective use of transit dollars would go towards MARTA operations — to increase the frequency of its trains as well as its buses.

Now how egregious is this situation?

According to the most recent statistics (see Table 1-9) on the American Public Transportation Association website, the State of New York invests more than $3 billion a year in its transit systems — an average of $155 per person annually.

Massachusetts invests $1.2 billion in transit, or $181 per capita. California: $2.3 billion or $63 per person. Pennsylvania: $1.1 billion or $91 per capita. New Jersey: $1 billion or $120 per capita. Maryland: $844 million or $149 per capita.

By comparison, Georgia invests $6 million a year in transit — 63 cents per person. Only three other states on the list invest less per capita than Georgia — Idaho (20 cents); Montana (43 cents); and Wyoming (54 cents). Not one of those three states could be considered urban, transit-oriented places.

And then we hear from Long that the state will not even contribute to the state-run Xpress bus system. With that kind of stance, what are the chances that the state will support commuter rail or MARTA or any other transit agency in the state?

As an aside to our dear state leaders, let this serve as a warning. Regional transit governance is the next big issue on the horizon. If the state wants to take control of our regional transit systems (be it through GRTA or another state authority), it must be prepared to pay a proportional amount of funding to whatever power it will have.

Meanwhile, the vacuum must be filled.

The State of Georgia needs to become a full partner in metro Atlanta’s plans to develop and maintain a first-class regional transit system.

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13 comments
writes_of_weigh
writes_of_weigh

Speaking of the State........any observers aware if PSC head Echols got the DNR's Sam Shortline train to operate to Hampton for the Atlanta Speedway race this weekend? IMHO, The State isn't "missing in action", (pausing to salute those true Heros who bacame POW's and MIA's)....... it(at least GDOT) is in POW status, hampered by luddites and lobbyites, who can't agree on anything(save that asphault is black, and concrete, white). Indeed....when Steve Polk(late of the Georgia Building Authority, and planet Earth) wished an excursion train to operate over Atlanta's (operating steel)"Beltline" it was done, and successfully I must add. And when the Georgia Department of Natural Resources wishes to connect I-75 tourists to Plains and Archery, via a state owned excursion train, that too, has been and is an ongoing accomplishment. Why OH why, do ya'll continue to expect GDOT to operate ANY sort of train, when quite clearly, any agency of state government seems so capable EXCEPT GDOT. It is quite apparent that Georgia government has begun to emulate the State of Texas model where the named state agencies exist to function in any and all manner except for their namesake function,

A supreme bamboozlement of the taxpayers, seemingly which predates the likes of LBJ, Ann Richards, and even W, in the Texas instance.

Sally Flocks
Sally Flocks like.author.displayName 1 Like

When it comes to funding for pedestrian access to transit, the Atlanta Regional Roundtable is also missing in action. The proposed project list contains just $22 million for bicycle or pedestrian projects. That's just over one-third of one percent of the $6.14 billion for regional transportation projects. Even the Georgia DOT recommended a higher minimum for safe access to transit than that.

In 2009 pedestrians accounted for one out of five transportation fatalities in the 10-county Atlanta region. One fourth of these occurred within 100 feet of transit stops. How about a fair share of funding for the safety of the three-fourths of transit users who get there on foot?

Regional planners have assured me that the 15% of funds for local projects can be spent for pedestrian projects. True. And as an Atlanta resident I have some optimism that pedestrian projects would be funded inside Atlanta's city limits. But how does that help pedestrians who use transit to travel regionally? If a pedestrian takes regional transit to travel to the suburbs, they face two choices after exiting a bus: walk 10 minutes out of their way to get to a crosswalk -- or put their lives in their hands -- and risk being charged with reckless conduct -- just to get across the street.

The recent conviction of Raquel Nelson for vehicular homicide after her son was killed as they attempted to cross a the street from a bus stop to their apartment building has generated national outrage. Over 156,000 people have signed a petition asking Cobb County to install a safe crossing close to the bus stop.

Instead of investing in much-needed pedestrian refuge islands, HAWK signals and other facilities that make it safe to cross the street, authorities continue to blame the victims. Earlier this week, Cobb County police rangers ticketed pedestrians who attempted the cross the street between the Marietta [bus] Transfer Center and a shopping center or the Department of Family and Child Services office. The nearest crosswalk was 1/4 mile away, a distance no pedestrian is willing to walk just to cross the street.

People in the Atlanta region are eager to see more transit in the region. But we shouldn't be dying to catch a bus.

Transit is dependent on safe pedestrian access.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

@Sally Flocks

The conviction of Raquel Nelson for vehicular homicide and the ticketing of pedustrians for reckless conduct in Cobb County that you speak of have nothing to do with protecting pedustrians and are very much socially/politically motivated.

Cobb County's prosecutorial conduct and treatment of pedustrians is about sending a message to a segment of the population that it is unwanted in that traditionally ultraconservative community that has long been ruled by right-wing politics.

Pedustrians (and the lower-income bracket that they come from) are seen as being the problem and a major symptom of why the right-wing power structure is losing control of their beloved once-exurban GOP-dominated hotbed of ultraconservative politics.

The right-wing power structure in Cobb is very anxious of losing control of what has been one of America's most proudly conservative communities and the by-the-book prosecution of and crackdown on pedustrians is the way that the conservative powers-that-be are acting out on that anxiety.

The powers-that-be in Cobb County don't "care" one iota about pedustrian safety, they only care about running out of the county those of a different race and class who pose a threat to their political rule so that they can stay in power and keep control of Cobb County's social and political structure for as long as possible as many longtime conservative residents are afraid that they are seeing the county in the early stages of turning into a place that resembles something that looks like DeKalb, Clayton or Gwinnett Counties.

Sally Flocks
Sally Flocks

@The Last Democrat in Georgia

Everyone is a pedestrian, not just those who come from "the lower income bracket." If Cobb County fails to recognize that, the cost of its paratransit and travel vouchers programs are likely to skyrocket as the population continues to age.

Planners at the Cobb County Department of Transportation do care about pedestrian safety. Most, however, don't know enough about the needs of pedestrians to have planned correctly. A few years ago, Cobb County DOT developed a countywide bike-ped plan.

Having little experiencing walking for transportation in their county, those who supervised the development of the plan failed to consider the critical role that convenient crossing facilities play in ensuring the safety of pedestrians who walk for transportation.

The consultants hired to develop the plan were bicycle planning specialists. And in developing the plan, they thought like cyclists, not pedestrians. The plan focuses on linear corridors for longer distance travel. The sections dealing with pedestrian identify sidewalk needs. Nowhere does the plan examine "hot spots" for pedestrian crashes, which is a critical element needed to prioritize where additional crossing facilities should be located.

The Cobb County bike-ped plan, like the ARC bike-ped plan, also focuses on "latent demand" -- the concept that people would bicycle or walk more if only they had the facilities needed to do so. This is a concept that is far more important to cyclists than it is to pedestrians. Few people in metro Atlanta ride bicycles for transportation -- so bicycle advocacy groups devote a lot of effort to activities that increase the number of "butts on bikes."

Research by ARC last year showed that 72% of transit trips begin with walking trips -- and 80% end with walking trips. Given that, we already know that transit corridors are where many people walk. Other research by ARC showed that 48% of pedestrian crashes in the region occurred within 300 feet of transit stops. Cobb County needs to update its bike-ped plan to incorporate the results of the outstanding research by ARC showing the interdependence of walking and pedestrian safety.

Cobb County, ARC, and others should quit planning for bicycles and pedestrians as though they have the same needs. Cyclists have as little interest in midblock crossings as pedestrians do in rumble strips.

In response to rising pedestrian fatalities, Cobb County DOT initiated a "Walk this Way" pedestrian safety campaign in 2010. The campaign advises pedestrians to "use crosswalks and wait for the walk signal." Contrary to the wishes of those who developed the campaign, you can't get pedestrians to use crosswalks if no crosswalks exist within

reasonable walking distance.

As Dr. Mark Rosenberg, the former Director of Injury Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wrote: “Since the very first car was invented we have been telling people to “be careful”—and it really doesn’t work. There are things that we can do to save pedestrian lives, but telling people to just be careful isn’t one of them.”

Cobb County, like other suburban counties with transit systems, needs to invest in median refuge islands, HAWK signals, lighting and other devices that will make it safe to access transit. Without that, suburban transit will be safe only for people who can drive to park-and-ride lots or garages at train stations.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

@Sally Flocks

When I said that "the powers-that-be in Cobb County don't care one iota about pedustrian safety", I wasn't necessarily talking about the Cobb County Department of Transportation in particular (though, I'm sure that pedustrian safety is a "top priority" at the Cobb DOT, HA!), I'm talking about the still-entrenched social ruling class in the community whose true feelings towards the communities growing lower class are reflected in these heavy-handed prosecutions of pedustrians who are just merely trying to cross busy streets where marked crosswalks are far and few between, in particular, pedustrians of a lower class and/or race who are too poor to afford cars and must walk across busy streets, etc (this includes poor whites, poor blacks, poor hispanics, etc).

There's a powerful faction of longtime conservative residents in Cobb who are very resentful of the socioeconomic changes that the community has and is still undergoing. This established faction of the population thinks that their beloved suburban middle-to-upper class ultraconservative hotbed is being invaded by a lower class plague that includes poor blacks from Atlanta and poor illegals from Mexico and Latin America. This somewhat rogue faction of the Cobb County establishment thinks that they can reverse the changes and run all of these people out through get-tough heavy-handed prosecutions for either relatively minor offenses or for inappropriate matters like in the case of Raquel Nelson being prosecuted for vehicular homicide in the case of her son being hit by a habitual hit-and-run traffic offender.

These people in Cobb County pushing these kinds of policies towards pedustrians don't care about how much bad press they get or how they come across looking in the national media, in fact they love the bad press because they think that it's sending a message to the world of how proudly conservative they are and that people who don't think like them, look like them or have the same bank accounts as them should stay out of Cobb County.

We're talking about a faction of the population in Cobb that doesn't hesitate to loudly proclaim and take pride in their ignorance. They actually truly think that prosecutions of people like Ms. Nelson are going to help run every non-white, non-conservative out of the county so that they can take back their community for upper middle class conservatives only. With that type of illlogical additude, pedustrian safety seems to be a bit down the totem pole, especially when it comes to pedustrian safety for lower class Cobb residents.

JRS56
JRS56 like.author.displayName 1 Like

W atlantans love our cars. (Until gas hits $5 per gallon)

I have been following the multi modal proposal for most of my professional career. It's a train with no wheels. it goes nowhere fast. We need a transportation center to bind together the fractious mass transit we currently have with better more appropriate forms of commuter options. It is in the states best interest to assist in funding a program that will help the Atlanta region thrive and remain the state's engine of growth.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

@JRS56

We may know that it's in the state's best interest, but the state itself seems to be too stupid and too incompetent to know that it even has an interest in the issue and even if they do know, they still don't seem to have to the intellect, the intelligence, the focus and the actual awareness to make it happen.

Gas is at hovering at near $4 per gallon, has already gotten close or hit near $5 per gallon (remember the regional gas crisises of 2005 and 2008 where we almost ran COMPLETELY out of gas), traffic is horrendous as North Georgia interstates and freeways are often parking lots during anything close to rush hour and peak periods and the population of North Georgia has for all intents and purposes exploded to reach close to six million. If the state doesn't know or isn't aware for a hard fact that it has an interest in providing leadership on a multimodal transportation system, especially after all of the glaringly obvious warning signs of explosive population growth, sky-high gas prices, crippling traffic jams and missed job opportunities, then the state never will know or "get it", I mean talk about the handwriting being on the wall...

I just guess that members of state government are just too busy engaging in blatant power grabs and high-profile petty food fights to see the forest for the trees.

Midtown Dave
Midtown Dave like.author.displayName 1 Like

This transportation referendum is a debacle. The campaign managers just quit, the project list is a mess, and the local leaders and the state aren't on the same page. Everybody needs to see this referendum for what it was when it passed the legislature last year - a chance for Republicans to kick the can down there road.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

"When it comes to transit funding, the State of Georgia is missing in action"

Take out the "When it comes to transit funding" part of that statement and you have a sentence that describes the TRUE state of governance in Georgia.

That's right, simply put, on nearly all matters besides lining their own personal pockets and padding their own bank accounts with other peoples' money (be it taxpayers. lobbyists, special interests, big business, etc), THE STATE OF GEORGIA IS MISSING IN ACTION. Don't take it personal as it's not just transportation that these idiots are hopelessly incompetently rudderless and clueless in providing leadership about....

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

"And then we hear from Long that the state will not even contribute to the state-run Xpress bus system. With that kind of stance, what are the chances that the state will support commuter rail or MARTA or any other transit agency in the state?"

The state can't even tie its own shoes without the direction of a paying lobbyist and even then, well....

The state is too busy doing what it does best which is attempting to unsuccessfully sink billions-of-dollars into HOT/Lexus Lanes boondoggles on Metro Atlanta interstates while mismanaging GDOT into being the laughingstock of the nation. You gotta give Todd Long credit for basically saying that the state can only mismanage one transportation agency at a time. Just who do you think they are, the Federal Government?

Trackbacks

  1. [...] When it comes to transit funding, the State of Georgia is missing … According to the most recent statistics (see Table 1-9) on the American Public Transportation Association website, the State of New York invests more than $3 billion a year in its transit systems — an average of $155 per [...]

  2. [...] Read More from original source- When it comes to transit funding, the State of Georgia is missing … [...]

  3. [...] Saporta points out that state DOT Planning Director Todd Long is wielding a lot of influence over the various project lists being bandied about by the Roundtable’s Executive Committee. This is taking place in other regions that are going through the same Transportation Investment Act process. But it’s striking that the DOT is big-footing metro Atlanta, because it and other state agencies have done so little to solve the metro area’s transportation problems. [...]

  4. [...] At the SaportaReport, Maria Saporta posted last week about the lack of vision and funding for transit in Atlanta: When It Comes To Transit Funding, The State Of Georgia Is Missing In Action. [...]

  5. […] If the referendum fails, GRTA will petition for state and local dollars on a year-to-year basis and face a “pretty good deal of uncertainty,” says Jannine Miller, the agency’s executive director. GDOT planning director Todd Long was less optimistic in a meeting last year with transportation roundtable members: “The state is not going to pick up the cost of Xpress. They will shut down Xpress” (via Saporta Report). […]