D.C. to Metro Atlanta: “No guarantee of federal funding for road, transit projects” in transportation sales tax

By David Pendered

Congress and the Obama administration have made it clear that Georgians will vote July 31 on the proposed transportation sales tax with no clue as to how much money the federal government may pay to support the projects.

This news is significant in metro Atlanta. The 10-county region is counting on the federal government to pay nearly 12 percent of the total $7.1 billion cost (in today’s dollars) of the road and transit projects to be built if voters approve a 1 percent sales tax for transportation.

TIA Investment List

The federal government is to provide 12 percent of the cost of metro Atlanta's transportation improvement program. Credit: Atlanta Regional Roundtable, David Pendered

Without the federal funding, it seems unlikely that all projects will be completed. Neither a contingency plan, nor a priority list of projects, was part of the recommendation from the Atlanta Regional Roundtable, the group of 21 elected officials that created the construction list.

Last week’s events in Washington appeared to continue the gridlock that has prevented Congress from passing a comprehensive federal transportation bill since 2009.

The conflict crystallized April 18. The day began with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood predicting that Congress will not pass a long-term highway bill before the presidential election. LaHood’s comment was followed by a House vote for a measure with provisions the White House already had promised to veto:

  • The House passed a resolution backed by Speaker John Boehner that will send the transportation funding issue to a House-Senate conference committee. House Resolution 4348 also extends the current transportation funding bill through September, three months longer than the date in the Senate’s stop-gap measure that was approved last month.
  • HR 4348 includes amendments that call for the approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline; for the continued use of the Highway Trust Fund to maintain harbors; and for states to regulate the disposal of hazardous coal ash in materials such as paving for roads – a move its sponsor said was designed to take the disposal issue out of the hands of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Click here to read about the bill, and to see the roll call vote.

Here are two comments that illustrate the partisan divide that was evident during the April 18 House debate, which was presided over by Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Newnan):

  • “What’s going on here is political,” Rep. Steve Cohan (D-Memphis) said during his protest of the Keystone oil amendment;
  • “There’s a lot of disappointment on the other side of the aisle, because this contains no earmarks, tax increases, or signs of bigger government,” said Rep. John Mica (R-Winter Park, Fl.), who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed contends federal transportation money should be fast-tracks to regions that, like Atlanta, initiate transportation upgrades before federal aid is promised.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed was interviewed at the same event where LaHood spoke – the launch of the news website PoliticoPro Transportation, which is to be a high-velocity report on policy issues including transportation. Reed was interviewed in his capacity as a big-city mayor and chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Committee on Transportation.

Reed called for special dispensation from the federal government for communities that tackle big transportation projects – such as the one contemplated in metro Atlanta.

“I believe any city or region in America that makes a decision not to wait for help, makes the decision to … do the hard things, ought to go to the head of the line with regard to the deployment of federal dollars,” Reed said. “There ought to be a pool of resources, certainly an investment bank … to make sure that communities that try to solve their own problems get federal help faster than those that decide not to.”

Click here to see the video of Reed’s interview.

 

About David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with nearly 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.
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12 comments
inatl
inatl

Are the republicans still proposing to cut out or greatly reduce funding of the Federal Transit side of the funding? 

 

As to Highway Dollars we will still get a lot those Federal Dollars since the state still has a significant stream of revenues dedicated by the state to only roads.   Granted if TIA doesn't pass we might not get as much money for new roads. 

 

BPJ
BPJ

It's true we can't be sure how much federal funding we get if the Transportation Investment Act passes. But if it doesn't pass, we know we'll get zilch.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @inatl

"As to Highway Dollars we will still get a lot those Federal Dollars since the state still has a significant stream of revenues dedicated by the state to only roads.   Granted if TIA doesn't pass we might not get as much money for new roads."

 

That significant stream of revenues isn't really that significant in the overall scheme of things as Georgia is 49th out of 50 states in per-capita transportation spending.

 

Meaning for as seemingly road-crazy as our state legislators may portend to be, they ain't exactly lightin'-it-up with transportation spending either.

 

Our surface road network is an undersized, underdeveloped, uncoordinated nightmare and our freeway network hasn't seen any significant modifications in over two decades while our state transportation agency (GDOT) is, for all intents and purposes, drowning in incompetence while aimlessly adrift in a state of total disarray.

 

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @inatl

"Are the republicans still proposing to cut out or greatly reduce funding of the Federal Transit side of the funding?"

 

Of course they are as many within the very-conservative right-wing fringe of the Republican Party are absolutely convinced that mass transit is part of a sinister plot by the U.N. and foreign governments to undermine the American way-of-life and install one world government in the U.S. (see the "Agenda 21" conspiracy theory).

inatl
inatl

 @The Last Democrat in Georgia I don't agree with your statement about the last two decades.   there has been significant roadway expansion in metro Atlanta during the past 20 years.  Heck even the past 5 years has seen capacity increases to the east side of 285, to lanes on GA 400 and the northern end of the downtown connector via new ramps to 17th street and the 14th street bridge and ramp rebuild that included a new direct lane to 10th St.

 

heck wasn't the massive 316-85 collector cd system built in the past 10 years?   and Gwinnett certainly has never stopped adding to its significant network of regional roads.  Just Like Fulton has been creating the parallel parkway system on either side of 400 during the past 10 years.  

 

I'm not sure how many roads you want to see built but its not like the Regional Transportation Plans haven't been taking in our share of roadway funding.

 

But we are also at not on the same page about if lane miles in GA is just the federal interstates or if they include all of the multilane highways such as 400, Peachtree industrial, 316, sugarloaf parkway, Buford Highway etc. etc.  

 

The problem isn't a lack of roadway capacity, the problem is we are one of the leading metro areas for Vehicle Miles Traveled Per Capita, in other words we drive too much.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @inatl

"The problem isn't a lack of roadway capacity, the problem is we are one of the leading metro areas for Vehicle Miles Traveled Per Capita, in other words we drive too much."

 

I totally agree that Atlantans drive too much and are completely overdependent on their automobiles, primarily because of the almost total lack of transit alternatives to driving and the massive amount of sprawling development that has been actively encouraged over the past four decades, but despite the massive overemphasis on the automobile, people still have to drive and still will drive in a metro area of six million people.

 

Transit-heavy cities still need roads as is the case in towns like Toronto, Chicago, New York, Boston, Washington D.C., etc, and auto-dominated cities like Miami, Dallas, Los Angeles, etc, have learned that they absolutely need transit (case-in-point: notoriously automobile-overdependent Los Angeles has been increasingly frantically implementing rail transit alternatives over the last 25 years in the form of light rail, heavy rail and regional commuter rail, in response to worsening massive gridlock, especially on the region's world-infamous freeway system).

 

If a notoriously automobile-overdependent city like Los Angeles can have a "Come-to-Jesus" moment and realize that it can't function without a viable mass transit system, than an auto-overdependent city like Atlanta can also have a "Come-to-Jesus" moment and accept that it does not have much of a future without substantially-increased investment in mass transit while also continuing to make the necessary investments in its road network that even transit-heavy cities still have to make to continue to function, hopefully Atlanta and the State of Georgia won't wait until it is too late to do so.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @inatl

 Even with substantially-increased investment in the road network (something that, in addition to substantially-increased transit spending by the state, also remains somewhat very improbable at this point), there will still be a tremendous demand for mass transit service in the Atlanta Region as increased transit service is just simply something that people expect to be widely and conveniently available in a major metro area of six million people that bills itself as the Capital of the Southeastern U.S. and home of the World's Busiest Airport.

 

How can a city gives itself such top billing have such a crappy and inconvenient transportation network?

 

When it comes to transportation spending, a growing metro area like Atlanta, whose population has more than doubled over the last 20 years or so and tripled over the last 30 years or so, can't just upgrade its transportation (and water, and education) infrastructure to accommodate its current population, it has to upgrade its infrastructure with an eye on the future to accommodate the population and economic growth that it has not yet experienced, but expects to see because of its past track record of explosive growth.

 

 

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @inatl

"I'm not sure how many roads you want to see built but its not like the Regional Transportation Plans haven't been taking in our share of roadway funding."

 

Georgia is currently 49th out of 50 states in the amount that it spends on transportation funding, so even though this state spends virtually nothing on critically-needed modes of mass transit, it ain't exactly lightin'-it-up with spending on roads, either, especially in Metro Atlanta.

 

For each one of the examples of roads that you have named that have received modifications better handle traffic flow or have been built as surface collector/relief roads over the last few years (I-75/85 in Midtown, GA 400 in N. Fulton, I-285 @ GA 10 in DeKalb, I-85 @ GA 316, N. Fulton collectors, Gwinnett collectors), there are dozens of roads in the Atlanta Region that remain in severe need of attention (I-285 anywhere, I-20 E, I-20 W, I-75 N, I-75 S, I-85 S, GA 400 N up to GA 140 jct, GA 20, GA 120/Kimball Br Rd/Abbots Br Rd, Pleasant Hill Rd, P.I.B. N of the GA 141 jct up to Sugarloaf Pkwy, GA 141 N of the P.I.B. jct through Norcross & Johns Creek up to the Forsyth County line, GA 124 through the shopping area in Snellville, GA 316, US 41/Cobb Pkwy, E-W Connector, I-575, I-985, I-85 N beyond the I-985 split, Camp Creek Pkwy, GA 6, GA 85, US 19-41 S of I-75 jct, I-675 in Clayton & Henry Counties, Hairston Rd in DeKalb, GA 140/Holcomb Br. Rd/Jimmy Carter Blvd between GA 400 & US 23/GA 13/Buford Hwy jct, Rockbridge Rd, Five Forks Trickum Rd, GA 9 N of Alpharetta into Milton, etc, etc, etc, you get the point).

 

The problem hasn't been that the State of Georgia has been spending too much on roads, the problem has been that the State of Georgia hasn't spent very much on roads and has been almost absolutely-positively completely nothing on transit.

 

I know that you may question the need for any additional road funding after seeing transit neglected for so long, but road spending is important, too as instead of being overdependent on what is a largely-neglected road network at the expense and total ignorance of transit, both transit and roads are supposed to compliment each other as the main modes in a transportation network that is multimodal (automobiles, buses, trains, bikes, walking).

 

Even transit-heavy cities like Toronto, Chicago, Washington, Philadelphia, Boston, New York where the heavy and frequent use of mass transit is a necessity (something that we are finding out the very hard way in Atlanta) have to spend money to keep up extensive road networks (in fact, Toronto is home to the busiest stretch of roadway on the planet as Ontario Hwy 401 carries more than 500,000 vehicles a day through the Northside of Toronto and a new toll bypass, Ontario Hwy 407, was recently built through the far-Northern suburbs of Toronto to relieve the ultra-busy 401).

 

Even if the Atlanta Region were to suddenly see an improbable spike in transit spending by a very reluctant and hostile state government, the roads would still need to be tended to as very-heavy use of automobiles is still a fact-of-life even in transit-heavy and transit-dependent cities, some of whom (like Toronto and Chicago, in particular whom both have surface road systems based on a N-S, E-W grid with major diagonal routes) have better surface road networks than Atlanta (whose surface road network is a based on a network of ancient Indian trails that resembles a plate of spaghetti). 

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @inatl

 "Just Like Fulton has been creating the parallel parkway system on either side of 400 during the past 10 years."

 

I can't complain about the construction of Westside Parkway (parallel to the west of 400 between Mansell Road in Roswell and GA 9/Cumming Hwy in Milton) which is intended as a local collector road in North Fulton, though North Point Pkwy was built as a road purely to help to bring traffic off of and connect GA 400 to North Point Mall while Windward Parkway, which intersects and crosses GA 400 between GA 9 and McGinnis Ferry Road, was built to generate traffic to strip mall big-box retail developments between the junctions of GA 400 and GA 9.

 

Even with the recent addition of extra travel lanes on GA 400 up to McFarland Parkway, the GA 400 roadway remains way overcapacity during peak hours, due mainly to the extreme and almost total lack of transit options in a very-heavily traveled corridor, so the addition of anything that helps to relieve congestion on that freeway is greatly appreciated.  

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @inatl

"and Gwinnett certainly has never stopped adding to its significant network of regional roads."

 

Nor should Gwinnett stop investing in their road network as Gwinnett County's population has grown by over 1100% in the last 40+ years from 72,000 in 1970 to over 810,000 circa-2012.  The biggest problems with Gwinnett's road network is that Sugarloaf Parkway from P.I.B. (P'tree Industrial Boulevard) to GA 20/Grayson Highway was built as a surface road with at-grade intersections instead of a freeway or tolled expressway that would have provided for a better connection to-and-from GA 316 and I-85 while Pleasant Hill Road was built, not as a road that would relieve traffic, but as a major road that would generate and INCREASE traffic in and around the Gwinnett Place Mall (basically Pleasant Hill Road was built to bring traffic from North Fulton, Central Gwinnett and I-85 into Gwinnett Place Mall which was one of the hottest malls on the entire country in its heydays from its grand opening in 1984 to the opening of the Mall of Georgia in 1999 which, with the opening of Discover Mills a couple of years later, set Gwinnett Place on a course of rapid and irreversible decline).

 

Other than that, roads Satellite Blvd, which runs parallel to the west of I-85 and Shackleford Rd/Breckinridge Rd/North Brown Rd, are roads that were constructed mainly to encourage industrial development along the I-85/I-985 North Corridor through Gwinnett while also providing a surface alternative to I-85 for very local travel (basically they were developmental roads that were designed to attract industrial business and encourage industrial traffic and further the property tax base rather than being built to relieve congestion). 

 

While a road like Ronald Reagan Parkway was intended as a road that would connect I-85 with a proposed shopping mall in Snellville that was never built in an area that instead features a seemingly endless series of strip malls and commercial overdevelopment that contributes to gridlock every night on an undersized GA 124.

 

 

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @inatl

"there has been significant roadway expansion in metro Atlanta during the past 20 years.  Heck even the past 5 years has seen capacity increases to the east side of 285, to lanes on GA 400 and the northern end of the downtown connector via new ramps to 17th street and the 14th street bridge and ramp rebuild that included a new direct lane to 10th St."

 

If you're talking about that project that rebuilt the I-285 interchange at GA 10/Memorial Drive, that wasn't a project that really added any capacity to the current eight-lane I-285 roadway (as in additional general purpose travel lanes).  That project only added new left-turn lanes on the Memorial Drive overpass from GA 10 to I-285 Northbound and Southbound while lengthening the exit and entrance ramps between I-285 and GA 10/Memorial Drive so that peak-hour traffic will not backup so easily onto I-285 or Memorial Drive during morning and evening rush hours.

 

The lanes that were added to GA 400 were LONG-overdue due to the almost total lack of transit options (besides an express bus or two) in a GA 400 North Corridor that has experienced massive growth over the last three decades while the modifications to the north end of the Downtown Connector were very much needed to relieve severe traffic stress from I-75/85 Northbound through Downtown and Midtown where the already intense traffic congestion frequently turns to total gridlock during the evening rush hour (trust me, I've PERSONALLY been stuck on that road many a weekday afternoon and evening).

 

Though it should be noted that the modifications on the north end of the Downtown Connector did not add any new general-purpose travel lanes to the roadway, it only modified the interchanges at 10th, 14th & 17th Streets to make exiting the I-75/85 Downtown Connector Northbound and the I-75 Northwest Expwy and I-85 Northeast Expwy SB much easier to exit helping to relieve some very intense rush hour stress from those very heavily-traveled roads.

 

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @inatl

"heck wasn't the massive 316-85 collector cd system built in the past 10 years?"

 

Yes it was, but the I-85/316 project had been on the boards since the late 1980's shortly after Gwinnett Place Mall opened helping to make that junction even more of  a traffic nightmare then it was already going to be anyways being the junction of a major commuter highway (316) and a major trans-continental highway (I-85).  Just it took GDOT almost 20 years to "find" the money so that they could finally get around to working on that long-overdue and critically-needed project.

 

I say that the 85-316 project was critically-needed because one of the key features of that project was eliminating the deadly high-speed left-lane merge from 316 Westbound to I-85 Southbound, a deadly left-lane merge that has been the bane of many an I-85 morning rush-hour commuter's existence over the years due to the deadly accidents caused by 316 WB traffic trying to merge directly into the high-speed left-lane of I-85 SB.  Kudos to GDOT for finally getting around to completing that long-awaited project, Lord knows it has made my life MUCH easier and much less harrowing.