State legislators fail to give MARTA the needed flexibility on how it spends local funds

By Maria Saporta

It gets so bloody depressing.

Once again, MARTA has gotten screwed. This time, it was at the hands of the State Rep. Mike Jacobs, State Rep. Steve Davis and other misguided colleagues who have lost sight of what being a legislator is all about — to act in the best interests of the state.

In the closing minutes of the 2012 legislative session, political motives and missteps failed to remove the noose around MARTA’s neck that forces the transit agency to spend 50 percent of the sales tax it collects on capital improvements and 50 percent on operations.

In other words, MARTA was denied the flexibility of spending the sales tax revenue it collects for its most pressing needs. The 50/50 restriction had been waived for three years. But the failure of the legislature to act on MARTA’s behalf means that the 50/50 handcuffs will be reinstated in a year — hindering the transit agency’s ability to operate.

MARTA will hold a special board meeting on Monday, April 2 “to discuss financial matters and corridor planning studies” at 10:30 a.m. at its headquarters building at 2424 Piedmont Road — the Lindbergh MARTA station).

The meeting is being held to figure out what options it has to respond to what happened during the 2012 legislative session.

The saddest part is that Rep. Jacobs, chairman of the MARTA Oversight Committee, ought to have known (and acted) better.

He could have urged his colleagues to permanently remove the 50/50 restriction, but instead he chose to clutter the legislation with giving more power on the MARTA board to North Fulton mayors (a totally unrelated issue). And MARTA got caught up in his push to create a City of Brookhaven. Again, another unrelated issue.

The Sierra Club’s Neill Herring put it this way:

“Jacobs is ultimately at fault in my opinion,” Herring wrote me in an email. “He was the main voice for keeping legislative control over the disposition of the sales tax receipts (the 50-50 issue). He said it was a “crude but necessary tool for fiscal management” or words very like that.”

Here is the irony. MARTA continues to be viewed in the public transit world as one of the most efficient and well-run transit agencies in the country. But you would never know that if you listened to our prejudicial state legislators.

So MARTA continues to be used as a political football in a twisted game between state and regional leaders. (Please read my former AJC colleague Jay Bookman’s column on this topic).

State legislators tried to create a carrot and stick approach with their regional transit governance bill. Do we want regional transit governance and the removal of the 50/50 restriction? Then give the state ultimate control of the regional transit agency.

Such a proposal was so flawed that the transit governance bill failed. It is ironic that the push to have the state take over MARTA and Atlanta regional came from a Republican-dominated legislature that claims to believe in local control.

Let’s recap.

The State of Georgia provides virtually no operating dollars for MARTA, yet it continues to hold a heavy, self-righteous stick over the transit agency. Since Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb pay the MARTA sales tax, they should be the entities calling the shots — not the state legislature.

The 50/50 restriction is just as flawed. No other major transit agency is forced to operate under such an inflexible rule. In recent years, MARTA has needed the flexibility to spend its sales tax revenues on operations. By not having that flexibility, MARTA will once again be facing more budget and service cuts and/or another fare increase.

Whose interest does that serve?

State legislators also are quick to criticize MARTA’s finances and say it needs to find other forms of revenue. But Rep. Davis killed the possibility of permitting MARTA to contract with local governments outside of Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb to plan, implement and operate rail transit.

MARTA is the only transit agency in the state with any expertise in rail. But local governments who want to start providing rail in their jurisdictions can’t contract with MARTA, even in a competitive bidding situation.

And whose interest does that serve?

This phenomenon of punishing MARTA for the sins of the legislators is not new.

Word has it that MARTA was used as the bargaining chip to create a county of Milton. When the Transportation Investment Act (HB 277) was passed, it included a restriction that none of the money collected by the one-percent sales tax could fund MARTA’s existing operations.

MARTA was the only transit agency in the state to be prohibited from receiving the TIA dollars for operations. Supposedly, if a certain legislator had been able to get a vote to create a Milton County, she would have taken out MARTA restriction.

Again, who is served by such vicious and misguided attacks on MARTA?

Certainly not the Atlanta region — and by extension, certainly not the state of Georgia.

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82 comments
ScottNAtlanta
ScottNAtlanta

I have an idea.  Next legislative session, MARTA should suspend service for 1 day...no trains, no buses, NOTHING...lets see the morons under the dome deal with THAT fallout.  It would certainly get the message out as to the value MARTA brings to the table

GabrielSterling
GabrielSterling

@pdsnyder @mariasaporta @saportareport The flexibility for #MARTA spending was killed by Dems in the closing hr, b/c they opposed N. Fulton

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

And this just in, in an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution that touches on the exact same subject that is under discussion on this blog:

http://www.ajc.com/news/georgia-government/marta-service-cuts-looming-1405163.html

 

"MARTA service cuts looming........MARTA General Manager Beverly Scott warned Monday that the transit agency needed to start preparing for deep service cuts in part because the state legislature failed to lift regulations on how much it can spend on operations......."We will have to gut significant parts of the service," Scott said."

 

"MARTA grapples financially because it depends on sales tax."

jh
jh

I live in a city of over 75,000 people in Fulton County and have ZERO Marta service - zip, zero, none. And as long as I've lived here, I've paid my 1 cent sales tax for NOTHING. So - what's unfair about wanting capital expansion to resume so I can get service....I'm not even demanding rail, we'll take a bus, a short bus...he!! - even a rickshaw. Or, give me a say on the board - let my city appoint a representative - we pay the money and so far have been TOTALLY ignored by the Commissioners appointed by the crooks in downtown Atlanta. This article is another example of  someone to pay for a service that benefits everyone but me. I don't mind pitching in but He!!, I at least want to get SOME benefit for my money. Like the Beltway - half a Billion p!ssed away for something that has ZERO traffic benefit.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

Also, while local heavy rail systems in New York and Boston may not utilize zone-pricing fares, the regional exurban-to-urban core commuter rail networks that serve those very major cities most certainly do.

http://www.mbta.com/fares_and_passes/rail/

http://www.mbta.com/fares_and_passes/?eid=10512&sidebar=false

http://lirr42.mta.info/

http://www.njtransit.com/sf/sf_servlet.srv?hdnPageAction=TrainTo

http://www.njtransit.com/sf/sf_servlet.srv?hdnPageAction=TrainSchedulesFrom

 

 

inatl
inatl

"VERY limited freeway and surface road infrastructure (even more limited than Metro Atlanta's severely-limited road infrastructure)"  Am I reading this correctly?  Atlanta is one of the leaders in lane miles per person (we've built to many roads). http://tlcminnesota.org.phtemp.com/Resources/Policy_Briefs/HighwayLaneMiles2004.pdf

 

Transit usage also increases when local zoning regs do not require so much parking that employers basically end up giving parking away for free even though the cost of a parking deck space as of several years ago was about $40 a month.    Having to pay the true cost of parking or at least employers offering Parking Cash Out incentives is a hugely effective way of increasing transit ridership.  http://www.bestworkplaces.org/pdf/ParkingCashout_07.pdf

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @ScottNAtlanta

 That's a very good idea actually.  I can imagine the Legislature's reaction after traffic is backed for nearly 50 miles in nearly every direction to and from Downtown Atlanta during morning and evening rush hours.

pdsnyder
pdsnyder

@GabrielSterling Take your psuedo-truths elsewhere, compadre.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

@ jh: 

"I live in a city of over 75,000 people in Fulton County and have ZERO Marta service - zip, zero, none. And as long as I've lived here, I've paid my 1 cent sales tax for NOTHING."

 

That sounds a whole lot like Johns Creek.

 

Even though Johns Creek is considered by most to be a very affluent area, especially in comparison to Central and South Fulton where there is an understandably protective and even possessive attitude towards MARTA, it is understandable how many who live in North Fulton could want more service, especially with how bad the rush hour traffic is on Hwy 141 and Hwy 400 up there.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @inatl

 Also, something to note in the statistics provided in the link that you provided is that while Atlanta appears as fourth in the nation in highway lane miles per 10,000 inhabitants, the three metro areas ahead of Atlanta on the list, Dallas/Fort Worth, St. Louis and Houston have pursued a transportation management strategy of substantial transportation expansion.

Houston (5.9 million) has aggressively pursued a strategy of MASSIVE highway expansion (and when I say massive, I mean "MASSIVE" as there are sections of Interstate 10 on the westside of Houston that have been widened to as many 26 lanes in width) with massive freeway widenings, conversions of surface roads to tollways and aggressive pursuit of new toll road construction and expansion of existing toll roads.

Dallas/Fort Worth (6.3 million) has been (and continues to be) very aggressive in a much more balanced approach of massive toll road expansion (Dallas has six toll roads compared to Atlanta's single toll road) and rail transit expansion of light rail and commuter rail (Dallas now has 106 miles of rail transit track compared to Atlanta's 48 miles of rail transit track).

St. Louis (2.8 million or only half the population of Atlanta and Houston and less-than-half the population of Dallas-Fort Worth) has been aggressive in expanding its access rail transit network with the implementation and expansion of its popular light rail service which serves key attractions and locations within the city (the airport, the Gateway Arch, Busch Stadium, the Zoo, etc). 

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @inatl

"Am I reading this correctly?  Atlanta is one of the leaders in lane miles per person (we've built to many roads)."

Thanks for the link and the info.

Atlanta may be one of the leaders in the nation in highway lane miles, but keep-in-mind that those lane miles apply only to major mulitlane highways (like I-75, I-85, I-20, I-285, GA 400, etc), not necessarily surface streets and roads upon which the region is even more heavily dependent (random surface roads like the heavily-used two-lane Five Forks Trickum Road in Gwinnett; the heavily-used GA 120 in Gwinnett and North Fulton which includes many two-lane segments, the four-lane US 29-78-278/Ponce De Leon Avenue or the six-lane Peachtree Road in Atlanta, the heavily-used and often congested two-lane LaVista Road in DeKalb) as when it comes to surface roads, the Atlanta Region is SEVERELY-LACKING by the self-admission of the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Also keep-in-mind that it has been nearly 25 years since the "Freeing-the-Freeways" massive freeway expansion project was effectively completed in the late 1980's when the population of Greater Atlanta was less than half of what it is today with only about just under three million inhabitants then (2.9 million is the official metro population counted in the 1990 Census).

Since then, the population of Greater Atlanta has more than DOUBLED to over 5.8 million inhabitants (a 100% growth rate) during a time when the transportation infrastructure, which was considered one of the best on the continent and even slightly ahead of its time when the freeway expansion project was completed and combined with the assets of MARTA (which was then considered one of the best urban mass transit systems in North America, believe-it-or-not) remained virtually unchanged and even regressed in some instances when it comes to access to rail transit relative the the explosive growth of the population and cutbacks in transit rail service.

The Georgia Department of Transportation, as comically-inept and wildly dysfunctional as they may be, has openly admitted that the freeway system around Metro Atlanta is both physically and politically built-out while the surface road network, while in need of widespread immediate improvement to accommodate the increased traffic that has resulted from the explosive population growth of the last three decades.

inatl
inatl

 @The Last Democrat in Georgia There is bus service on 400.  Upgraded I would argue because they fixed the shoulders to allow the buses to avoid traffic.  Though they are trying to take that away now and let cars use the shoulders thus negatively impacting several bus routes.  

 

Running a bus route to downtown johns creek unfortunately doesn't have much ridership per mile due to the density and land use patterns there as well as the fact that Johns Creek might as well be in Gwinnett or at least geographically its surrounded by gwinnett making bus service by MARTA more difficult from an access point of view.

 

Finally the service that would happen to downtown johns creek would be bus service, this isn't a capital issue but an operating issue since running the buses costs money in terms of gas and drivers.  So not lifting the 50/50 split creates the need to cut bus service.

inatl
inatl

 @The Last Democrat in Georgia  I'm not certain that the definition of highways is restricted to interstates and GA 400 and/or if the so called lack of surface roads exists.  Bottom line metro Atlanta has one of the highest Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) rates of any major metro area.    So its not a lack of supply but too much demand.   

 

And part of the reason for that is the whole freeing the freeways effort that you mention that incentivized  or subsidized sprawl thus taking away or competing  against more development and density around the MARTA heavy rail stations that were being completed in the similar time frame. 

 

A lesson that is a factor in my opposition to the Regressive TIA sales tax since its repeating the mistakes of the past and feeding two different types of development patterns.    Until we synch up development patterns and thus better managing demand, throwing more cash at transportation supply won't provide much relief.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @inatl  @Burroughston Broch

 But it's not just the City of Detroit and/or just Metro Detroit that is losing population, it's the entire state of Michigan that is losing population at an alarming clip and is struggling mightily along with its largest city.

And NYC may be more vibrant than ever, but the population of 8 million of NYC proper only represents just over one-third of the entire population of over 21 million people that live in the greater metropolitan area that surrounds the city and includes parts of four states (NY, NJ, CT & PA).

It's not just the 8 million people in NYC proper that contributes heavily to the population growth of Metro Atlanta, North Georgia and the rest of the Eastern Seaboard south of Maryland, but the 21 million of Greater NYC and even the metro areas of Philadelphia, Baltimore and even Washington DC that has played rather very heavily into the population growth of Metro Atlanta over the last few four decades, with NYC leading the charge of migration down the East Coast of the U.S. between Maryland and Florida.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @Burroughston Broch

Though it should noted that Georgia's biggest sources of "growth" and the resulting overcrowding from those migrating from other parts of the country for so-called "greener" economic and even social pastures is from the Northeast and the Midwest, most specifically the states of New York and Michigan, respectively.

 

As we've repeatedly witnessed with the administration of NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, government in that state has a tendency to vastly overreach and exert control in places where it shouldn't.

 

In Michigan the lethal combination of a hostile business climate, failure to adequately diversify the state's economy from an overdependence on manufacturing and very cold and miserable winters have teamed together to make Michigan one of the nation's few population LOSERS where over 60 of that state's 83 counties are losing population.

 

Metro Detroit actually LOST over 140,000 people during the decade of the 2000's, the same decade in which Metro Atlanta GAINED over 1.6 million people.  Metro Atlanta gained more than ten times the amount of people that Metro Detroit LOST during that decade. 

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @Burroughston Broch

 Not-to-mention that many of the reverberations of an anti-business climate in California are being felt as far away as here in Georgia where we have a higher population than many would expect of those who have moved here from California to get away from a hostile business climate, a sky-high cost-of-living that is escalating, a state government that is on the verge of financial collapse, domination of street gangs in some quarters, horrific traffic congestion and rush hour gridlock, overcrowding, etc.

 

A situation of people fleeing California in droves to escape a less-than-desirable quality-of-living situation that I can personally attest to as I have a buddy whose entire family moved here to Georgia from California to escape to "greener pastures" so-to-speak (his wife moved here to Georgia from Brooklyn, New York for many of the same reasons that people are fleeing California in droves).

 

 

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

 @The Last Democrat in Georgia 

The people moving into California are in general blue-collar and looking to get on the welfare-state gravy train. Businesses and white-collar people (except for Silicon Valley and Hollywood), highly taxed to pay for the welfare state, are leaving in droves.

The 10% population increase during 2000-2010 is the smallest since the first census in 1860. The estimated increase 2010-2011 is 1%, continuing that trend. Why do you think that Washington, Oregon, and Nevada grew so much faster than California during 2000-2010? Well-to-do people and businesses leaving California.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @Burroughston Broch

"My point in mentioning the article is that regions in California are doing part of this Agenda 21 that you were snickering up your sleeve about.Methinks you should look again."

 

I wouldn't necessarily conflate government overreach with an international conspiracy by the U.N. or Agenda 21 as California governments, both state and local, have a history of increasing government interference in free markets and overreach in many, if not most facets of human life.

 

From overly-restrictive gun laws that are very much likely in violation of the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, to laws that are seemingly tailored to make affordable living and doing business in the state all but impossible, the law that you mentioned and that is written about in the article that you provided a link isn't necessarily evidence of a larger international plot to force dense living upon everyone, but just the latest case of an escalating pattern of blatant unnecessary government overreach by a government body in the state of California which has a well-documented history of such behavior where there is a pervasive mindset that people need to be told what to do by the government instead of being left to make the decision for themselves.

 

In this case, mandating that new development only occur along dense corridors along rail transit lines is TOTALLY UNNECESSARY as the market is already moving very decisively in that direction due to traffic gridlock and an increasing lack of undeveloped land to build-on. 

 

California would be best to just step aside and let the market decide for itself where to locate new development as it was already doing before the government interfered with what was a very productive process.

 

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @Burroughston Broch

 It should also be noted that, as we speak, land spectulators are engaging in a major land/parcel-buying binge in Downtown Atlanta near the Five Points area in the immediate vicinity of the planned Multimodal passenger rail/bus station in anticipation of long-term appreciation of land values due to the convenient access to increased future rail transit service that these properties will provide in light of a transportation project that could have the same impact on Atlanta that Grand Central Station has had on New York City.

 

No lie, the multimodal rail terminal has the potential to have that dramatic of an impact on Atlanta.

http://www.atlantadowntown.com/initiatives/green-line-plan/multi-modal-passenger-terminal

http://www.dot.state.ga.us/aboutGeorgiadot/Board/Documents/2011Presentations/Feb/MMPT.pdf

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @Burroughston Broch

 Another interesting tidbit that clearly illustrates the assertion that developers will be attracted to sites around future rail transit stations is the tiny exurban city of Oakwood, Georgia (population 3,970) which is located near the junction of I-985 & GA Hwy 53 in Northeast Georgia just south of Gainesville.

 

Oakwood is located directly on and straddles a major Norfolk Southern/Amtrak freight rail line that is slated for high-speed intercity passenger rail service between Atlanta and New York and high-frequency exurban-to-urban core commuter rail service, the first leg of which is service between Atlanta and Gainesville

 

Oakwood officials are well-aware of the plans to substantially expand passenger rail service through their town and are planning future development accordingly by making a future commuter rail station, which at this point looks like it may not be built for many years, the centerpiece of their future development efforts, which can be seen here:

http://www.oakwood2030.com/Transit-Station.htm

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @Burroughston Broch

 It should also be noted that suburban cities and towns like Norcross and Duluth in Gwinnett are also forging ahead with comprehensive redevelopment of their historic downtowns, with Duluth making significant inroads and Norcross being pretty far along in the redevelopment process and even lobbying HEAVILY to be the site of a future MARTA station on an expanded Northeast line or whatever color line they call it now.

 

Though the mother of examples in development being attracted to existing rail transit stations is undoubtedly Downtown Decatur who a few years ago redesigned and reconstructed their MARTA heavy rail transit/subway station to better fit in asthetically with the community and have even made the MARTA station and the easy access to mass transit it provides a key part of the continuing development and redevelopment efforts of its historic downtown which has an undeniable bohemian feel to it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decatur_(MARTA_station)

http://www.itsmarta.com/ew-dec-overview.aspx

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @Burroughston Broch

"As far as developers FLOCKING to areas around rail stations, can you cite evidence of that here?"

 

I'll do you one better and cite examples of developers and speculators flocking to rail transit stations (in these cases future commuter rail stations) that are as of yet to even be built.

 

Downtown Woodstock, Downtown Suwanee and Downtown Smyrna are prime examples of the so-called "new suburbanism" in which new residential and commercial development has been springing up in historic downtown areas with existing mature development next to existing freight rail lines near the sites of future commuter rail stations on the premise that high-frequency exurban-to-urban core commuter rail service will someday service these areas.

http://www.suwanee.com/economicdevelopment.towncenter.php

http://www.oldetownewoodstock.com/

http://www.smyrnacity.com/index.aspx?page=122 

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @Burroughston Broch

 "Of course, as people and business continue to desert California, perhaps little new development will be needed."

 

People who are looking to actually make a profit in business and not be faced with an escalating tax burden may flee California out of necessity, but there is so much foreign migration into California (both legal and illegal as has been well-documented) that the population keeps climbing at a pretty heady rate (for the time being, anyway).

 

Example:  The population of California is currently around 37.7 million, up from 33.9 million in 2000 while Los Angeles has become the second-largest Spanish speaking city in the world, second only to Mexico City in the number of people speaking Spanish within its environs.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @Burroughston Broch

 Los Angeles in particular also faces a problem of EXTREME to EXCEPTIONAL traffic congestion and gridlock on a scale of somewhere around five times that of Atlanta.  Yes, imagine having a traffic congestion gridlock problem that is FIVE TIMES worse than Atlanta.

 

Despite having a freeway system that is amongst the most comprehensive in the world for any major metro area, the freeway system just simply cannot handle the peak-hour demands put on it by a much-larger and increasingly dense population as there is something like 18 million people in the Greater Los Angeles Basin, which as they have found out the VERY hard way, makes use of mass transit a necessity.

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

 @The Last Democrat in Georgia My point in mentioning the article is that regions in California are doing part of this Agenda 21 that you were snickering up your sleeve about.Methinks you should look again.

As far as developers FLOCKING to areas around rail stations, can you cite evidence of that here? MARTA ballyhooed BellSouth consolidating office space around Lindbergh a few years ago, but that's been pretty much it.

The developers will FLOCK to those locations in California because that will be the only place they can do business. Of course, as people and business continue to desert California, perhaps little new development will be needed.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @Burroughston Broch

 What's even  more interesting about California is the geographical limitations to "sprawl" that the major cities on the Pacific Coast face.

 

The Los Angeles Basin reached build-out status sometime around the year 2000, meaning that there are effectively no more "greenfields" available for new development within the L.A. Basin, as all of the greenfield parcels have been developed.

 

The focus in the L.A. Basin has now turned to redeveloping existing residential and commercial development (an example of which is how people in many parts of Metro Atlanta were tearing down existing single-family homes and replacing them with McMansions both ITP and OTP alike during the real estate boom years of the 2000's).

 

While both San Diego and the San Francisco Bay Area also have substantial geographical limitations that make further highway construction and the traditional lower-density suburban "sprawl" that results increasingly impossible.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @Burroughston Broch

 

Even here in Metro Atlanta, we have already been seeing successful high-density developments being built and even thriving in some cases as the longtime low-density suburban cul-de-sac subdivision model of development while isn't anywhere nearly as bankable for real estate developers as it once was up through the 1990's.

 

Here in Metro Atlanta many of the newest residential real estate developments over the last decade or so have been sometimes three or four times as dense as they used to be as density, even in far-flung suburban and exurban areas has become a selling point in a turn of the market that once thought to be highly improbable.

 

Developers have happily gone along with the turn of the market towards more high-density residential real estate development because (in a good market, anyway) they have quickly figured out that can make three or four times the amount of profit selling brownstone (and brick, etc) rowhouses than they would have made selling traditional single-family homes in subdivisions with much lower densities (more homes per acre = more profit).

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @Burroughston Broch

 The problem with the State of California is that instead of "Letting the market decide for itself" as many Conservatives and free-market analysis would say (a point that I agree with, by the way) they are attempting to manipulate the market with the overbearing hand of government.

 

Manipulating the market to require more density is totally unnecessary, especially since the market is ALREADY deciding for itself to move towards more density in residential development.

 

The State of California doesn't need to regulate that new homes can only be built in narrowly-defined corridors, as all they basically need to do to encourage more density if they so desire is to laydown viable mass transit lines (rail and bus) in pre-existing high-density corridors where they are sustainable. 

 

Developers will FLOCK to the areas surrounding the rail transit stations and adjoining the high-density bus lines.

 

 

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

 @The Last Democrat in Georgia In an interesting parallel, this weekend's (April 7-8) Wall Street Journal has an opinion piece on California governments requiring densification of most new housing into narrowly defined corridors. Web link: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303302504577323353434618474.html. It's an interesting read about the future of the People's Republic of California.

 

 No mention of ALEC or Agenda 21 could I find, but I didn't review the 210 comments.

 

There might be some truth in Agenda 21, so I don't think that laughing up your sleeves is the correct approach.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @ScottNAtlanta  @inatl

 Speaking of Chip Rogers, he believes in and subscribes heavily to the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory in which those on the extreme right-wing believe that efforts to increase density of development and access to rail mass transit are part of a vast international left-wing conspiracy to force all Americans into dense living spaces near railroad tracks and take away their cars so that the New World Order, spearheaded by the United Nations can unseat the U.S. Federal Government and replace them with one world government.  No lie:

http://clatl.com/gyrobase/creative-loafings-2012-golden-sleaze-awards/Content?oid=5135264&storyPage=2

"The "Black Helicopters" Award

Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock

If you want to waste a few hours of your life, ask a Tea Party member about "Agenda 21." Developed by the United Nations in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the voluntary program was designed as a blueprint to help communities lessen their impact on the environment. But Tea Partiers and conspiracy theorists remain convinced it's a vehicle for U.N.-sponsored troops to march people out of their subdivisions and cars and into Soviet-style tenements and overcrowded trains. Enter Rogers, one of the upper chamber's most influential and powerful members, who introduced a mind-bender of a resolution that says Agenda 21 promotes "radical, so-called 'sustainable development'" and "views the American way of life of private property ownership, single-family homes, private car ownership and individual travel choices, and privately owned farms all as destructive to the environment." When not battling the New World Order, the good senator — who, whoa, dude, represents Senate District 21 — was pleasing his corporate overlords, especially telecommunications companies. Inspired by the free-market fappers at the American Legislative Exchange Council, Rogers introduced legislation that would preempt cities and counties from starting broadband programs in rural areas so private companies, which now say the low density of these rural areas doesn't justify installing infrastructure, could one day do business there. Chip Rogers is protecting Georgia from tin-foil conspiracies and keeping rural areas on dial-up and in the dark ages until AT&T decides they're worth a damn. Way to go, senator."

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @ScottNAtlanta  @inatl

"Then again with Chip Rogers and the like being on the take (he is on the board of ALEX which supplies prefab horrible laws to state legislators)...maybe they just need to be bribed to do whats right"

 

This horrific excuse of a State Legislature is already being bribed, to the tune of tens-of-thousands of dollars per very influential legislator as House Speaker David Ralston took an all-expenses-paid family vacation in November of 2010 to Europe that was paid for by a German trainmaker and State Senator Jeff Mullis has been known to have possible connections to foreign manufacturers of high-speed trains which is the main reason for his infatuation with future high-speed rail service between Atlanta and Chattanooga.

 

The fact that the State Legislature is already effectively being bribed, pretty heavily, and still won't and can't make any significant inroads in increasing access to critically-needed rail transit lines both ITP and OTP speaks volumes to the exceptional dysfunctionality of the Georgia General Assembly at the moment.

 

ScottNAtlanta
ScottNAtlanta

 @inatl  I think it was the idea that BUSINESS would suffer (lack of employees able to get to work) that would be heard loud and clear.  Then again with Chip Rogers and the like being on the take (he is on the board of ALEX which supplies prefab horrible laws to state legislators)...maybe they just need to be bribed to do whats right

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @inatl  @ScottNAtlanta

 I don't necessarily think that the State Legislature wants to see the city suffer, especially since most of the political power is concentrated in the Atlanta Region and North Georgia with the explosive population growth of the last three decades.

It's just that these guys are so incredibly and spectacularly incompetent that they either don't how or intellectually just plain can't do what needs what to be done at this point.

From some of the conversations I've heard from some very key and powerful people in the Legislature, they seem to be very aware of the miserable traffic problems in the Atlanta Region and they seem to be aware of what needs to be done to fix them it just seems that something crucial either in the gray matter or critical thinking departments is missing for them to be able to even be able to begin to work on solving the problem in a constructive and innovative way.

As we have witnessed more-and-more with increasing intensity over the last several years of Legislative sessions, the Georgia General Assembly is an incredibly dysfunctional and increasingly incompetent and ethically and morally bankrupt lawmaking body. 

As was just confirmed in a survey of the ethics and corruption laws of all 50 state legislatures that our Legislature to be THE WORST in the union in terms of ethics enforcement and punishing corruption, it's obvious that our "legislature" has some incredibly deep and profound institutional flaws that are visibly taking their toll on the quality-of-life of the state at the moment as the ethical situation in the Legislature seems to be deteriorating rapidly.

The State Senate is in the throws of a weird and chaotic power struggle between four different and is incredibly dysfunctional right now, while the House is trying to distract the public from their own very profound ethic issues in an ongoing effort to avoid long overdue ethic reforms in a legislature that sadly seems to be rapidly descending towards some type of massive scandal or series of scandals.

While the Georgia Department of Transportation, which was once considered to be one of the absolute best state highway departments in the nation, has been shamefully mismanaged into spectacularly inept and dysfunctional agency that is not even a shell of its former glorious self.

There just is no way that this Legislature and state government can be counted on to be a serious part of the solution when they are barely functional and rife with ethical issues and blatantly corrupt practices. 

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @inatl

 The state actually still has that federal money for the Atlanta-Macon commuter rail line, though there may finally be action on that line as the Atlanta-Griffin portion of the project also appears to be up for funds in the TIA under project number and entry "TIA-CL-002: Atlanta-Griffin Commuter Rail-Region 3".

inatl
inatl

 @The Last Democrat in Georgia Yea the way they used the money programmed for commuter rail to say they had a balanced Regional Transportation Plan between Transit and Roads, yet what got built was just the roads is part of the reason I made that comment.

 

As for me I take MARTA to work and as I see it my house value goes up if they continue to remain gridlocked and do nothing.   This gridlock in many ways is a driving force behind the interest in transit oriented development or reinvestment in areas that before were undergoing severe disinvestment pressures.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @inatl

 I can very much SERIOUSLY see how you (and virtually everyone else in Metro Atlanta who has fight traffic every workday could think that will never see any sort of progress on commuter rail or rail transit of any kind, especially since the state can't even seem to make progress on a commuter rail line that they've had the money (from the FEDS) to build for years, and years, and years and YEARS (the Atlanta-Macon commuter rail which the state has the money to build to at least Lovejoy, but has been just too exceptionally incompetent to make even the slightest bit of progress on).

Though I am somewhat hopefully and guardily optimistic that we may see progress at least a tad bit quicker than most seem to think at the moment as the region (and the state) is nearing a breaking point on traffic congestion where there will be no choice but to move forward on these long-delayed transportation projects.

The I-75 Northwest Corridor is especially key because the increased amount of truck freight traffic that is expected to flow out of an expanded Port of Savannah (which has rapidly-grown into one of busiest seaports on the planet over the last decade) has the potential to make that road in particular (and I-20 West, I-75 South & the West Leg of I-285) almost completely impassible during peak hours if transportation options are not expanded which is why we are suddenly seeing this flurry of activity on HOT lanes and the like after more than two decades of inaction on transportation. 

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @inatl

 Another interesting note is that it is another of the most powerful men in Georgia politics, State Senator Jeff Mullis of Chickamunga, which is located in extreme Northwest Georgia outside of Chattanooga, is the primary driving force behind trying to implement high-speed rail service on the CSX/Western & Atlantic freight rail line that runs between Atlanta and Chattanooga (something he actually seems to obsess over on a frequent basis).

As Chairman of the powerful Senate Transpoprtation Committee, Senator Mullis is also one of the driving forces behind the push to install HOT Lanes on all major freeways and interstates in the Atlanta Region. 

inatl
inatl

 @The Last Democrat in Georgia Though after watching the progress on the commuter rail plans for the past 15 or 20 years I'm doubtful I will see any sort of train up the 75 corridor in the next 20 years. 

 

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @inatl

 Other projects that will likely go into that corridor are high-frequency regional exurban-to-urban core commuter rail service and high-speed passenger rail service on the CSX/Western & Atlantic freight railroad line that runs almost directly parallel to I-75 between at least Cartersville (and likely up to Calhoun, Dalton and Chattanooga) and Five Points in Downtown Atlanta. 

There's also plans to implement light rail on US 41/Cobb Parkway and I-575 between Canton and Atlanta as well as plans to implement high-frequency commuter rail service on the Georgia Northeastern Railroad line that parallels I-575 at least Canton (and likely up to Jasper, Ellijay and Blue Ridge since it is the home of one of the most powerful men in Georgia politics, House Speaker David Ralston who has a unique fascination with trains as seen by his $17,000 family trip to Europe that was funded by a German trainmaker).

 

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @inatl

 California was the most-notorious case of can go disasterously wrong when the state enters into non-compete contracts on transportation projects as the state had to pay $300 million to get out of a contract with a private company on a private toll road that never quite panned-out just so the state could make improvements on parallel routes (reconstruction & expansion of I-5 & I-405 and commuter rail through mega-suburb Orange County, their equivalent to our Gwinnett County).

May have even led to a governor being recalled (CA Governor Gray Davis in 2003).

inatl
inatl

 @The Last Democrat in Georgia No that's not the reason.  They will do HOT lanes first.   Even if it was the reason it wouldn't make sense since you want to have high bus ridership numbers to show rail will work, thus upping your opportunity for transit funds.

 

inatl
inatl

 @The Last Democrat in Georgia  The non-compete provision is now widely known and has burned other states.   Deal recognized that if they couldn't negotiate around that would hit the press. But yea they legitimately didn't want to handcuff themselves, but that doesn't indicate what other projects will go into that corridor.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @inatl

 GDOT also seems to have intentionally only widened the road (Hwy 141) to four traffic lanes with bike lanes when they expanded the road in the past, which has contributed even more to the intense rush hour congestion along that roadway between PIB (Peachtree Industrial Blvd) and McGinnis Ferry Rd.

Which is an example of why it is important to have increased park & ride commuter bus service along that corridor no matter who provides it (GRTA or MARTA).

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @inatl

 Same thing with the state moving ahead with the I-75/575 HOT lanes through Cobb and Cherokee Counties.

The state actually backed out of the public-private partnership that they were going to use to fund the construction and the operation of the lanes because the contract that they were going to enter into with the private company would have prohibited the state from both improving parallel surface road routes (US 41/Cobb Parkway) and implementing parallel passenger rail service for the next 60-70 years (long-delayed commuter rail service on the parallel Western & Atlantic (CSX) and Georgia Northeastern Railroad freight lines between Northwest Georgia and the planned multimodal rail hub at Five Points in Downtown Atlanta and proposed light rail service on US 41/Cobb Parkway that is highly-desired by the regional powers-that-be).

The long-term contracts with the private company for the HOT lane project on I-75/575 could have also greatly impacted plans to run a passenger rail transit line across the Top End of I-285 between the I-85/285 Spaghetti Junction/Tom Moreland Interchange to the Northeast and the I-75/285 Cobb Cloverleaf Interchange to the Northwest.

The proposed I-285 Top End rail transit line (that is tentatively planned to be a light rail line but will likely change to a heavy rail line) is especially key because their is not much, if any, that can be done to expand the existing roadway horizontally through the densely-populated mature neighborhoods and mature tree buffers that line the highway through the densely-developed cities of Sandy Springs and Dunwoody. 

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @inatl

 I saw your post.  It may be distressing to see those lanes opened to all rush hour traffic in the short and immediate term, but this may actually be a good sign that the state and regional powers that be plan to move ahead with either an extension of a MARTA heavy rail line or a commuter rail line up 400 to Windward Parkway in the longer term.

inatl
inatl

 @The Last Democrat in Georgia And in case you didn't see my post in the Leinberger article, now the state is moving forward with yanking the bus shoulders away from the MARTA/GRTA express service on 400, thus basically killing any congestion advantage these services had.    Very sad especially since we got federal dollars for the express purpose of helping the 400 bus service.

inatl
inatl

 @The Last Democrat in Georgia Yea but 141 illustrates the problem of being in the corner of a service area.  Since more of 141 north of 285 is in Gwinnett (and Forsyth at Mcginnis) it doesn't make sense for MARTA to service 141, thus why it stops at the gwinnett/Dekalb line.

 

So this corridor should be served by GRTA Xpress bus service which interestingly is funded by state funds yet the state gives nothing to MARTA bus service.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @inatl

 I know that there is MARTA local and express bus service up Hwy 400 (and Hwy 9), up to about Windward Parkway out of the North Springs Station, if I'm correct.

But there is no MARTA local bus service up Hwy 141, though there is GRTA express commuter bus service up 141 to about McGinnis Ferry Rd.

Johns Creek is a fairly large suburb (of about 76,000) from which residents commuting into Atlanta use both Hwy 400 (if they're commuting from the westside of that town) and Hwy 141 (if they're commuting from the eastside of that town) and I can personally attest that the traffic up both of those roads is horrendous as I have been stuck in rush hour traffic on both of those roads.

inatl
inatl

 @The Last Democrat in Georgia Actually the 7.5 cents portion is only a part of the state tax that goes to roads and the only portion that is restricted to roads per the GA constitution which calls all gallonage taxes on fuel the restricted motor fuel tax.     By legislative language but not constitutional language a 3% sales tax on the sale of fuel is also called a Motor Fuel Tax and limited to roads. In providing the 3% sales tax as motor fuel they also cut the state 4% general sales tax on gas to 1%.  

 

That's adjusted periodically but that portion has risen with the price of gas and while rising prices lower our consumption slightly its still an overall increase in gas revenues.  at $4 the 3% works out to 12 cents a gallon.  But yes that is still very cheap.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @inatl

 The increased traffic from the explosive traffic growth had basically overwhemed the expanded freeway system by the year 2000, only about 12-13 years after the "Freeing-the-Freeways" project was effectively completed in the late 1980's.

inatl
inatl

 @The Last Democrat in Georgia "That resistance to tolls comes from the very strong libertarian streak"     1. Libertarian wants to use roads but doesn't want to pay for it, wants the government to pay.

 

You know btw the bonds only paid the local match.  The toll didn't pay for the federal match.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @inatl

"Perhaps they should just raise the gas tax, but that seems to be a no no subject."

 

Unfortunately you are all-too-correct that a long overdue increase of the gas tax is a no-no subject, which when teamed with a downright failure, stubborn and inept refusal to invest in mass transit on any scale and a failure to embrace toll roads as a crucial parts of the overall transportation strategy is a near-fatal combination.

An interesting example is the construction of the Northern expansion of Sugarloaf Parkway in between GA 316 in Dacula and PIB (P'tree Industrial Boulevard) in Sugar Hill/Buford through the rush hour-gridlocked Mall of Georgia area.

The road was originally planned to be a toll road, but after the backlash over the highly-flawed startup of the I-85 HOT Lanes, Gwinnett officials quickly rushed to add the project to the list of road projects to be funded by as-yet-to-be-voter-approved TIA/T-SPLOST revenues.

A project that should have been funded as a state-orchestrated toll road so as to free up critically-needed funds for much-needed improvements to a lacking surface road network.

Republicans are scared-to-political-death of raising the 7.5 cents gas tax, even though every state around us, except Florida (hence all of the toll roads in FL), has a higher gas tax, including our next door neighbor and close economic competitor North Carolina whose gas tax has just been increased to 38 cents-per-gallon.

 

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @inatl

"Funny though how people feel they have a right to not pay tolls in Georgia."

 

You're right.  That resistance to tolls comes from the very strong libertarian streak that runs along many Georgians (it's historically been a similar story in North Carolina as well, but NC has started resorting to tolls in an effort to build-out their very ambitious Interstate and expressway expansion plan as NC just opened up their first ever toll road (the Triangle Parkway in Raleigh-Durham) and will open up their second one (the Triangle Expressway/Western Wake Pkwy) this year with plans to construct about a half-dozen more toll roads around the state.

 

Also, many Georgians are still understandably peeved that the state didn't take the tolls off of GA 400 after the bonds were paid-off as the state promised back 20 years before in the early 1990's, which, in hindsight, is a promise that the state should have never made, though in their defense, they likely were not thinking that future population growth would render what was then a newly-expanded Interstate system almost completely useless.   

 

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @inatl

 "Though a new HOT lane wouldn't be as unpopular as taking the HOV lane away like they did on 85."

That conversion of the HOV-2 lane to a HOT-3 lane was bound to have a rough start anyway, but what made it even worse was that the state started off operating the lane with too high of an algorithm charging entirely too much for a new toll lane (and concept) that they were trying to encourage motorists to use.

inatl
inatl

 @The Last Democrat in Georgia I agree.   Though a new HOT lane wouldn't be as unpopular as taking the HOV lane away like they did on 85.   Funny though how people feel they have a right to not pay tolls in Georgia.  Perhaps they should just raise the gas tax, but that seems to be a no no subject.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @inatl

 I agree that it helps to have the density first, but a great way to help build up and increase the density is by building out transit lines....It's sort of a chicken-or-egg sort of thing, which came first, the density or the transit line?

 

As far as HOT Lanes, I can tell you they are not all that popular with the motoring public, nor are they necessarily all that effective in improving traffic flow on congested and gridlocked multi-lane expressways as only the people who get out of traffic are either in carpools of three or more or are willing to pay increasing amounts of money.

One thing in particular about HOT Lanes though is that they can actually greatly help the operation of transit lines, both express bus transit lines that will use the lanes directly and any future commuter rail transit lines that may run parallel to the HOT Lane in nearby existing railroad right-of-ways.  HOT Lanes are well-known to provide only minimal traffic relief on the congested roads they serve which means that they don't lead to the road becoming a free-flowing highway, nearby commuter bus and rail service often becomes much more attractive to the motorists often stuck in traffic on the roads on which HOT Lanes are installed and operated.

It's just that billions-of-dollars is a lot of money to spend on lanes that will provide minimal traffic relief that will help motivate motorists to turn to rail transit when the money could be spent directly on rail transit itself.

But on the other hand, HOT lanes are a minimal road expansion, at best, and a true reflection of the increasing REAL cost of expanding and maintain the road network.

inatl
inatl

 @The Last Democrat in Georgia Though for rail to work we need to build up densities.   We don't need high rise densities, but there needs to be more, at least within a mile of the rail stop.   A half a mile is generally considered the walking distance people will go to take a train.   

 

Though transit outside 285 is still going to be difficult, we are currently so spread out.  It maybe that the HOT lanes are the way to go so long as they provide good bus service that can avoid congestion in those lanes and run at high enough frequencies.

 

The Beltline and Auburn corridor Tigr line I find to be the cheaper alternative to increasing transit use because they are in denser areas but also in areas with a ton of transit oriented development potential, thereby creating a situation where some of the future population growth hopefully can shift near this area.     We also still have a ton of land near existing MARTA stations, including Fort McPhearson that hopefully can be the locations for these development patterns you speak of.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @inatl

"Until we synch up development patterns and thus better managing demand, throwing more cash at transportation supply won't provide much relief."

I agree, though a really good way to get development patterns in synch is to invest wisely in the rail transit that this metro area is so greatly in critical need of, but so sorely lacks.

And we don't need to throw more money at rail transit to invest in implementing and expanding it as transit is a mode of transportation that can pay for itself many times over.

Once rail transit lines are implemented (heavy rail, light rail, commuter rail, bus rapid transit, etc) the development patterns will more than take care of themselves as there is an overwhelming market and intense hunger for rail-centered residential and commercial development in this era of ever-lengthening rush-hour commutes from hell and eternally-spiking gas prices.

 

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @inatl

"And part of the reason for that is the whole freeing the freeways effort that you mention that incentivized  or subsidized sprawl thus taking away or competing  against more development and density around the MARTA heavy rail stations that were being completed in the similar time frame."

True, though keep-in-mind that during the decade of the 1980's when MARTA was being built-out and the freeways were being widened that outside of a very few select spots on the North American continent, for the most part the U.S. was a completely auto-centric society at the time, even more so than today, as there was not even minimal talk of building development to human or transit scale, especially in autocentric Atlanta.

Also, at the time MARTA was being built-up in the 1980's the emphasis was more on building an alternative to the automobile and a low-cost means of transportation that was as close to free as possible for lower-income riders.

As little as MARTA seems to compete with the personal automobile at present, MARTA was absolutely no match for the personal automobile back in the Reagan-era, but was more a very low-cost alternative for those with no cars and little choice but to ride public transportation.

 

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @inatl

 "So its not a lack of supply but too much demand."

I agree that is it too much demand, but the amount of demand is so high that there can't help but to be a lack of overall supply to meet the overwhelming level of demand. 

The "Freeing-the-Freeways" project that dramatically increased freeway capacity at the time was considered more than enough freeway capacity to handle a metro population of roughly just under three million people when it was completed

But fast-forward 20 years and over three million new residents later and that freeway widening project has been so overwhelmed by the explosive population growth as to almost be inconsequential.

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