Atlanta region faces a number of tough issues over the next decade

By Maria Saporta

Metro Atlanta in 2023 will be older, more diverse and more compact.

Those were some of the conclusions that several local leaders shared at the Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable on Friday, Jan. 11.

Their task was to describe how Atlanta might evolve in the next decade.

Moderator Dan Reuter, chief of the land use planning division for the Atlanta Regional Commission, set the stage. Between 2000 an 2010, the Atlanta region added more than 1 million people, but the greatest growth in population was among Hispanics, African Americans and Asian Americans.

“We are living much longer,” Reuter said, adding that the region’s population also is getting older. And people’s choices also are changing. “Many of us want the same thing _ we desire to be in an urban lifestyle.”

But that urban lifestyle is not exclusive to inside the perimeter, Reuter said. Town centers throughout the 10-county region are offering opportunities for a more pedestrian-oriented communities where people can live, work and play.

Reuter asked the panel what it will take for Georgia to be competitive.

Nathaniel Smith, founder of the Partnership for Southern Equity and director of partnerships at Emory University, said metro Atlanta will need to become more inclusive — inviting Hispanics, African-Americans and Asian Americans to be a more important part of the community.

“We have to create opportunities for these young people,” Smith said.

Kate Kirkpatrick, a senior vice president for the Metro Atlanta Chamber, said the region must make itself alluring to the “young and restless” generation — people needed to keep our economy vibrant.

“They are looking for not just a salary and benefits but the social benefits — green space, great bars and restaurants, wide sidewalks…,” said Kirkpatrick, adding that the region will need to provide those amenities “if metro Atlanta is going to continue to retain this talent.”

Beth Schapiro, founder of the Schapiro Group research consulting firm, said Atlanta already has “a terrific civic infrastructure in place.” The community has “ways of getting people plugged in.”

Smith, however, said that while that is true for established organizations, there’s a large part of society that is being left out of the civic conversation.

“We have a great civic infrastructure bringing the usual suspects together,” he said. But that becomes less true “as we move further away from established organizations” in the region. “We have to acknowledge the fact that every one’s opinion matters, not matter how uncomfortable that might be.”

In fact, Smith said that communities that are able to bring every one to the table with a sense of equity will find that to be a “superior growth model.”

One member of the audience questioned why no one was talking about climate change and the impact that could have on the region in the next 10 years.

The panel did say the region still needs to address its transportation issues despite the failure of the regional transportation sales tax last July.

Reuter predicted “that we will find new transportation revenue.” There also seemed to be consensus that perhaps the transportation issue is too complex to be addressed in the whole 10-county area at the same time. Perhaps the five core counties or a different segment of the region might be able to come up a plan that can gain support.

Schapiro said that she has surveyed people in the northern suburbs with a majority saying they want increased options for public transportation in their communities.

Smith, however, said the elephant in metro Atlanta room continues to be race. “The history of transportation and race hurt us in our ability to grow,” Smith said, adding that the issue will only keep getting worse with a majority of senior citizens living in the region not having access to transit.

No matter what, Smith said the region needs to do a “deep dive and a deeper analysis” on why the regional transportation sales tax failed.

“We have got to go back to basics on why regionalism is important,” Smith said. “Until we take an opportunity to reflect on our failures, we will continue to be in this holding pattern.”

Kirkpatrick also said that it was inaccurate to equate the failure of the referendum with the sentiment that regionalism is dead in metro Atlanta. The Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District is an example of how the region is working together.

But Smith said metro Atlanta reportedly has the greatest inequity in the nation in terms of income, an issue that needs to be addressed.

“Nobody likes to call the ugly baby and ugly baby,” Smith said. “It’s time for us to say the baby is ugly, but we have an opportunity.”

This entry was posted in Latest Reports and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
6 comments
The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

{{"Schapiro said that she has surveyed people in the northern suburbs with a majority saying they want increased options for public transportation in their communities."}}

 

It is in those same northern suburbs where some of the fiercest resistance to increased transit options has come from by way of the suburban ultraconservatives that dominate the Georgia Republican Party that dominates Georgia politics by way of the Republican Primaries. 

 

While a majority of people in the northern suburbs, where commuters struggle with some of the worse rush-hour traffic on the continent, may want increased transit options, it is a very-loud and very-vocal dominant ultraconservative minority in those highly politically-influential northern suburbs that remains staunchly-opposed to transit expansion out of age-old fears that transit will bring in other races amongst them.

 

Anti-transit ultraconservatives in fast-growing and increasingly-crowded outer suburbs like Paulding, Cobb, Cherokee, North Fulton, Forsyth and Gwinnett counties hold to those age-old racially-tinged fears of transit expansion despite the fact that an outer-suburb like Gwinnett County has grown into one of the most-diverse counties in the entire nation with a population of 825,000 people that is 57% non-white. 

 

Anti-transit ultraconservatives also hold onto those fears of mass transit spreading crime and bringing in other races despite the fact that other races have relocated into those outer-suburban counties anyway...By way of the automobile.

 

While Gwinnett has a population that has grown to 825,000 people and is 57% non-white, other formerly-exurban outer-suburban counties like notoriously traditionally-ultraconservative conclave Cobb County has a population that has grown to 700,000 people and is 44% non-white and East Metro Rockdale County has a population that is now 59% non-white.

 

Outer-suburban Douglas (51% non-white), Henry (48% non-white) and Newton (48% non-white) counties all have populations that either stand on the verge of becoming majority-minority or have already just recently become majority-minority.

 

 

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

In other words, if Metro Atlanta does not straighten out its transportation mess on its own, the Feds will do it for them and Metro Atlantans probably won't like what they do.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

{{"The panel did say the region still needs to address its transportation issues despite the failure of the regional transportation sales tax last July.....Reuter predicted “that we will find new transportation revenue.”}}

 

The panel is very much correct.  Despite the resounding and overwhelming defeat of the regional transportation sales tax (infamously known as T-SPLOST), the overwhelming transportation issues that motivated (the obviously flawed and misguided) T-SPLOST legislation still persist and still need to be dealt with moving forward, preferably in a timely manner.  But realistically, who knows when those overwhelming transportation issues will dealt with in this increasingly volatile political and economic climate.

 

Sometime down the "road" (pun intended), we will eventually find new transportation revenue, although realistically no sooner than after the 2014 Gubernatorial Election at the absolute earliest.  And even then if, and only if, Nathan Deal is re-elected to a second-term as Governor as any possible challenger that Deal were to lose to in the 2014 GOP Gubernatorial Primary would most certainly come from a far-right political base of the party that is increasingly averse to revenue increases or government expansion of any kind no matter how seemingly crucial. 

 

Though at the moment and for the time being, it does not appear as Governor Deal may draw any credible challengers, either from his increasingly-volatile hard political right in the GOP Primary that dominates the statewide Georgia poltical scene at present, or from his currently-weakening political left in the General Election that has served as nothing more than a mere formality for the Republican nominee in recent statewide elections.

 

In this current political climate in which anti-government sentiment is understandably running at all-time highs and in which state government is dominated by an increasingly-conservative Republican political base in which tax increases for any reason are a major political no-no, if new transportation revenue is to be found it will likely have to be found through a means in which traditional sources of transportation revenues in fuel and sales taxes are completely eliminated and direct user fees are instituted on each major road and transit line and are supplemented with private financing.

 

If no new transportation revenues are found before the massive expansion of the Port of Savannah and the continued expansion of busy Gulf of Mexico seaports kick-in and flood already-overcrowded Metro Atlanta freeways with even more heavy freight truck traffic, then the likely default action will be a federally-imposed congestion pricing scheme in which adjustable-rate tolls which only apply to vehicles registered in Atlanta region and surrounding counties roughly in the north half of the state are placed on all major North Georgia freeways as a means of pushing increasing amounts of excess local traffic off of the Interstate system so that through traffic can keep flowing relatively unimpeded by peak-hour Atlanta gridlock (especially interstate truck traffic between the major seaports of the Atlantic and the Gulf and the major markets of the Midwest and Northeast and tourist traffic to and from Florida).

 

If and when congestion-pricing is expanded from the HOT Lane on I-85 North (which is nothing more than a demo for a vastly-expanded federally-imposed system of congestion pricing on all Metro Atlanta freeways), Metro Atlantans and North Georgians had damned sure better hope that the transit infrastructure is in place to get them where they need to go.

 

 

WestSider555
WestSider555

 @The Last Democrat in Georgia Uhmm... "federally-imposed' HOT lane? Excuse you but that puppy was all on the GDOT.... they got money from the Feds, but they didn't tell them what to do.

 

This is all on the incompetent Georgia political system, which is predominantly Republican. 

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @WestSider555

Also, because of budgetary, physical and political constraints, Metro Atlanta has reached the point where the freeway system can no longer be physically expanded through horizontal means in the form of traditional widenings.

 

Because of continued growth and expansion of Gulf Coast seaports and the pending massive expansion of the Port of Savannah which threatens to overwhelm already-overcrowded Metro Atlanta interstates with even-heavier freight truck traffic to the point of making the interstates virtually impassable during peak hours, it is highly-likely that congestion pricing on all lanes of the freeways will be imposed by the Feds to keep the interstates flowing for through out-of-town traffic (particularly through truck traffic), if the freeways cannot be expanded (most likely vertically with elevated truck-only lanes). 

 

If Georgia either can't and/or won't come up with the money to build elevated truck lanes (and/or maybe HOT lanes), the Feds will have no choice but to install congestion pricing, of exorbitant amounts, on the freeway system to ensure that interstate cargo can continue to flow during peak hours through the critical nexus point that is Metro Atlanta (between the tourism hot spots in Florida one of the fastest-growing and most rapidly-expanding busiest seaports on the planet at the Port of Savannah and points north and west in the Ohio Valley and the Upper Midwest/Great Lakes region via I-75 and between the critical seaports on the Gulf Coast and the highly-populated markets of the Northeast via I-85).

 

Lost in the conversation about regional transportation, rush hour traffic and the like is the fact that, Metro Atlanta interstates, while under the purview and responsibility of the State of Georgia by way of the Georgia Department of Transportation, are also FEDERALLY-controlled trans-continental highways that transport a lot of through traffic (commerce, services, freight and economic activity) from one part of the continent to the country to the other.

 

It is very much in the interest of the Federal government to keep the interstates flowing (most likely with congestion pricing applied to all North Georgia vehicles) if Georgia can't, won't or just outright refuses to do it.

 

For transit advocates, on the bright side, the coming congestion pricing scheme that imposes adjustable rate tolls of possibly up to $20.00 one-way will make mass transit much more viable by pushing drivers in excess local traffic off of the interstates and onto buses and trains.   

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

 @WestSider555

There's no disagreement that the responsibility for the I-85 HOT Lane mess and the severe underinvestment in transportation infrastructure falls on the State of Georgia, which at present, is dominated by Republicans, but "that puppy" (the I-85 HOT Lane debacle) was not necessarily all on GDOT.  Since the start of the second term of the Bush Administration, the Feds have been pursuing a long-term strategy of converting untolled HOV-2 lanes into HOV-3/HOT Lanes.

 

Sonny Perdue and GDOT had applied for federal grants to fund various other transportation projects and had their grants denied repeatedly until they applied for a grant for the I-85 HOT Lane which was approved late in 2008 at the end of the Bush Administration because the project fit right in exactly with a transportation strategy of what the Feds wanted to do all across the country in converting what they deemed to be increasingly-overcrowded HOV lanes to HOT lanes.

 

Perdue and GDOT (by way of Perdue's hand-picked proxies at both GDOT and the State Road and Tollway Authority or SRTA) adjusted their application until it was approved just so that they could get some "free money" from the Feds who have actively encouraged and are pushing plans for congestion pricing on crowded stretches of freeway as a way to keep those crowded roads flowing for Interstate through traffic and actively encourage and even compel increased mass transit use.

 

Before the I-85 HOT Lane startup debacle in late 2011, GDOT had drawn up plans to install new reversible HOT lanes and convert all sections of existing HOV lanes and even sections of existing general purpose lanes to HOT lanes.

http://www.tollroadsnews.com/node/5540

http://www.dot.state.ga.us/aboutGeorgiadot/Board/Documents/2009%20Meetings%20Presentations/June/MLSP.pdf