We must invest in all transportation modes to compete in today’s economy

By Maria Saporta

At the September 2011 meeting of the Georgia Research Alliance, Gov. Nathan Deal told the prestigious group of business leaders and university presidents that he had just returned from the Southern Governors’ Association annual meeting where the focus was on innovation.

At SGA, Deal questioned why Silicon Valley and Boston were attracting research, development, venture capital the innovation jobs. He was told it was all about quality of life.

“They like to be able to ride bicycles to work,” Deal told GRA board members. “So when I ask DOT (the Georgia Department of Transportation) to build bicycle trails, don’t think I’ve lost my mind.”

Well governor, we’re still waiting.

In fact, these past two years, national and local studies have only reinforced the trend that more and more people are giving up their cars for alternative modes of transportation — walking, cycling and transit.

A new study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institution, people are driving about as much as they were in the mid-1990s, according to Michael Sivak, who conducted the study.

“This is the first time we’ve ever seen a drop like this,” Sivak was quoted in a piece on CNBC.com on Saturday.

Driving in the United States reached a peak in 2004, and it has been declining ever since. In 2011 (the most recent year for which data are available), the average licensed driver drove 12,492 miles behind the wheel. That’s down 1,221 miles, or 8.9 percent, from the peak seven years earlier.

Annual Vehicle Mileage Rate chart (Source: University of Michigan and CNBC

Annual Vehicle Mileage Rate chart (Source: University of Michigan and CNBC

So one would think that if Georgia wanted to position itself to be competitive as an innovation state, it would find ways to invest in alternative modes of transportation.

But quite the opposite is true.

The Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce held a “Hot Topics” program with two panels on July 25 on Georgia’s Transportation Future.

The timing was bittersweet coming almost one year after the defeat of the regional transportation sales tax on July 31, 2012 in nine of the state’s 12 regions, including metro Atlanta.

Most of the panelists spent their time patting themselves on the back for what a great job Georgia was doing in transportation.

“We’ve got a good story to tell in Georgia,” said Toby Carr, director of planning for the Georgia Department of Transportation. We’ve got good arterials. We have a great intermodal network. We’ve got a lot going on.”

Almost everything that the panelists were able to point to were “managed lanes,” public-private partnerships for those “Lexus lanes,” improvements at various interstates, doing more with the road capacity we have. In other words, the vision and the plans were centered around roads, highways, cars and trucks.

“We are almost a year out from the referendum,” said Jannine Miller, executive director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority. “We have the second or third best transportation network in the country. It is the artery system that moves our country. We know we have a phenomenal region. Every region has transportation issues. We have the best formula in place to address these issues.”

Really?

Part of the problem is that for the past decade, the Atlanta region has been focused on the wrong issue — congestion, when the real focus should have been on livability.

The kind of investments one makes to create a more livable place is totally different than the kind of investments one makes to reduce congestion.

And the kind of communities that attract people who are drawn to the new economy are livable places — places where they can walk, cycle, hop on a streetcar, light rail, a city bus, or work from the coffee shop down the street from their apartment or condo. That requires investments in alternative modes of transportation.

More and more of these people are choosing to not own a car, and they are choosing to live in cities where they can live without a car. So let’s ask, how many places in metro Atlanta or Georgia could you live conveniently without a car?

Carr was asked about the future of commuter rail, after all there have been statewide commuter and intercity rail plans for more than a decade.

“It’s very challenging to get those type of assets up and running,” Carr said. “There are high up-front costs. And then there are the motor fuel tax restrictions…. We are making the best use of our existing assets. (Commuter rail) is challenging in the current environment.”

To put it more directly, Georgia has no dedicated source of funds to pay for alternative modes of transportation — the kind of investments we need to serve the innovation economies of today and tomorrow. Virtually the only dedicated state transportation dollars that we have come from the motor fuel tax, which according to the state Constitution, is limited to roads and bridges. So we are forced to continue investing in an unbalanced transportation system that better suits an old world economy.

It doesn’t have to be this way. If the state is serious about wanting to be competitive in the 21st Century, it should tackle this issue head on.

It can seek to get the state Constitution changed to allow the motor fuel tax to be invested in all modes of transportation.

It can dedicate the state sales tax on all gas purchases to an alternative transportation fund.

It can switch from a gas tax based on gallons to one based on price, like a sales tax. That way, the gas tax would increase as the price of gas goes up, providing an even greater incentive fore people to use alternative modes of transportation.

It can start charging people based on vehicle miles traveled, even though that would not encourage people to buy more fuel efficient vehicles.

The state needs to come up with annual dedicated appropriation for all the transit systems in the state, including MARTA.

For those who don’t believe gas taxes or state taxes should fund alternative modes of transportation, they should consider that the fewer people who use our roads and highways, the less maintenance and repair costs there will be on those roads (not to mention better mobility for those who choose to drive).

But as Gov. Deal realized two years ago, the real issue is not congestion. The real issue is livability — creating vibrant places where the best young minds (and those of all ages) want to live, work and play.

We’re waiting governor.

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139 comments
zack
zack

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RobAugustine
RobAugustine

The scholars at Rutgers have been studying "Growth" for many years. I even wrote a paper in law school using their research back in 1979.

I see, in Mr. whathisface's post below that they are now more clearly quantifying what is intuitive overall: unless you can move employees to the sources of work easily, you will not have a thriving economy.

Those who built the subways in New York, Boston, and elsewhere over 100 years ago recognized this fact. They knew they had to move large numbers of people, conveniently, safely, and efficiently.

It's a no brainer. If you don't have this capability, you will lose out to those who do.

RobAugustine
RobAugustine

The scholars at Rutgers have been studying "Growth" for many years. I even wrote a paper in law school using their research back in 1979. I see, in Mr. whathisface's post below that they are now more clearly quantifying what is intuitive overall: unless you can move employees to the sources of work easily, you will not have a thriving economy. Those who built the subways in New York, Boston, and elsewhere over 100 years ago recognized this fact. They knew they had to move large numbers of people, conveniently, safely, and efficiently. It's a no brainer. If you don't have this capability, you will lose out to those who do.

whatshisface
whatshisface

@Joe Frank Harris @The Last Democrat in Georgia 

Since I cannot hyperlinked the query result, here is a step-by-step guide.

-Go to http://www.census.gov/acs/www/

-On the right hand column under, 'Data by Topic,' select 'Commuting to Work.'

-On the following screen, select 'Geographies,' and add the Atlanta MSA, Urban Area of Atlanta, and Principal City to your search query.

-Select 'Means of transportation to work by selected characteristics' and hit 'View'

whatshisface
whatshisface

Joe Frank Harris The Last Democrat in Georgia  Since I cannot hyperlinked the query result, here is a step-by-step guide. -Go to http://www.census.gov/acs/www/ -On the right hand column under, 'Data by Topic,' select 'Commuting to Work.' -On the following screen, select 'Geographies,' and add the Atlanta MSA, Urban Area of Atlanta, and Principal City to your search query. -Select 'Means of transportation to work by selected characteristics' and hit 'View'

Joe Frank Harris
Joe Frank Harris

Here is the list showing commuter transit usage by MSA (not city).  The source is the US Census.  Note Atlanta does not even make the list of the top 29 MSAs but if you did deeper you will find an interactive map that shows Atlanta MSA transit usage at 3.1%.  I say about 95% of people drive.  The census says 88% but note that they include the 5% of Atlantans who work from home as commuters.  I would not count those folks in my analysis.  But that is another good point- more folks in Atlanta work from home than take all public transit to work in the MSA..  The cheapest and most effective way to reduce congestion is not transit or roads but just getting folks to telecommute. 

http://www.governing.com/blogs/by-the-numbers/public-transportation-commute-usage-census-data.html

 When I say70% subsidy for MARTA what I am talking about is that fare collections (ie user collections) only cover about 30% of MARTA's operating expenses (not including the other critical cost of capital for upgrades and replacement of equipment).  The source to cover the 70% are various Federal and local subsidies (1% MARTA sales tax for example).  If MARTA riders wanted to actually pay the cost to ride it would be over $5.00 per trip.  Surely most people who understand basic math should realize that if we were to keep expanding rail and kept losing more than $5.00 per trip for every rider who stepped into a rail car this is completely unworkable despite how cool it sounds.  This is why a lof of folks whine that MARTA needs state level subsidies like in other parts of the US but this hides the simple fact that MARTA just like every other similar transit agency does not have enough core user demand to cover the costs of operation.  I do not accept the argument that more government subsidies (ie taking from tax payers who don't use the system) to cover more loses somehow justifies its expansion for the benefit of the very small proportion of people who use the system (again per US Census- 3.1% of Atlantans).

Please see table 3 on Page 22 for supporting detail on the above points about MARTA costs-http://www.georgiapolicy.org/getting-georgia-going-an-analysis-of-the-referendum-on-georgias-transportation-special-purpose-local-option-sales-tax/

 Yes driving from the outer suburbs into the CBD and other areas is a nightmare.  Not disputing that.  But that is really more related to lack of road expansion for the 88% or 90% or 95% (pick your data source) of folks who drive to work.  The simple fact is that Atlanta does not and will not for decades (if ever) have the population density to support some kind of massive rail system.  Outside literally a handful of US cities (NYC for example) the only US MSA that have material transit ridership are ones that have basically created congestion so bad that folks have had no alternative.  But is that what we want?  Make folks so miserable they must ride transit even though they really probably don't want to?

As to the 100,000 residents per year population growth, yes you have a good point growth the last few years has been below this level but generally speaking over the last two decades or more it has been at this level.  With the return of job growth to the MSA in the last year or so and housing starts again ramping up I believe we will soon be back at the 100,000 population job growth range per year. 

I dispute your point indicating  Houston, Austin, and Charlotte have more transit usage than Atlanta and that is somehow creating a brain drain. Note I am not disputing the brain drain in the Atlanta MSA but that it somehow related to lack of transit in the Atlanta MSA.  None of these cities have as much rail as Atlanta.  Charlotte has one cute street car line but lets get real Atlanta has had miles of heavy rail for years.  The facts from the US Census to not support this conclusion.  All of these MSAs have similarly low levels of transit ridership like Atlanta.  This is another case of the so called "progressives" seeing Charlotte for example just recently putting in a street car line and saying aha! this is why they have better and more growth!  No, not really.  If that was the case we would still be winning- we have rail from Central Perimeter to the Airport and a lot of points in between.  It will be decades for Charlotte to catch up to our infrastructure (or Houston or Austin).  The reality is that traffic is much better in Charlotte than Atlanta and if you like a somewhat smaller MSA the quality of life is better as well.  The strongest point to refute this whole brain drain due to lack of MARTA argument is Raleigh Durham.  The Raleigh Durham MSA has zero rail yet it is attracting close to the highest percentage of educated move in in the US and is projected to have 4% per annum job growth for the next few years.  Further, they are very low density and nearly everyone drives.  Raleigh also has much higher quality job growth in Atlanta.  So if Raleigh is doing so much better in attractive the educated to take high quality jobs how do they do it without transit (similar to Austin by the way).  The answer is similar to Charlotte or Nashville, they are smaller more pleasant MSA's with less traffic congestion.  Magically kind of like Atlanta back in the 1980s.  But despite the dreams of the progressives it has nothing to do with the 3 or so percent of residents who take a bus to work.

As to brain drain to SF or NYC.  Well first Atlanta is not and never will be SF or NYC.  If someone wants that kind of life they really should move there.  Also, more people move TO Atlanta from SF or NYC than Atlantans who move THERE.  So in actual numbers we are net gainers over time from these areas.  However I won't dispute that we may lose more highly educated to these major MSAs than we get in return.

Finally as to the recent study of equality of income and moving from the bottom 20% to the top 20% I think we would need more study.  The study only looked at a 4 year period which happened to tie in the a heinous recession in the Atlanta MSA (much worse than the US as a whole).  Something does not smell right to me when somehow Atlanta comes up bad and its correlated to transit when other similar cities with equally low density and equally low transit ridership (say Houston or Phoenix) did not get similarly tagged.  I wonder what the result of this study would be if the chose a different time period. 

Joe Frank Harris
Joe Frank Harris

Here is the list showing commuter transit usage by MSA (not city).  The source is the US Census.  Note Atlanta does not even make the list of the top 29 MSAs but if you did deeper you will find an interactive map that shows Atlanta MSA transit usage at 3.1%.  I say about 95% of people drive.  The census says 88% but note that they include the 5% of Atlantans who work from home as commuters.  I would not count those folks in my analysis.  But that is another good point- more folks in Atlanta work from home than take all public transit to work in the MSA..  The cheapest and most effective way to reduce congestion is not transit or roads but just getting folks to telecommute.  http://www.governing.com/blogs/by-the-numbers/public-transportation-commute-usage-census-data.html  When I say70% subsidy for MARTA what I am talking about is that fare collections (ie user collections) only cover about 30% of MARTA's operating expenses (not including the other critical cost of capital for upgrades and replacement of equipment).  The source to cover the 70% are various Federal and local subsidies (1% MARTA sales tax for example).  If MARTA riders wanted to actually pay the cost to ride it would be over $5.00 per trip.  Surely most people who understand basic math should realize that if we were to keep expanding rail and kept losing more than $5.00 per trip for every rider who stepped into a rail car this is completely unworkable despite how cool it sounds.  This is why a lof of folks whine that MARTA needs state level subsidies like in other parts of the US but this hides the simple fact that MARTA just like every other similar transit agency does not have enough core user demand to cover the costs of operation.  I do not accept the argument that more government subsidies (ie taking from tax payers who don't use the system) to cover more loses somehow justifies its expansion for the benefit of the very small proportion of people who use the system (again per US Census- 3.1% of Atlantans). Please see table 3 on Page 22 for supporting detail on the above points about MARTA costs-http://www.georgiapolicy.org/getting-georgia-going-an-analysis-of-the-referendum-on-georgias-transportation-special-purpose-local-option-sales-tax/  Yes driving from the outer suburbs into the CBD and other areas is a nightmare.  Not disputing that.  But that is really more related to lack of road expansion for the 88% or 90% or 95% (pick your data source) of folks who drive to work.  The simple fact is that Atlanta does not and will not for decades (if ever) have the population density to support some kind of massive rail system.  Outside literally a handful of US cities (NYC for example) the only US MSA that have material transit ridership are ones that have basically created congestion so bad that folks have had no alternative.  But is that what we want?  Make folks so miserable they must ride transit even though they really probably don't want to? As to the 100,000 residents per year population growth, yes you have a good point growth the last few years has been below this level but generally speaking over the last two decades or more it has been at this level.  With the return of job growth to the MSA in the last year or so and housing starts again ramping up I believe we will soon be back at the 100,000 population job growth range per year.  I dispute your point indicating  Houston, Austin, and Charlotte have more transit usage than Atlanta and that is somehow creating a brain drain. Note I am not disputing the brain drain in the Atlanta MSA but that it somehow related to lack of transit in the Atlanta MSA.  None of these cities have as much rail as Atlanta.  Charlotte has one cute street car line but lets get real Atlanta has had miles of heavy rail for years.  The facts from the US Census to not support this conclusion.  All of these MSAs have similarly low levels of transit ridership like Atlanta.  This is another case of the so called "progressives" seeing Charlotte for example just recently putting in a street car line and saying aha! this is why they have better and more growth!  No, not really.  If that was the case we would still be winning- we have rail from Central Perimeter to the Airport and a lot of points in between.  It will be decades for Charlotte to catch up to our infrastructure (or Houston or Austin).  The reality is that traffic is much better in Charlotte than Atlanta and if you like a somewhat smaller MSA the quality of life is better as well.  The strongest point to refute this whole brain drain due to lack of MARTA argument is Raleigh Durham.  The Raleigh Durham MSA has zero rail yet it is attracting close to the highest percentage of educated move in in the US and is projected to have 4% per annum job growth for the next few years.  Further, they are very low density and nearly everyone drives.  Raleigh also has much higher quality job growth in Atlanta.  So if Raleigh is doing so much better in attractive the educated to take high quality jobs how do they do it without transit (similar to Austin by the way).  The answer is similar to Charlotte or Nashville, they are smaller more pleasant MSA's with less traffic congestion.  Magically kind of like Atlanta back in the 1980s.  But despite the dreams of the progressives it has nothing to do with the 3 or so percent of residents who take a bus to work. As to brain drain to SF or NYC.  Well first Atlanta is not and never will be SF or NYC.  If someone wants that kind of life they really should move there.  Also, more people move TO Atlanta from SF or NYC than Atlantans who move THERE.  So in actual numbers we are net gainers over time from these areas.  However I won't dispute that we may lose more highly educated to these major MSAs than we get in return. Finally as to the recent study of equality of income and moving from the bottom 20% to the top 20% I think we would need more study.  The study only looked at a 4 year period which happened to tie in the a heinous recession in the Atlanta MSA (much worse than the US as a whole).  Something does not smell right to me when somehow Atlanta comes up bad and its correlated to transit when other similar cities with equally low density and equally low transit ridership (say Houston or Phoenix) did not get similarly tagged.  I wonder what the result of this study would be if the chose a different time period.

writes_of_weigh
writes_of_weigh

Maria - This {{http://1.usa.gov/145DjNC}} just released from the GAO in Washington, continues to "poke the pig" about Atlanta's transportation fiasco, as the map on page 16, of the 54 page document, indicates neither in Atlanta( a "large" airport? no?) nor Savannah ( a "mid-sized"  airport?) exists within 10 miles, or even slightly less distant, an Amtrak station. I believe that this calls for a major scientific investigation by the brightest minds. Apparently Brookwood(Peachtree) station at 1688 Peachtree Street, N.E. in Atlanta, AND the Savannah Amtrak station on Seaboard Coast Line Drive, there,, exist in some time warp, or black hole, where time and space are bent and maps become indecipherable. This shall certainly surprise the transportation wonks and wonk-etts, I predict (see comment below) will draw a tangent line to connect H-S-R routes a-building in Florida and North Carolina. in the near future.

writes_of_weigh
writes_of_weigh

Maria - This {{http://1.usa.gov/145DjNC}} just released from the GAO in Washington, continues to "poke the pig" about Atlanta's transportation fiasco, as the map on page 16, of the 54 page document, indicates neither in Atlanta( a "large" airport? no?) nor Savannah ( a "mid-sized"  airport?) exists within 10 miles, or even slightly less distant, an Amtrak station. I believe that this calls for a major scientific investigation by the brightest minds. Apparently Brookwood(Peachtree) station at 1688 Peachtree Street, N.E. in Atlanta, AND the Savannah Amtrak station on Seaboard Coast Line Drive, there,, exist in some time warp, or black hole, where time and space are bent and maps become indecipherable. This shall certainly surprise the transportation wonks and wonk-etts, I predict (see comment below) will draw a tangent line to connect H-S-R routes a-building in Florida and North Carolina. in the near future.

RobAugustine
RobAugustine

Mr. Weigh makes a salient point - other people will eat our lunch soon on high speed transit and other delicacies.

In fact, the whole miasma of Georgia's situation reminds me of the statewide banking debacle our legislature achieved some years ago. Failing to allow statewide banking and the expansion of our large Georgia banks, years later they were all subsumed in the North Carolina banking entities with the financial center of the SE now largely in Charlotte.

Things don't stand still, even if we are stuck in traffic.

RobAugustine
RobAugustine

Mr. Weigh makes a salient point - other people will eat our lunch soon on high speed transit and other delicacies. In fact, the whole miasma of Georgia's situation reminds me of the statewide banking debacle our legislature achieved some years ago. Failing to allow statewide banking and the expansion of our large Georgia banks, years later they were all subsumed in the North Carolina banking entities with the financial center of the SE now largely in Charlotte. Things don't stand still, even if we are stuck in traffic.

writes_of_weigh
writes_of_weigh

Maria - the provocation you invoke by continuing to "poke this pig"(metro'Lanta transportation woes) is remarkable to me in that the notion of private sector solutions, of which a sterling example exits in adjoining Florida, doesn't seem to "spark any fires" of imagination in Georgia. As I type, Florida East Coast railway continues to rebuild it's infrastructure and site a new right-of way from its Miami-Cocoa(-Jacksonville) mainline, westward to Orlando which, when complete, will link Orlando and Miami with (100+ m.p.h.) higher speed rail service. This, after Florida's sitting Governor rejected Federal funding to build a true Tampa-Orlando High-Speed-Rail route. Meanwhile, in a vulture-like move, the state of North Carolina picked over the carcass of funding largess Florida regurgitated, and added several hundreds of millions of dollars to the development of a Richmond(VA.) - Charlotte, N.C. H-S-R route. The debate in Georgia seems to reflect the inability of the populace to truly acknowledge what is a-building in these two adjoining states, with and without private sector involvement, yet, will result in increased transportation capacity and capability. These are facts. Those in elective office can pretend that they are not accurate, or have no bearing on what occurs within the boundaries of this state. In very short order, perhaps, five or six years, transportation wonks(wonk-etts?) who may have a voice, will see a map of in-place high(er)-speed-rail infrastructure in the Southeastern U.S.. It will contain distinct likely connective points. One will be in Cocoa, Florida. The other will be in Charlotte, N.C.. To neatly "link" those two points, they will likely draw a somewhat straight line between those two cities. Savannah will likely be on(near) that connective line. Atlanta is not. Neither, Amtrak, Florida East Coast, CSX, nor Norfolk Southern connects as a single service passenger OR freight carrier directly between those two points. Some entity WILL draw that line and make that connection. This is unavoidable. Tempus fugit.    

writes_of_weigh
writes_of_weigh

Maria - the provocation you invoke by continuing to "poke this pig"(metro'Lanta transportation woes) is remarkable to me in that the notion of private sector solutions, of which a sterling example exits in adjoining Florida, doesn't seem to "spark any fires" of imagination in Georgia. As I type, Florida East Coast railway continues to rebuild it's infrastructure and site a new right-of way from its Miami-Cocoa(-Jacksonville) mainline, westward to Orlando which, when complete, will link Orlando and Miami with (100+ m.p.h.) higher speed rail service. This, after Florida's sitting Governor rejected Federal funding to build a true Tampa-Orlando High-Speed-Rail route. Meanwhile, in a vulture-like move, the state of North Carolina picked over the carcass of funding largess Florida regurgitated, and added several hundreds of millions of dollars to the development of a Richmond(VA.) - Charlotte, N.C. H-S-R route. The debate in Georgia seems to reflect the inability of the populace to truly acknowledge what is a-building in these two adjoining states, with and without private sector involvement, yet, will result in increased transportation capacity and capability. These are facts. Those in elective office can pretend that they are not accurate, or have no bearing on what occurs within the boundaries of this state. In very short order, perhaps, five or six years, transportation wonks(wonk-etts?) who may have a voice, will see a map of in-place high(er)-speed-rail infrastructure in the Southeastern U.S.. It will contain distinct likely connective points. One will be in Cocoa, Florida. The other will be in Charlotte, N.C.. To neatly "link" those two points, they will likely draw a somewhat straight line between those two cities. Savannah will likely be on(near) that connective line. Atlanta is not. Neither, Amtrak, Florida East Coast, CSX, nor Norfolk Southern connects as a single service passenger OR freight carrier directly between those two points. Some entity WILL draw that line and make that connection. This is unavoidable. Tempus fugit.

Joe Frank Harris
Joe Frank Harris

While Maria's idea is fine as to improving livability the funding part is completely unworkable and unfair.  As mentioned by others, if anything, Georgia suffers from insufficient motor fuels tax to maintain and operate the existing roads and bridges.  There is no extra money to pay for anything let alone so called transformational lifestyle transportation amenities.   Plus, why should drivers trying to get to work bear the burden of providing a streetcar for someone who does not wish to drive to go to dinner as a lifestyle amenity? 

I have an idea.  A street car running form historic Roswell to the revamped downtown Alpharetta would be a great idea.  A great amenity so folks can get out of their cars and go grab a drink or dinner without driving.  Would the folks in say Decatur be willing to increase their taxes to pay for this great lifestyle amenity up in North Fulton?  I did not think so.  However its OK for the in town folks to constantly complain and bicker that the roughly 9 million Georgians who live OTP should help pay for/subsidize their ITP improvements.  The idea seems to be if its good for Inman Park it must be good for all of metro Atlanta so the entire MSA should pay.  On the flip side, if say Cobb County wants a new road, that is bad and not "smart". 

A lot of folks don't seem to realize that the original subway systems in New York and Boston and Chicago were built as for profit ventures with private money not with government subsidies or taxes.  I think street cars, etc. are fine and would make for some nice neighborhoods but the folks who live in those areas or the developers who want to profit from those amenities should pay for them.  In town folks who want to push for this should be down at City Hall arguing for increases in property taxes or sales taxes to build up the money to get it going. 

Instead of trying to find a way for the folks who will directly benefit from these improvements to pay for it themselves at the local level (City of Atlanta) they would rather blame the inaction on the statewide elected officials (mostly those darn pig headed Republicans) who don't see the light.  If the Republicans would only "get it" and vote to take gas tax money from someone in say Fayette County to pay for it.

Joe Frank Harris
Joe Frank Harris

While Maria's idea is fine as to improving livability the funding part is completely unworkable and unfair.  As mentioned by others, if anything, Georgia suffers from insufficient motor fuels tax to maintain and operate the existing roads and bridges.  There is no extra money to pay for anything let alone so called transformational lifestyle transportation amenities.   Plus, why should drivers trying to get to work bear the burden of providing a streetcar for someone who does not wish to drive to go to dinner as a lifestyle amenity?  I have an idea.  A street car running form historic Roswell to the revamped downtown Alpharetta would be a great idea.  A great amenity so folks can get out of their cars and go grab a drink or dinner without driving.  Would the folks in say Decatur be willing to increase their taxes to pay for this great lifestyle amenity up in North Fulton?  I did not think so.  However its OK for the in town folks to constantly complain and bicker that the roughly 9 million Georgians who live OTP should help pay for/subsidize their ITP improvements.  The idea seems to be if its good for Inman Park it must be good for all of metro Atlanta so the entire MSA should pay.  On the flip side, if say Cobb County wants a new road, that is bad and not "smart".  A lot of folks don't seem to realize that the original subway systems in New York and Boston and Chicago were built as for profit ventures with private money not with government subsidies or taxes.  I think street cars, etc. are fine and would make for some nice neighborhoods but the folks who live in those areas or the developers who want to profit from those amenities should pay for them.  In town folks who want to push for this should be down at City Hall arguing for increases in property taxes or sales taxes to build up the money to get it going.  Instead of trying to find a way for the folks who will directly benefit from these improvements to pay for it themselves at the local level (City of Atlanta) they would rather blame the inaction on the statewide elected officials (mostly those darn pig headed Republicans) who don't see the light.  If the Republicans would only "get it" and vote to take gas tax money from someone in say Fayette County to pay for it.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

@RobAugustine Moving large numbers of people via a truly multimodal transportation system that consists of a very-heavy amount of transit is especially important for a city and metro region like Atlanta.

As a metro region, Atlanta seems to be trying (unsuccessfully by most accounts) to live the automobile-heavy lifestyle of car-crazed Sunbelt metros like Houston and Los Angeles, but on a road infrastructure that is as bad as (or worse than by some accounts) a transit-heavy metro area like Boston.

It has been said many times before and it will be said many times again, as a metro region, Atlanta just simply does not have the road infrastructure to function without heavy access to transit, both inside and outside the I-285 Perimeter.

And with public opinion seemingly having turned against large-scale road expansion as a means of improving transportation many years ago, Metro Atlanta is likely not going to acquire the very-large amount of road infrastructure that it will take to adequately function without heavy access to transit across the metro region.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

RobAugustine Moving large numbers of people via a truly multimodal transportation system that consists of a very-heavy amount of transit is especially important for a city and metro region like Atlanta. As a metro region, Atlanta seems to be trying (unsuccessfully by most accounts) to live the automobile-heavy lifestyle of car-crazed Sunbelt metros like Houston and Los Angeles, but on a road infrastructure that is as bad as (or worse than by some accounts) a transit-heavy metro area like Boston. It has been said many times before and it will be said many times again, as a metro region, Atlanta just simply does not have the road infrastructure to function without heavy access to transit, both inside and outside the I-285 Perimeter. And with public opinion seemingly having turned against large-scale road expansion as a means of improving transportation many years ago, Metro Atlanta is likely not going to acquire the very-large amount of road infrastructure that it will take to adequately function without heavy access to transit across the metro region.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

@Joe Frank Harris {{{"As to the 100,000 residents per year population growth, yes you have a good point growth the last few years has been below this level but generally speaking over the last two decades or more it has been at this level.  With the return of job growth to the MSA in the last year or so and housing starts again ramping up I believe we will soon be back at the 100,000 population job growth range per year."}}}

...Mr. Harris, your optimistic view of Metro Atlanta's economic future is greatly appreciated, particularly coming out of this severe economic downturn.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

@Joe Frank Harris {{{"The simple fact is that Atlanta does not and will not for decades (if ever) have the population density to support some kind of massive rail system."}}}

...But just as Metro Atlanta may not have the uniform population density of transit-heavy/transit-dependent Northeastern cities, Metro Atlanta also does not have the road network to adequately support the peak-hour vehicular movements of a major metro area of over 6 million.

Metro Atlanta is also politically-constrained and politically-restricted by the will of the voting public from even attempting to expand the road network to adequately support the peak-hour vehicular movements of a major metro region of over 6 million.

Metro Atlanta has reached a point where it can no longer attempt or even hope to build its way out of increasingly severe traffic congestion with widespread large-scale road expansion.

This is particularly the case with population growth often outpacing whatever new capacity may be added to the road network, and with the voting public becoming increasingly averse to the concept of continued large-scale road expansion.

We tried building our way out of traffic congestion without implementing a strong long-term transit option back in the 1980's and it worked for a limited time until the region's continued explosive economic prosperity and population growth rendered that large-scale road expansion-only strategy almost completely obsolete before the turn-of-the-Millennium. 

Now with large-scale road expansion no longer a real option, the Atlanta region has no choice but to invest in implementing and cultivating a strong long-term transit alternative to driving on a severely-congested inadequate road network.

We can and will still have to invest in improving our inadequate road network, but from this point on most of those investments will involve the funding of safety improvements (reconstruction of outmoded freeway interchanges and dangerous busy surface intersections) rather than the traditional road widenings and expansions which have become out of vogue with the public.

{{{"Outside literally a handful of US cities (NYC for example) the only US MSA that have material transit ridership are ones that have basically created congestion so bad that folks have had no alternative.  But is that what we want?  Make folks so miserable they must ride transit even though they really probably don't want to?"}}}

...The Atlanta region already has created congestion so bad that has made commuters so miserable that they must ride transit even though they may not really want to.

The Atlanta region has already created miserably bad traffic congestion by piling entirely too much automobile-oriented development on an inadequate and undersized road network that was basically intended only to handle the vehicular movements of a semi-rural and rural population.

The problem is that despite the miserable traffic congestion that has been caused by the overdevelopment of an inadequate and undersized road network, the transit option that people would ride to avoid the miserable traffic congestion is either very inadequate or totally non-existent in many places.

The continued lack of transit availability is particularly acute outside of the I-285 Perimeter in many places where the traffic congestion is the absolute worst during peak hours.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

@Joe Frank Harris {{{"Yes driving from the outer suburbs into the CBD and other areas is a nightmare.  Not disputing that.  But that is really more related to lack of road expansion for the 88% or 90% or 95% (pick your data source) of folks who drive to work."}}}

...That is a good point that most of Metro Atlanta's traffic issues are as a direct result of the lack of road expansion for the up to 95% of commuters who drive to and from work.

But that lack of further large-scale road expansion for the roughly 95% of commuters who drive is something that is a direct result of political constraints to large-scale road expansion brought about after multiple widespread public rejections of large-scale road expansion proposals. 

There are physical, financial, and (most importantly) political limits to how far the road network can be expanded, particularly in a major metro region of over 6 million people where many major roads run through areas of heavy existing commercial and residential development.

After those political limits to how much the road network can be expanded have been reached, a major metro region often has no choice but to invest in transit expansion to compensate for the inability to further expand a road network that has effectively reached "political build-out".

Meaning that no matter how much it may seem that a heavily-used road or multiple heavily-used roads need to be expanded (or further expanded) to accommodate growing volumes of peak-hour traffic, that heavily-used road or roads is not getting expanded because the public won't allow it.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

@Joe Frank Harris {{{"When I say70% subsidy for MARTA what I am talking about is that fare collections (ie user collections) only cover about 30% of MARTA's operating expenses (not including the other critical cost of capital for upgrades and replacement of equipment).  The source to cover the 70% are various Federal and local subsidies (1% MARTA sales tax for example).  If MARTA riders wanted to actually pay the cost to ride it would be over $5.00 per trip."}}}

...$5.00 per trip is about what riders should be paying at the very least for longer-distance trips (roughly about 16 miles or more with the utilization of a distance-based user fee/distance-based fare structure where rides should cost about roughly $0.30 per-mile).

As I mentioned in a previous post below, riders pay up to $11.05 for a one-way ride of up to 48-50 miles one-way on a heavy rail train between the east end of Northern California's BART regional heavy rail system at the Pittsburg/Bay Point station and San Francisco International Airport near the west-end of the BART system.

Riders on New York's Long Island Railroad (LIRR) pay up to $33.00 for a one-way ride of about 115 miles between Midtown Manhattan and the east end of Long Island.

Both of those distance-based transit fares are fares that make MARTA's $2.50 one-way flat fare look like a pittance by comparison.

MARTA's fare structure should be arranged so that the funding equation is the other way around with farebox revenues covering over 70% or more of what it costs to operate and maintain the system.

The remaining 30% of operating costs should be covered with funding from real estate transactions on transit-owned land, limited portions of property tax revenues from development along transit lines, and private investment, NOT sales taxes and federal subsidies.

{{{"Surely most people who understand basic math should realize that if we were to keep expanding rail and kept losing more than $5.00 per trip for every rider who stepped into a rail car this is completely unworkable despite how cool it sounds.  This is why a lof of folks whine that MARTA needs state level subsidies like in other parts of the US but this hides the simple fact that MARTA just like every other similar transit agency does not have enough core user demand to cover the costs of operation."}}}

...Even though the overall transit usage rate is very low by percentage for the Metro Atlanta region as a whole, with 70,506,800 boardings on MARTA buses and trains in 2012 and with an average weekday ridership of 218,400 as of the first quarter of 2013, MARTA still has more than enough core user demand remaining to much more adequately cover the costs of operation if MARTA were to collect what it actually costs to fund longer-distance trips (like say between the Atlanta Airport and the North Springs MARTA station) and encouraged higher ridership for shorter distances by collecting less on shorter-distance trips with the utilization of a distance-based fare structure that collected roughly $0.30 per-mile.

Utilizing a distance-based fare structure in which fares riders were charged $0.30 per mile means that one would have to ride more than 8 miles in the system before paying the current fare of $2.50 one-way.

Utilizing a distance-based fare structure in which fares riders were charged $0.30 per-mile also means that longer-distanced transit trips would be more adequately-priced to cover the cost of the longer trip that is being provided, with a trip from the current south end of the system at the Airport to the current north end of the system at North Springs costing no less than $6.60 one-way (as compared to the current flat-rate fare of $2.50 one-way).

MARTA would not need additional subsidies from the state for continued operation and any desired expansion if MARTA had been collecting more from the farebox and more from its very lucrative real estate assets (many of which are in very-prime locations in the metro area) and properly and correctly managing the increased revenues that it should have been collecting since its inception. 

Let's just say for the sake of argument that MARTA had collected an average of $4.00 from each of those 70,506,800 boardings in 2012.

If MARTA had collected an average of $4.00 from each of those 70,506,800 boardings in 2012, the agency would have collected over $282 million just from fares alone in 2012 (that's compared to the $128 million that the agency will collect in fiscal year 2014 with a flat-rate fare of $2.50 one-way).

MARTA collects less than half of what it should be collecting from the farebox each year with its depressed flat-rate fare structure.

{{{"I do not accept the argument that more government subsidies (ie taking from tax payers who don't use the system) to cover more loses somehow justifies its expansion for the benefit of the very small proportion of people who use the system (again per US Census- 3.1% of Atlantans)."}}}

...I agree that utilizing more government subsidies while depressing revenues from fares and real estate transactions is highly-inefficient.

If a transit agency like MARTA had been collecting more from the critically-important revenue streams of fares and real estate transactions since its inception, the agency likely would have had more revenue to provide a higher level and quality of transit service, meaning that the agency would have had more riders which means that the agency would have had even more revenues to work with when it comes to funding upgrades and expansions as needed.

MARTA's current Herculean financial troubles did not come about because of a lack of core user demand (Atlanta's notorious traffic issues alone are enough to create a very high level of core user demand if a transit service is dependable and relatively convenient to use), a lack of direct state funding, or even the state requirement that MARTA put aside 50% of its sales tax revenues for capital costs (which the agency still does not have enough money even with the state requirement).

MARTA's financial issues came about because of extreme mismanagement of the financial assets that it did have full control over, mainly its farebox revenues (which MARTA has never collected enough of, for starters) and its lucrative real estate assets which are in some very-prime areas of town, particularly in Downtown, Midtown, Buckhead and on the Northside.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

@Joe Frank Harris Thanks for the links.  Again, you've made some excellent points, Mr. Harris.

{{{"Here is the list showing commuter transit usage by MSA (not city).  The source is the US Census.  Note Atlanta does not even make the list of the top 29 MSAs but if you did deeper you will find an interactive map that shows Atlanta MSA transit usage at 3.1%.    The census says 88% but note that they include the 5% of Atlantans who work from home as commuters.  I would not count those folks in my analysis."}}}

...That very-low transit usage rate is one of the main reasons cited why the federal government has been pushing the installation and implementation of tolled and managed lanes in the Atlanta region in recent years, as a means of pushing up the very-low rate of transit usage in a major metropolitan area and one of the continent's major population centers in an Atlanta region with a notoriously-poor surface road network and politically-constrained freeway system....An overall road network of surface roads and freeways that is completely inadequate to support the heavy vehicular movements of a major metro region of over 6 million people.

{{{"I say about 95% of people drive. The census says 88% but note that they include the 5% of Atlantans who work from home as commuters.  I would not count those folks in my analysis.  But that is another good point- more folks in Atlanta work from home than take all public transit to work in the MSA..  The cheapest and most effective way to reduce congestion is not transit or roads but just getting folks to telecommute."}}}

...That is an excellent point that more Metro Atlantans likely telecommute than take transit to and from work as telecommuting plays a very key role in helping traffic congestion not be even worse than it already is.

That 5% of workers who telecommute makes a huge difference in a region where the road network already handles nearly roughly twice the amount of traffic that it was designed to handle.

The problem is that it is extremely difficult to push telecommuting rates higher than that 5% mark because it is extremely difficult to get employers to buy into letting their employees work from home away from the perceived close supervision of management that comes with working in an office.

As of late in some key business circles, the trend has been moving away from telecommuting with some major employers discontinuing existing telecommuting programs and forcing those employees to once again commute to and from work.

There is no doubt that telecommuting has been and will continue to be extremely important in helping to keep Metro Atlanta's already very-severe traffic congestion from being even worse.

But with telecommuting being limited to what it can do to alleviate traffic congestion with about 5% of the workforce using it mark, largely due to employers who remain highly-skeptical of the effectiveness of telecommuting as it relates to employee productivity, we have no choice but to invest in making our currently inadequate physical transportation infrastructure work better.

We can invest in making our currently inadequate physical transportation infrastructure work and function better by working within the political constraints and political boundaries that have been established by the public to make targeted improvements to our currently inadequate road infrastructure where necessary and targeted expansions to our currently inadequate transit infrastructure where both necessary and appropriate.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

Joe Frank Harris {{{"As to the 100,000 residents per year population growth, yes you have a good point growth the last few years has been below this level but generally speaking over the last two decades or more it has been at this level.  With the return of job growth to the MSA in the last year or so and housing starts again ramping up I believe we will soon be back at the 100,000 population job growth range per year."}}} ...Mr. Harris, your optimistic view of Metro Atlanta's economic future is greatly appreciated, particularly coming out of this severe economic downturn.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

Joe Frank Harris {{{"The simple fact is that Atlanta does not and will not for decades (if ever) have the population density to support some kind of massive rail system."}}} ...But just as Metro Atlanta may not have the uniform population density of transit-heavy/transit-dependent Northeastern cities, Metro Atlanta also does not have the road network to adequately support the peak-hour vehicular movements of a major metro area of over 6 million. Metro Atlanta is also politically-constrained and politically-restricted by the will of the voting public from even attempting to expand the road network to adequately support the peak-hour vehicular movements of a major metro region of over 6 million. Metro Atlanta has reached a point where it can no longer attempt or even hope to build its way out of increasingly severe traffic congestion with widespread large-scale road expansion. This is particularly the case with population growth often outpacing whatever new capacity may be added to the road network, and with the voting public becoming increasingly averse to the concept of continued large-scale road expansion. We tried building our way out of traffic congestion without implementing a strong long-term transit option back in the 1980's and it worked for a limited time until the region's continued explosive economic prosperity and population growth rendered that large-scale road expansion-only strategy almost completely obsolete before the turn-of-the-Millennium.  Now with large-scale road expansion no longer a real option, the Atlanta region has no choice but to invest in implementing and cultivating a strong long-term transit alternative to driving on a severely-congested inadequate road network. We can and will still have to invest in improving our inadequate road network, but from this point on most of those investments will involve the funding of safety improvements (reconstruction of outmoded freeway interchanges and dangerous busy surface intersections) rather than the traditional road widenings and expansions which have become out of vogue with the public. {{{"Outside literally a handful of US cities (NYC for example) the only US MSA that have material transit ridership are ones that have basically created congestion so bad that folks have had no alternative.  But is that what we want?  Make folks so miserable they must ride transit even though they really probably don't want to?"}}} ...The Atlanta region already has created congestion so bad that has made commuters so miserable that they must ride transit even though they may not really want to. The Atlanta region has already created miserably bad traffic congestion by piling entirely too much automobile-oriented development on an inadequate and undersized road network that was basically intended only to handle the vehicular movements of a semi-rural and rural population. The problem is that despite the miserable traffic congestion that has been caused by the overdevelopment of an inadequate and undersized road network, the transit option that people would ride to avoid the miserable traffic congestion is either very inadequate or totally non-existent in many places. The continued lack of transit availability is particularly acute outside of the I-285 Perimeter in many places where the traffic congestion is the absolute worst during peak hours.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

Joe Frank Harris {{{"Yes driving from the outer suburbs into the CBD and other areas is a nightmare.  Not disputing that.  But that is really more related to lack of road expansion for the 88% or 90% or 95% (pick your data source) of folks who drive to work."}}} ...That is a good point that most of Metro Atlanta's traffic issues are as a direct result of the lack of road expansion for the up to 95% of commuters who drive to and from work. But that lack of further large-scale road expansion for the roughly 95% of commuters who drive is something that is a direct result of political constraints to large-scale road expansion brought about after multiple widespread public rejections of large-scale road expansion proposals.  There are physical, financial, and (most importantly) political limits to how far the road network can be expanded, particularly in a major metro region of over 6 million people where many major roads run through areas of heavy existing commercial and residential development. After those political limits to how much the road network can be expanded have been reached, a major metro region often has no choice but to invest in transit expansion to compensate for the inability to further expand a road network that has effectively reached "political build-out". Meaning that no matter how much it may seem that a heavily-used road or multiple heavily-used roads need to be expanded (or further expanded) to accommodate growing volumes of peak-hour traffic, that heavily-used road or roads is not getting expanded because the public won't allow it.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

Joe Frank Harris {{{"When I say70% subsidy for MARTA what I am talking about is that fare collections (ie user collections) only cover about 30% of MARTA's operating expenses (not including the other critical cost of capital for upgrades and replacement of equipment).  The source to cover the 70% are various Federal and local subsidies (1% MARTA sales tax for example).  If MARTA riders wanted to actually pay the cost to ride it would be over $5.00 per trip."}}} ...$5.00 per trip is about what riders should be paying at the very least for longer-distance trips (roughly about 16 miles or more with the utilization of a distance-based user fee/distance-based fare structure where rides should cost about roughly $0.30 per-mile). As I mentioned in a previous post below, riders pay up to $11.05 for a one-way ride of up to 48-50 miles one-way on a heavy rail train between the east end of Northern California's BART regional heavy rail system at the Pittsburg/Bay Point station and San Francisco International Airport near the west-end of the BART system. Riders on New York's Long Island Railroad (LIRR) pay up to $33.00 for a one-way ride of about 115 miles between Midtown Manhattan and the east end of Long Island. Both of those distance-based transit fares are fares that make MARTA's $2.50 one-way flat fare look like a pittance by comparison. MARTA's fare structure should be arranged so that the funding equation is the other way around with farebox revenues covering over 70% or more of what it costs to operate and maintain the system. The remaining 30% of operating costs should be covered with funding from real estate transactions on transit-owned land, limited portions of property tax revenues from development along transit lines, and private investment, NOT sales taxes and federal subsidies. {{{"Surely most people who understand basic math should realize that if we were to keep expanding rail and kept losing more than $5.00 per trip for every rider who stepped into a rail car this is completely unworkable despite how cool it sounds.  This is why a lof of folks whine that MARTA needs state level subsidies like in other parts of the US but this hides the simple fact that MARTA just like every other similar transit agency does not have enough core user demand to cover the costs of operation."}}} ...Even though the overall transit usage rate is very low by percentage for the Metro Atlanta region as a whole, with 70,506,800 boardings on MARTA buses and trains in 2012 and with an average weekday ridership of 218,400 as of the first quarter of 2013, MARTA still has more than enough core user demand remaining to much more adequately cover the costs of operation if MARTA were to collect what it actually costs to fund longer-distance trips (like say between the Atlanta Airport and the North Springs MARTA station) and encouraged higher ridership for shorter distances by collecting less on shorter-distance trips with the utilization of a distance-based fare structure that collected roughly $0.30 per-mile. Utilizing a distance-based fare structure in which fares riders were charged $0.30 per mile means that one would have to ride more than 8 miles in the system before paying the current fare of $2.50 one-way. Utilizing a distance-based fare structure in which fares riders were charged $0.30 per-mile also means that longer-distanced transit trips would be more adequately-priced to cover the cost of the longer trip that is being provided, with a trip from the current south end of the system at the Airport to the current north end of the system at North Springs costing no less than $6.60 one-way (as compared to the current flat-rate fare of $2.50 one-way). MARTA would not need additional subsidies from the state for continued operation and any desired expansion if MARTA had been collecting more from the farebox and more from its very lucrative real estate assets (many of which are in very-prime locations in the metro area) and properly and correctly managing the increased revenues that it should have been collecting since its inception.  Let's just say for the sake of argument that MARTA had collected an average of $4.00 from each of those 70,506,800 boardings in 2012. If MARTA had collected an average of $4.00 from each of those 70,506,800 boardings in 2012, the agency would have collected over $282 million just from fares alone in 2012 (that's compared to the $128 million that the agency will collect in fiscal year 2014 with a flat-rate fare of $2.50 one-way). MARTA collects less than half of what it should be collecting from the farebox each year with its depressed flat-rate fare structure. {{{"I do not accept the argument that more government subsidies (ie taking from tax payers who don't use the system) to cover more loses somehow justifies its expansion for the benefit of the very small proportion of people who use the system (again per US Census- 3.1% of Atlantans)."}}} ...I agree that utilizing more government subsidies while depressing revenues from fares and real estate transactions is highly-inefficient. If a transit agency like MARTA had been collecting more from the critically-important revenue streams of fares and real estate transactions since its inception, the agency likely would have had more revenue to provide a higher level and quality of transit service, meaning that the agency would have had more riders which means that the agency would have had even more revenues to work with when it comes to funding upgrades and expansions as needed. MARTA's current Herculean financial troubles did not come about because of a lack of core user demand (Atlanta's notorious traffic issues alone are enough to create a very high level of core user demand if a transit service is dependable and relatively convenient to use), a lack of direct state funding, or even the state requirement that MARTA put aside 50% of its sales tax revenues for capital costs (which the agency still does not have enough money even with the state requirement). MARTA's financial issues came about because of extreme mismanagement of the financial assets that it did have full control over, mainly its farebox revenues (which MARTA has never collected enough of, for starters) and its lucrative real estate assets which are in some very-prime areas of town, particularly in Downtown, Midtown, Buckhead and on the Northside.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

Joe Frank Harris Thanks for the links.  Again, you've made some excellent points, Mr. Harris. {{{"Here is the list showing commuter transit usage by MSA (not city).  The source is the US Census.  Note Atlanta does not even make the list of the top 29 MSAs but if you did deeper you will find an interactive map that shows Atlanta MSA transit usage at 3.1%.    The census says 88% but note that they include the 5% of Atlantans who work from home as commuters.  I would not count those folks in my analysis."}}} ...That very-low transit usage rate is one of the main reasons cited why the federal government has been pushing the installation and implementation of tolled and managed lanes in the Atlanta region in recent years, as a means of pushing up the very-low rate of transit usage in a major metropolitan area and one of the continent's major population centers in an Atlanta region with a notoriously-poor surface road network and politically-constrained freeway system....An overall road network of surface roads and freeways that is completely inadequate to support the heavy vehicular movements of a major metro region of over 6 million people. {{{"I say about 95% of people drive. The census says 88% but note that they include the 5% of Atlantans who work from home as commuters.  I would not count those folks in my analysis.  But that is another good point- more folks in Atlanta work from home than take all public transit to work in the MSA..  The cheapest and most effective way to reduce congestion is not transit or roads but just getting folks to telecommute."}}} ...That is an excellent point that more Metro Atlantans likely telecommute than take transit to and from work as telecommuting plays a very key role in helping traffic congestion not be even worse than it already is. That 5% of workers who telecommute makes a huge difference in a region where the road network already handles nearly roughly twice the amount of traffic that it was designed to handle. The problem is that it is extremely difficult to push telecommuting rates higher than that 5% mark because it is extremely difficult to get employers to buy into letting their employees work from home away from the perceived close supervision of management that comes with working in an office. As of late in some key business circles, the trend has been moving away from telecommuting with some major employers discontinuing existing telecommuting programs and forcing those employees to once again commute to and from work. There is no doubt that telecommuting has been and will continue to be extremely important in helping to keep Metro Atlanta's already very-severe traffic congestion from being even worse. But with telecommuting being limited to what it can do to alleviate traffic congestion with about 5% of the workforce using it mark, largely due to employers who remain highly-skeptical of the effectiveness of telecommuting as it relates to employee productivity, we have no choice but to invest in making our currently inadequate physical transportation infrastructure work better. We can invest in making our currently inadequate physical transportation infrastructure work and function better by working within the political constraints and political boundaries that have been established by the public to make targeted improvements to our currently inadequate road infrastructure where necessary and targeted expansions to our currently inadequate transit infrastructure where both necessary and appropriate.

ScottNAtlanta
ScottNAtlanta

@Joe Frank Harris Atlanta is by far the largest center of employment in the region. If it wasn't there wouldn't be the kind of traffic we see daily.  The benefits of last mile connectivity are enormous for people who commute.  Whether its streetcar, the Beltline, or another mode...getting to where you want to go with the least amount of distance to walk is key.  If you worked 10 blocks from a transit stop...its not very likely that you would use transit.  But if it stopped right outside the door of your office, you might be highly inclined to use it.  So, to call it an amenity for city dwellers is wrong.   If built out properly its good for everyone that lives and WORKS in Atlanta

ScottNAtlanta
ScottNAtlanta

Joe Frank Harris Atlanta is by far the largest center of employment in the region. If it wasn't there wouldn't be the kind of traffic we see daily.  The benefits of last mile connectivity are enormous for people who commute.  Whether its streetcar, the Beltline, or another mode...getting to where you want to go with the least amount of distance to walk is key.  If you worked 10 blocks from a transit stop...its not very likely that you would use transit.  But if it stopped right outside the door of your office, you might be highly inclined to use it.  So, to call it an amenity for city dwellers is wrong.   If built out properly its good for everyone that lives and WORKS in Atlanta

Joe Frank Harris
Joe Frank Harris

@The Last Democrat in Georgia @Joe Frank Harris

Can't argue with anything you say about increasing MARTA fares to a more realistic level.  This would also go a long way toward diminishing criticism of the system if the fare box covered a greater portion of the operating costs. But just like the drivers who don't want to pay more gas tax even if 100% goes to roads, I wonder politically and with the ridership as well if they would really accept say a doubling in fares to get the operating losses to a more manageable level.  If they would then sure I think it becomes more viable to expand the system but I suspect that a move in fares from say $2.50 to $5.00 (for the longer distances) would not go over very well.  This also becomes somewhat of a class or possibly racial issue because many low income folks use MARTA and a major increase in fares would hurt them the most.

Joe Frank Harris
Joe Frank Harris

The Last Democrat in Georgia Joe Frank Harris Can't argue with anything you say about increasing MARTA fares to a more realistic level.  This would also go a long way toward diminishing criticism of the system if the fare box covered a greater portion of the operating costs. But just like the drivers who don't want to pay more gas tax even if 100% goes to roads, I wonder politically and with the ridership as well if they would really accept say a doubling in fares to get the operating losses to a more manageable level.  If they would then sure I think it becomes more viable to expand the system but I suspect that a move in fares from say $2.50 to $5.00 (for the longer distances) would not go over very well.  This also becomes somewhat of a class or possibly racial issue because many low income folks use MARTA and a major increase in fares would hurt them the most.

Joe Frank Harris
Joe Frank Harris

@ScottNAtlanta @Joe Frank Harris 

Whoa Scott.  Maria's article was about transportation improvements for livability NOT congestion improvement for commuters or business.  Second, you do realize that there are more jobs in the Atlanta MSA OTP than in, right?  To put it in perspective, less than 25% of the population of the Atlanta MSA lives ITP.

I hear you on the idea of having transit very nearby but it will be years before Atlanta has the kind of population density to support this in a meaningful way.  Even in cities that are well known for urban planning and density such as San Francisco or Washington DC only about 15% of residents use public transport.  The fact of the matter is in just about every city except NYC over 80% still don't use mass transit.  Given that Atlanta is at 5% usage now (almost the same as peer cities such as Houston or Dallas) it will take decades and billions to move the needle to the San Francisco level only then to discover more than 80% are still driving.

Joe Frank Harris
Joe Frank Harris

ScottNAtlanta Joe Frank Harris  Whoa Scott.  Maria's article was about transportation improvements for livability NOT congestion improvement for commuters or business.  Second, you do realize that there are more jobs in the Atlanta MSA OTP than in, right?  To put it in perspective, less than 25% of the population of the Atlanta MSA lives ITP. I hear you on the idea of having transit very nearby but it will be years before Atlanta has the kind of population density to support this in a meaningful way.  Even in cities that are well known for urban planning and density such as San Francisco or Washington DC only about 15% of residents use public transport.  The fact of the matter is in just about every city except NYC over 80% still don't use mass transit.  Given that Atlanta is at 5% usage now (almost the same as peer cities such as Houston or Dallas) it will take decades and billions to move the needle to the San Francisco level only then to discover more than 80% are still driving.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

@Joe Frank Harris @The Last Democrat in Georgia That's why it is so critically important that a transit agency like MARTA collect  (and properly manage) the proper amount of fare revenue so that the agency can continue to grow and thrive and not contract, decline and flirt with financial collapse.

Because it is low-income riders that are harmed the most by MARTA's financial failures. 

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

@Joe Frank Harris @The Last Democrat in Georgia But an overall increase in the fare structure to a more realistic level does not have to hurt low income and transit-dependent riders who would receive discounted fares in a distance-based fare structure to recover more of the operating cost from the farebox.

Take Northern California's BART for example.

The full distance-based/zone-based fare rate to ride the 48 miles or so between the Pittsburg/Bay Point BART Station and San Francisco International Airport is $11.05 one-way.

But the discounted fare rate to ride the 48 miles or so between the Pittsburg/Bay Point BART Station and San Francisco Int'l Airport is only $4.10 one-way (or about 37% of the full fare rate) for special groups like the low-income, the disabled, senior citizens, students, etc.

Under a new distance-based fare rate scheme for a system like MARTA, the full distance-based fare rate of roughly $0.30 per-mile could be discounted down to $0.15 per-mile for special groups like low-income riders, disabled riders, senior citizens, students, etc, so that a $6.60 one-way trip between North Springs and the Atlanta Airport only costs $3.30 one-way under a new distance-based fare rate scheme where full fare rates are $0.30 per mile.

One really positive thing about the implementation of a distance-based fare structure in special group riders only pay a rate of $0.15 per mile is that those receiving a special group discount would not have to pay the current fare rate of $2.50 one-way unless one took a trip of 17 miles or more.

The concern over how much low-income riders and special groups would have to pay is a legitimate concern that many people hold, but it is no reason (or excuse) for a transit agency like MARTA to retard the growth and development of the entire transit system just because it does not want to collect the proper amount of fare revenue from one single group of economically-disadvantaged riders.

MARTA's outright refusal to collect the proper amount of revenue and properly manage its finances using state oversight of sales tax revenues as an excuse has done nothing but to harm the people most dependent upon the system to get around: low-income transit-dependent riders.

It is the low-income transit-dependent riders who have been harmed the most by MARTA's vapid financial and operational decline, and it is the low-income transit-dependent riders who would be harmed the absolute most if the system collapsed financially.

That's because those low-income transit-dependent riders have no other way to get around without MARTA, but the non transit-dependent riders who ride MARTA by choice to escape traffic and parking fees can always drive if MARTA becomes financially non-operational.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

Joe Frank Harris The Last Democrat in Georgia That's why it is so critically important that a transit agency like MARTA collect  (and properly manage) the proper amount of fare revenue so that the agency can continue to grow and thrive and not contract, decline and flirt with financial collapse. Because it is low-income riders that are harmed the most by MARTA's financial failures.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

Joe Frank Harris The Last Democrat in Georgia But an overall increase in the fare structure to a more realistic level does not have to hurt low income and transit-dependent riders who would receive discounted fares in a distance-based fare structure to recover more of the operating cost from the farebox. Take Northern California's BART for example. The full distance-based/zone-based fare rate to ride the 48 miles or so between the Pittsburg/Bay Point BART Station and San Francisco International Airport is $11.05 one-way. But the discounted fare rate to ride the 48 miles or so between the Pittsburg/Bay Point BART Station and San Francisco Int'l Airport is only $4.10 one-way (or about 37% of the full fare rate) for special groups like the low-income, the disabled, senior citizens, students, etc. Under a new distance-based fare rate scheme for a system like MARTA, the full distance-based fare rate of roughly $0.30 per-mile could be discounted down to $0.15 per-mile for special groups like low-income riders, disabled riders, senior citizens, students, etc, so that a $6.60 one-way trip between North Springs and the Atlanta Airport only costs $3.30 one-way under a new distance-based fare rate scheme where full fare rates are $0.30 per mile. One really positive thing about the implementation of a distance-based fare structure in special group riders only pay a rate of $0.15 per mile is that those receiving a special group discount would not have to pay the current fare rate of $2.50 one-way unless one took a trip of 17 miles or more. The concern over how much low-income riders and special groups would have to pay is a legitimate concern that many people hold, but it is no reason (or excuse) for a transit agency like MARTA to retard the growth and development of the entire transit system just because it does not want to collect the proper amount of fare revenue from one single group of economically-disadvantaged riders. MARTA's outright refusal to collect the proper amount of revenue and properly manage its finances using state oversight of sales tax revenues as an excuse has done nothing but to harm the people most dependent upon the system to get around: low-income transit-dependent riders. It is the low-income transit-dependent riders who have been harmed the most by MARTA's vapid financial and operational decline, and it is the low-income transit-dependent riders who would be harmed the absolute most if the system collapsed financially. That's because those low-income transit-dependent riders have no other way to get around without MARTA, but the non transit-dependent riders who ride MARTA by choice to escape traffic and parking fees can always drive if MARTA becomes financially non-operational.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

@Joe Frank Harris @The Last Democrat in Georgia

{{{"Probably 90%+ of Democrats drive too so even if Democrats took back a majority of the OTP legislative seats I think a Democrat State Rep from say Lilburn is going to have a hard time redirecting limited resources to support something like this."}}}

...That is an excellent point that Democrats drive too.

(...Though, even with the state's demographics changing rapidly, Democrats taking back a majority of OTP legislative seats still looks to be a very tall order at this point with the party's complete lack of money and organization.)

But increasing multimodal transportation funding (of roads and transit) to adequate levels should not require or involve state government redirecting severely-limited existing transportation funds from an increasingly underfunded state road network to transit.

And increasing multimodal transportation funding (of roads and transit) most certainly should not involve redirecting severely-limited and shrinking transportation funds from an increasingly underfunded state road network to local developmental transportation projects.

Increasing multimodal transportation funding (of both roads and transit) absolutely should involve creating new revenue streams to fund those pressing multimodal transportation needs from user fees and private investment.

Doing so can easily be done by ending motor fuel tax funding of all superhighways and selected major junctions or major surface roads and replacing that motor fuel tax funding with inflation-indexed distance-based user fees that automatically rise with inflation so that 100% of all operational and maintenance costs are always paid for by the user fees on the selected road.

To make the transition from motor fuel tax funding to inflation-indexed distance-based user fee funding more palatable to the public, off-peak traffic speed limits can be increased (...with the utilization of variable speed limits on overhead electronic adjustable speed limit signs that can also adjust speed limits downwards as needed during times of very-heavy congestion, traffic delays and inclement weather).

Another way to make the transition from motor fuel tax funding to user fee funding of superhighways and selected major roads more palatable to the public would be to give cash rebates to motorists on the portion of the fuel tax that they've paid at the pump that would have funded those major roads that are now funded by user fees.

And going back to Mr. Harris' point that subway systems in NYC, Boston and Chicago were originally for-profit ventures built with private money.

...After ending and/or eliminating motor fuel tax funding of all superhighways and selected major surface roads and replacing it with funding from user fees on those superhighways and selected major roads, local and state governments could term-lease out for a profit those superhighways and major roads in a multimodal transportation package along with nearby existing and future transit lines and transit-owned real estate assets to private operating entities who would be responsible for paying all design, construction, operation and continuing maintenance costs of the roads and transit lines they were leasing from the public.

Replacing motor fuel tax funding of superhighways and selected major roads with user fee funding frees up that limited motor fuel tax funding to be used on the maintenance of the parts of the rest of the road network that cannot itself with user fees.

For-profit term-leasing those user fee-funded superhighways and selected major roads in multimodal transportation corridor packages with nearby existing and future transit lines and transit-owned real estate assets out to private operating entities brings in billions of dollars in revenues to state coffers that can be used on non-revenue generating transportation infrastructure projects elsewhere.

Packaging those user fee-funded superhighways and selected major roads together with existing and future transit lines and transit-owned real estate assets into multimodal "supercorridors" and for-profit term-leasing those multimodal "supercorridors" out to private entities also totally eliminates the cost to the state of maintaining much of its major ground transportation infrastructure (superhighways, selected major surface roads and bus and rail transit lines) while bolstering the state's transportation budget (...a transportation budget that is currently rapidly-shrinking while transportation needs and the cost of those transportation needs continue to explode).

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

@Joe Frank Harris @The Last Democrat in Georgia

{{{"That is why I think this, if it is done at all, will have to come at the local level.  That is to say the folks in the City of Atlanta or other areas will have to decide to tax themselves more to make these improvements."}}}

...I completely agree that developmental transportation projects (whether we're talking about developmental roads like Satellite Boulevard in Gwinnett or developmental transit lines in the City of Atlanta like the Beltline and the trolley lines) should be funded by the municipalities that are building them.

But because of the sheer number of municipalities (city and county jurisdictions) that would be involved, funding and planning for major multimodal transportation initiatives (like the continued funding of the growing network of express commuter buses in severely-congested Metro Atlanta region and the critically-needed implementation of regional commuter and interurban passenger rail service throughout the Metro Atlanta region and its North Georgia exurbs and environs, etc) must be handled and coordinated by the state.

{{{"Blaming the state government for this lack of spending will go nearly nowhere and at the end of the day its not some kind of Republican issue."}}}

....You're absolutely right that blaming state government in and of itself will not necessarily help matters.

But because Metro Atlanta's traffic congestion and mobility issues affect so many jurisdictions and affect such a large area of the state (the Atlanta MSA alone stretches over an area of 29 counties), the blame for Metro Atlanta's transportation issues as a whole ultimately falls at the feet of the state, particularly when so many state-maintained and state-managed and state-coordinated transportation corridors are involved (like Interstate highways, federal trunk routes and major state routes).

Also, since the state government whose responsibility it is to manage and maintain the state's transportation network is thoroughly dominated by Republicans, Metro Atlanta's transportation issues are indeed a Republican issue.

Metro Atlanta's growing transportation challenges are very much a Republican issue to the point that perceived continued inaction on an issue that is as vitally important to the state's well-being as transportation will increasingly threaten Republican dominance of and even Republican competitiveness within the state's political scene.

Continued failure of Georgia's Republican-dominated state government to adequately fund the state's transportation infrastructure could very likely combine with the state's rapidly-changing demographics to severely-undermine Republican competitiveness in state politics if the crucial issue of transportation is not addressed in a significant and meaningful way as has increasingly been the case over the last 15-20 years (...a time during which the previously dominant Democrats lost all virtually power within the state's political scene due in large part to their significant mishandling of the critically-important transportation issue).

Which is why a the various tolled/managed lane projects that are in progress around the Metro Atlanta region (which many may not like) are so important to Republicans' continued viability.

Those managed lane projects may not be preferred by many, but for Republicans those projects are good because they at least make it look like the Republicans are addressing the issue of severe traffic congestion and limited transportation mobility in somewhat of a constructive way (after years of inaction).

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

@Joe Frank Harris @The Last Democrat in Georgia

Mr. Harris, that is an excellent point that Texas and Florida have spent (and continue to spend) much more heavily on road improvements than Georgia due to those states having more fuel tax revenue available.

But it must also be noted that Texas and Florida have leaned extremely heavily on user fees (in the form of permanent tolls on new superhighways) to fund their much higher level of spending on road improvements.

Both Texas and Florida literally have dozens of toll roads each compared to Georgia which currently has only one user fee-funded toll road in GA 400, a road whose tolls will end later this year in November 2013, an act which means that Georgia's already severely-limited road maintenance funds will have to be spread even thinner to cover the maintenance on a road in GA 400 that currently funds its own existence with the revenues that it collects from tolls.

Texas, in particular is making use of private investment to funds its road maintenance needs with the State of Texas using private investment to fund a $5 billion overhaul of severely-congested I-635 across the Northside of Dallas (a roadway that serves a logistical function that is somewhat similar to the Top End of the I-285 Perimeter across the Northside of Atlanta).

You also make an excellent point that there already is not enough money to take care of the road network.

Which is why any increase in transportation funding in Georgia should not involve attempting to take meager existing fuel tax revenues from roads and trying to spread them to also ineffectively fund transit.

But rather, any increase in transportation funding should involve creating new revenue streams out of distance-based user fees (per-mile tolls on major roads and per-mile fares on transit) and private investment (for-profit term-leasing of roads and transit lines out to private investors/operators, funding from real estate assets on transit lines, etc).

{{{"The other way to think of this is what spending is going to do the most good for the most people in the 5.5 million person Atlanta MSA?"}}}

...That's an excellent question. 

But even with a past history of an automobile-dominated lifestyle and culture in Metro Atlanta, the answer to that question may not necessarily what one expects, particularly in a changing State of Georgia and Metro Atlanta region that continues to increase in population but not road space because of increasing political constraints to the road network.

At this point, with there being increasing political limits to how much the road network can be expanded, it would likely be best to increase spending on transit by creating new revenue streams to fund it out of user fees and private investment while also increasing targeted spending on much-needed safety improvements to the road network.

{{{"Again with the extreme majority using roads I think it is unrealistic to expect the voters to instruct their state representatives to redirect scarce resources to such a little used method of transportation."}}}

...That's a good point. 

But with the overwhelming defeat and public rejection of multiple large-scale road construction initiatives over the past 15 years or so (the Outer Perimeter, the Northern Arc, T-SPLOST, etc), it is quite clear that the voting public has not exactly been instructing their state representatives to invest in massive amounts of scarce resources new road construction, either.

Joe Frank Harris
Joe Frank Harris

@The Last Democrat in Georgia @Joe Frank Harris 

Very good points overall.   Don't also forget that Texas like Florida for example has continued to spend much more heavily on road improvements over the past 10-15 years than Georgia and the Atlanta MSA.  That road spending far trumps any incremental spending on mass transit (both in congestion impact or dollars).  This is due mainly to having more gas tax dollars compared to us.

I guess my core point is for the foreseeable future we are in a transportation resource constrained situation. I have no idea if or when there will be enough money to invest in an "all of the above" transportation strategy.  Georgia is a democracy and the majority rules.  With about 95% of Atlantans in the MSA using cars to get to work and most folks living in low density housing I think it is impractical to expect a big change in direction at the state level as there is not even enough money to handle the roads themselves.   

The other way to think of this is what spending is going to do the most good for the most people in the 5.5 million person Atlanta MSA?  Again with the extreme majority using roads I think it is unrealistic to expect the voters to instruct their state representatives to redirect scarce resources to such a little used method of transportation.  That is why I think this, if it is done at all, will have to come at the local level.  That is to say the folks in the City of Atlanta or other areas will have to decide to tax themselves more to make these improvements.  Blaming the state government for this lack of spending will go nearly nowhere and at the end of the day its not some kind of Republican issue.  Probably 90%+ of Democrats drive too so even if Democrats took back a majority of the OTP legislative seats I think a Democrat State Rep from say Lilburn is going to have a hard time redirecting limited resources to support something like this. 

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

@Joe Frank Harris

Excellent points on how there are more jobs and people outside of I-285 than there are inside of I-285.

But when it comes to the need for mass transit in the Greater Atlanta region, it is not necessarily about the Atlanta region needing the population density to support it as much as it is about the Atlanta region not having an adequate enough road network to function at a high level without a strong mass transit option.

Even though only about roughly 5% of the population in the Atlanta region uses transit, that 5% transit usage rate makes a huge difference in a region where very-severe traffic congestion offen pushes the politically-constricted road network to its breaking point during peak hours.

So if a transit usage rate of 5% can mean the difference between a severely-crowded highway network that at least remains minimally functional during peak traffic times and an even more severely-overcrowded highway network that is completely impassable during peak traffic times, then improving the transit usage rate to the 15-20% range would mean a massive improvement in traffic flow.

Improving transit usage rates to the 15-20% range would also greatly help to keep major stretches of roadway passable during peak hours in a major metro region in Atlanta where the population continues to grow at a very-explosive rate, but the amount of already-limited road space stays virtually the same. 

That 5% transit usage rate in the Atlanta region may match automobile-dominated Sunbelt peer cities like Houston and Dallas.

But a glaring difference between the Atlanta region and the Houston and Dallas regions is that those automobile-dominated regions have much more extensive road networks than Atlanta.

The reason for the much more extensive road network in the Houston and Dallas regions and the much less extensive road network in the Atlanta region, is that in the Atlanta region the public is much less-receptive to large-scale road expansion proposals (mostly because of a heavily-wooded rolling to hilly to mountainous topography that the public is often fiercely-protective of).

Compare that situation to Texas where the more sparcely-wooded and much flatter topography often inspires very-little, if any, of a protective response from the public when new major roads are proposed and built.

Not many people might care if a new road is proposed to be built through mostly treeless flat ranch land and prairie full of low grass.

But propose to build a new road through an area of heavily-wooded hills and mountains dotted with ponds and lakes and watch the public's reaction turn from nearly total indifference to intensely-protective anger and opposition (...see the public's angry rejection of large-scale road expansion proposals like the Outer Perimeter, the Northern Arc and the 411-75 Connector in the Cartersville area).

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

Joe Frank Harris The Last Democrat in Georgia {{{"Probably 90%+ of Democrats drive too so even if Democrats took back a majority of the OTP legislative seats I think a Democrat State Rep from say Lilburn is going to have a hard time redirecting limited resources to support something like this."}}} ...That is an excellent point that Democrats drive too. (...Though, even with the state's demographics changing rapidly, Democrats taking back a majority of OTP legislative seats still looks to be a very tall order at this point with the party's complete lack of money and organization.) But increasing multimodal transportation funding (of roads and transit) to adequate levels should not require or involve state government redirecting severely-limited existing transportation funds from an increasingly underfunded state road network to transit. And increasing multimodal transportation funding (of roads and transit) most certainly should not involve redirecting severely-limited and shrinking transportation funds from an increasingly underfunded state road network to local developmental transportation projects. Increasing multimodal transportation funding (of both roads and transit) absolutely should involve creating new revenue streams to fund those pressing multimodal transportation needs from user fees and private investment. Doing so can easily be done by ending motor fuel tax funding of all superhighways and selected major junctions or major surface roads and replacing that motor fuel tax funding with inflation-indexed distance-based user fees that automatically rise with inflation so that 100% of all operational and maintenance costs are always paid for by the user fees on the selected road. To make the transition from motor fuel tax funding to inflation-indexed distance-based user fee funding more palatable to the public, off-peak traffic speed limits can be increased (...with the utilization of variable speed limits on overhead electronic adjustable speed limit signs that can also adjust speed limits downwards as needed during times of very-heavy congestion, traffic delays and inclement weather). Another way to make the transition from motor fuel tax funding to user fee funding of superhighways and selected major roads more palatable to the public would be to give cash rebates to motorists on the portion of the fuel tax that they've paid at the pump that would have funded those major roads that are now funded by user fees. And going back to Mr. Harris' point that subway systems in NYC, Boston and Chicago were originally for-profit ventures built with private money. ...After ending and/or eliminating motor fuel tax funding of all superhighways and selected major surface roads and replacing it with funding from user fees on those superhighways and selected major roads, local and state governments could term-lease out for a profit those superhighways and major roads in a multimodal transportation package along with nearby existing and future transit lines and transit-owned real estate assets to private operating entities who would be responsible for paying all design, construction, operation and continuing maintenance costs of the roads and transit lines they were leasing from the public. Replacing motor fuel tax funding of superhighways and selected major roads with user fee funding frees up that limited motor fuel tax funding to be used on the maintenance of the parts of the rest of the road network that cannot itself with user fees. For-profit term-leasing those user fee-funded superhighways and selected major roads in multimodal transportation corridor packages with nearby existing and future transit lines and transit-owned real estate assets out to private operating entities brings in billions of dollars in revenues to state coffers that can be used on non-revenue generating transportation infrastructure projects elsewhere. Packaging those user fee-funded superhighways and selected major roads together with existing and future transit lines and transit-owned real estate assets into multimodal "supercorridors" and for-profit term-leasing those multimodal "supercorridors" out to private entities also totally eliminates the cost to the state of maintaining much of its major ground transportation infrastructure (superhighways, selected major surface roads and bus and rail transit lines) while bolstering the state's transportation budget (...a transportation budget that is currently rapidly-shrinking while transportation needs and the cost of those transportation needs continue to explode).

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

Joe Frank Harris The Last Democrat in Georgia {{{"That is why I think this, if it is done at all, will have to come at the local level.  That is to say the folks in the City of Atlanta or other areas will have to decide to tax themselves more to make these improvements."}}} ...I completely agree that developmental transportation projects (whether we're talking about developmental roads like Satellite Boulevard in Gwinnett or developmental transit lines in the City of Atlanta like the Beltline and the trolley lines) should be funded by the municipalities that are building them. But because of the sheer number of municipalities (city and county jurisdictions) that would be involved, funding and planning for major multimodal transportation initiatives (like the continued funding of the growing network of express commuter buses in severely-congested Metro Atlanta region and the critically-needed implementation of regional commuter and interurban passenger rail service throughout the Metro Atlanta region and its North Georgia exurbs and environs, etc) must be handled and coordinated by the state. {{{"Blaming the state government for this lack of spending will go nearly nowhere and at the end of the day its not some kind of Republican issue."}}} ....You're absolutely right that blaming state government in and of itself will not necessarily help matters. But because Metro Atlanta's traffic congestion and mobility issues affect so many jurisdictions and affect such a large area of the state (the Atlanta MSA alone stretches over an area of 29 counties), the blame for Metro Atlanta's transportation issues as a whole ultimately falls at the feet of the state, particularly when so many state-maintained and state-managed and state-coordinated transportation corridors are involved (like Interstate highways, federal trunk routes and major state routes). Also, since the state government whose responsibility it is to manage and maintain the state's transportation network is thoroughly dominated by Republicans, Metro Atlanta's transportation issues are indeed a Republican issue. Metro Atlanta's growing transportation challenges are very much a Republican issue to the point that perceived continued inaction on an issue that is as vitally important to the state's well-being as transportation will increasingly threaten Republican dominance of and even Republican competitiveness within the state's political scene. Continued failure of Georgia's Republican-dominated state government to adequately fund the state's transportation infrastructure could very likely combine with the state's rapidly-changing demographics to severely-undermine Republican competitiveness in state politics if the crucial issue of transportation is not addressed in a significant and meaningful way as has increasingly been the case over the last 15-20 years (...a time during which the previously dominant Democrats lost all virtually power within the state's political scene due in large part to their significant mishandling of the critically-important transportation issue). Which is why a the various tolled/managed lane projects that are in progress around the Metro Atlanta region (which many may not like) are so important to Republicans' continued viability. Those managed lane projects may not be preferred by many, but for Republicans those projects are good because they at least make it look like the Republicans are addressing the issue of severe traffic congestion and limited transportation mobility in somewhat of a constructive way (after years of inaction).

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

Joe Frank Harris The Last Democrat in Georgia Mr. Harris, that is an excellent point that Texas and Florida have spent (and continue to spend) much more heavily on road improvements than Georgia due to those states having more fuel tax revenue available. But it must also be noted that Texas and Florida have leaned extremely heavily on user fees (in the form of permanent tolls on new superhighways) to fund their much higher level of spending on road improvements. Both Texas and Florida literally have dozens of toll roads each compared to Georgia which currently has only one user fee-funded toll road in GA 400, a road whose tolls will end later this year in November 2013, an act which means that Georgia's already severely-limited road maintenance funds will have to be spread even thinner to cover the maintenance on a road in GA 400 that currently funds its own existence with the revenues that it collects from tolls. Texas, in particular is making use of private investment to funds its road maintenance needs with the State of Texas using private investment to fund a $5 billion overhaul of severely-congested I-635 across the Northside of Dallas (a roadway that serves a logistical function that is somewhat similar to the Top End of the I-285 Perimeter across the Northside of Atlanta). You also make an excellent point that there already is not enough money to take care of the road network. Which is why any increase in transportation funding in Georgia should not involve attempting to take meager existing fuel tax revenues from roads and trying to spread them to also ineffectively fund transit. But rather, any increase in transportation funding should involve creating new revenue streams out of distance-based user fees (per-mile tolls on major roads and per-mile fares on transit) and private investment (for-profit term-leasing of roads and transit lines out to private investors/operators, funding from real estate assets on transit lines, etc). {{{"The other way to think of this is what spending is going to do the most good for the most people in the 5.5 million person Atlanta MSA?"}}} ...That's an excellent question.  But even with a past history of an automobile-dominated lifestyle and culture in Metro Atlanta, the answer to that question may not necessarily what one expects, particularly in a changing State of Georgia and Metro Atlanta region that continues to increase in population but not road space because of increasing political constraints to the road network. At this point, with there being increasing political limits to how much the road network can be expanded, it would likely be best to increase spending on transit by creating new revenue streams to fund it out of user fees and private investment while also increasing targeted spending on much-needed safety improvements to the road network. {{{"Again with the extreme majority using roads I think it is unrealistic to expect the voters to instruct their state representatives to redirect scarce resources to such a little used method of transportation."}}} ...That's a good point.  But with the overwhelming defeat and public rejection of multiple large-scale road construction initiatives over the past 15 years or so (the Outer Perimeter, the Northern Arc, T-SPLOST, etc), it is quite clear that the voting public has not exactly been instructing their state representatives to invest in massive amounts of scarce resources new road construction, either.

Joe Frank Harris
Joe Frank Harris

The Last Democrat in Georgia Joe Frank Harris  Very good points overall.   Don't also forget that Texas like Florida for example has continued to spend much more heavily on road improvements over the past 10-15 years than Georgia and the Atlanta MSA.  That road spending far trumps any incremental spending on mass transit (both in congestion impact or dollars).  This is due mainly to having more gas tax dollars compared to us. I guess my core point is for the foreseeable future we are in a transportation resource constrained situation. I have no idea if or when there will be enough money to invest in an "all of the above" transportation strategy.  Georgia is a democracy and the majority rules.  With about 95% of Atlantans in the MSA using cars to get to work and most folks living in low density housing I think it is impractical to expect a big change in direction at the state level as there is not even enough money to handle the roads themselves.    The other way to think of this is what spending is going to do the most good for the most people in the 5.5 million person Atlanta MSA?  Again with the extreme majority using roads I think it is unrealistic to expect the voters to instruct their state representatives to redirect scarce resources to such a little used method of transportation.  That is why I think this, if it is done at all, will have to come at the local level.  That is to say the folks in the City of Atlanta or other areas will have to decide to tax themselves more to make these improvements.  Blaming the state government for this lack of spending will go nearly nowhere and at the end of the day its not some kind of Republican issue.  Probably 90%+ of Democrats drive too so even if Democrats took back a majority of the OTP legislative seats I think a Democrat State Rep from say Lilburn is going to have a hard time redirecting limited resources to support something like this.

The Last Democrat in Georgia
The Last Democrat in Georgia

Joe Frank Harris Excellent points on how there are more jobs and people outside of I-285 than there are inside of I-285. But when it comes to the need for mass transit in the Greater Atlanta region, it is not necessarily about the Atlanta region needing the population density to support it as much as it is about the Atlanta region not having an adequate enough road network to function at a high level without a strong mass transit option. Even though only about roughly 5% of the population in the Atlanta region uses transit, that 5% transit usage rate makes a huge difference in a region where very-severe traffic congestion offen pushes the politically-constricted road network to its breaking point during peak hours. So if a transit usage rate of 5% can mean the difference between a severely-crowded highway network that at least remains minimally functional during peak traffic times and an even more severely-overcrowded highway network that is completely impassable during peak traffic times, then improving the transit usage rate to the 15-20% range would mean a massive improvement in traffic flow. Improving transit usage rates to the 15-20% range would also greatly help to keep major stretches of roadway passable during peak hours in a major metro region in Atlanta where the population continues to grow at a very-explosive rate, but the amount of already-limited road space stays virtually the same.  That 5% transit usage rate in the Atlanta region may match automobile-dominated Sunbelt peer cities like Houston and Dallas. But a glaring difference between the Atlanta region and the Houston and Dallas regions is that those automobile-dominated regions have much more extensive road networks than Atlanta. The reason for the much more extensive road network in the Houston and Dallas regions and the much less extensive road network in the Atlanta region, is that in the Atlanta region the public is much less-receptive to large-scale road expansion proposals (mostly because of a heavily-wooded rolling to hilly to mountainous topography that the public is often fiercely-protective of). Compare that situation to Texas where the more sparcely-wooded and much flatter topography often inspires very-little, if any, of a protective response from the public when new major roads are proposed and built. Not many people might care if a new road is proposed to be built through mostly treeless flat ranch land and prairie full of low grass. But propose to build a new road through an area of heavily-wooded hills and mountains dotted with ponds and lakes and watch the public's reaction turn from nearly total indifference to intensely-protective anger and opposition (...see the public's angry rejection of large-scale road expansion proposals like the Outer Perimeter, the Northern Arc and the 411-75 Connector in the Cartersville area).

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  1. […] We must invest in all transportation modes to compete in today's economy – SaportaReport … […]

  2. […] “At the September 2011 meeting of the Georgia Research Alliance, Gov. Nathan Deal told the prestigious group of business leaders and university presidents that he had just returned from the Southern Governors’ Association annual meeting where the focus was on innovation. At SGA, Deal questioned why Silicon Valley and Boston were attracting research, development, venture capital the innovation jobs. He was told it was all about quality of life.”Source: SaportaReport.com […]