Georgia still playing the fool on transportation spending

By Saba Long

Our semi-eloquent president George W. Bush once opined: “There’s an old saying in Tennessee…” After a pregnant pause he tried again: “I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee that says: ‘Fool me once, shame on … shame on you. Fool me… You can’t get fooled again!’”

No one likes egg on his or her face. Especially politicians.

On transportation, in particular, Georgia and the metro region have played the jester well.

It’s no surprise Georgia lawmakers have taken as little risk possible as it relates to transportation spending. There’s a reason why Georgia is consistently ranked in the bottom percentile on transportation spending when compared to other states.

Gov. Nathan Deal

Gov. Nathan Deal signed transportation bill this week (File photo)

Eager to get out of nearly last place, the electorate was introduced to the Transportation Investment Act, also known as T-SPLOST. Many prominent regional politicians supported the plan, some boldly, others just days before the election. The loss resulted in the ousting in the Clayton and Henry counties’ chairpersons.

Exit polls showed voter distrust and displeasure with the project list as key reasons for the referendum’s failure. While projects can be explained as a reason for the loss, if you peruse the local news, you’ll see ethics remains a problem.

This week, state leaders and others will celebrate the Gov. Nathan Deal’s signing of the first comprehensive transportation-funding bill in quite some time. House Bill 170 was first birthed in a study committee whose focus was to address and find a way to fund “critical transportation infrastructure.”

Brandon Beach

Brandon Beach

The final bill – no easy feat to pass –will amount to just shy of $1 billion for roads, bridges and transit across the state. To be sure, it is progress but it’s also worth noting the committee recommended a minimum of $1-1.5 billion.

At least two jurisdictions have recently passed transportation bond referenda – Forsyth County and the City of Atlanta.

One exception to risk adverse governance: Clayton County commissioners allowed their electorate to determine if the county should join MARTA. Lately, the discussion has turned to finally closing the regional transit loop.

Rewind to the 1900s, long before MARTA was conceptualized, streetcars ruled the streets. At their peak in 1946, the Atlanta Streetcars reached 120 million passenger trips. Traveling from Marietta, Ga. to Inman Park was a fairly seamless action as the various streetcar operators prioritized fares, regional mobility and service coordination. Cooperation worked. Decades later, thanks to a friendly nudge from State Sen. Brandon Beach, the region’s transit providers are addressing the existing transit fare structure and lack of regional mobility and need to improve service coordination.

Lately, the discussion has turned to finally closing the regional transit loop by making the original MARTA vision a reality. The landscape is much different now than it was 40 years ago – or even four years ago.

A wise man does once what the fool does finally. The real shame is that the public is not allowed to decide its fate.

 

Saba Long is a communications and political professional who lives in downtown Atlanta. She serves as the senior council aide and communications liaison for Post 2 At-Large Atlanta City Councilman Aaron Watson. Most recently, Saba was the press secretary for MAVEN and Untie Atlanta -- the Metro Chamber’s education and advocacy campaigns in supportive of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Referendum. She has consulted with H.E.G. an analytics and evaluation firm where she lent strategic marketing and social media expertise to numerous political campaigns, including that of Fulton County Chairman John Eaves and the 2010 Clayton County transportation referendum. In 2009, Saba served as the deputy campaign manager for the campaign of City Council President Ceasar Mitchell. Previously, Saba was a Junior Account Executive at iFusion Marketing, where she lent fractional marketing strategy to various ATDC technology startups operating out of the Georgia Tech incubator, ATDC. For the past two years, Saba has presented on online marketing and politics to the incoming fellows of the Atlanta chapter of the New Leaders Council.

3 replies
  1. JWK says:

    Just a quick and silly question. Why did they tear down the toll booths on GA 400? You would have thought they could use the money on transportation projects?Report

    Reply
  2. Heath Harvey says:

    Residents of metro Atlanta want transportation infrastructure improvements, but time and time again they demonstrate that they are unwilling to pay for it. To be honest, if it was necessary to pay to breathe, some of them would refuse to pay.Report

    Reply
  3. Burroughston Broch says:

    Saba, when are you going to update your resume on this page? Aaron Watson was voted out of office in the November 2013 elections and left office 16 months ago.Report

    Reply

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