Georgia still playing the fool on transportation spendingGov. Nathan Deal
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.
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.”
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.