By David Pendered
Atlanta’s proposed stand-alone transportation department is expected to salvage a mobility system that’s so systemically broken the city has a long history of farming work to outside entities – including the Atlanta BeltLine, Midtown Alliance and Central Atlanta Progress.
The city handed off the work because it was viewed as beyond the city’s capacity to plan, manage and deliver, according to a consultant’s report.
That said, the report from the Atlanta office of WSP also found plenty to praise about recent efforts to improve mobility by the departments of planning and public works.
These improvements appear to have influenced suggestions that Atlanta proceed with deliberation and caution in creating a new department, replete with its bureaucratic trappings. The department is to solve a problem based partly in what city officials told the consultant was as a need to improve, “coordination and collaboration among City departments, regional transportation agencies, and CIDs [self-taxing community improvement districts].”
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has put the full force of her office behind the formation of a new department – one that would report exclusively to the mayor and have no direct accountability to the city’s COO or Atlanta City Council, under the current proposal.
The proposed transportation department would centralize the city’s work to seek funding to design, build and maintain public roads, streets and sidewalks.
The department is to manage the local, state and federal funding for this work, including that of sales-tax funded Renew Atlanta program. The consultant said the city’s fundraising abilities were a “success” that brought in more than $500 million in transportation funds from 2010 to 2016.
The first vetting of this proposal is scheduled for April 22 at a work session of the council’s Transportation Committee.
Included in the discussion is likely to be the consultant’s observations of the Department of City Planning and Department of Public Works. The two have devised, and in some cases implemented, reorganizations intended to achieve results similar to those that are to be vested in the proposed transportation department.
Planning was highlighted for creating an Office of Mobility. It’s to focus on congestion mitigation, streetscape planning, and bicycle/pedestrian programs.
DPW won kudos for a reorganization that would bring under one umbrella what WSP described as a, “transportation-focused structure for DPW similar to Departments of Transportation in other cities across the nation.”
Here are three examples of mobility work the city could have handled but elected to hand off to partners, according to the WSP report:
Atlanta BeltLine, Inc.
- “ABI’s creation as a separate entity to deliver high-profile, priority capital projects was seen by some interviewees as reflecting a lack of confidence in DPW’s ability to deliver capital projects. According to its current management [report dated March 2018], ABI was created because DPW did not have the capacity to deliver the Atlanta Beltline program.”
- “An example of a project undertaken by a CID that was well-within the City’s purview to implement, operate, and maintain is the Midtown Alliance’s Midtown Traffic Operations Program … that sought to reduce traffic congestion and improve access and safety for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists through traffic signal improvements. Funded by GDOT [Georgia Department of Transportation], MTOP has improved peak travel times on average by 28 percent in the ten major corridors at the end of year one (2013) simply by fixing malfunctioning signals, optimizing the existing signal timing and conducting regular maintenance.”
CAP/Atlanta Downtown Improvement District
- “Similarly, CAP/ADID’s Traffic Signal System Upgrades & Retiming Project addressed traffic signal improvements within downtown Atlanta, including equipment modernization and development of new timing and optimization plans. A 16- intersection demonstration project concluded in July 2010, followed by downtown-wide improvements within key downtown corridors improving up to 65 additional intersections.”