Challenging transportation myths after the failed regional TIA vote

By Guest Columnist HEATHER ALHADEFF, senior transportation planner in the Atlanta urban design practice at Perkins + Will architectural and design firm

I am a city planner and a native Atlantan. Like any effective planner, I’m an optimist by nature, seeking potential in every situation. It’s in my genes to convert community goals and expectations into action plans.

Like all native Atlantans, I was trained to promote what we want people to believe we are.

So, after the decisive failure of the Transportation Investment Act (TIA) referendum or what the media referred to as the T-SPLOST, many of us planners were genuinely surprised at how quickly the sentiments like the rising Phoenix and the “We are the heart of the South” have faded in the public discourse.

Heather Alhadeff

Imagine my shock when overhearing notoriously unnoticed 20+ year-olds contesting the suburban sentiments and boasting who could move out of Georgia quicker.

The transportation crisis we face is still here and is very serious. The TIA voting results were so dramatic that our region has actually stopped in mid-stride to wonder who “we” really are and what went wrong. I wonder what we do next. Since the late ‘40s the region has prioritized and created project lists (see page 13 from the 1946 Highway and Transportation Plan).

Given a project list to approve last year, there was unprecedented attention given to the TIA list all across metro Atlanta. Meanwhile, the regular regional planning process was cruising along and a five-year $7.2 billion project list was approved with little debate about the merits of each county’s projects.

My biggest take-away is that whatever is next must be profoundly different. As a planner, I believe we need to broaden our characterization of costs and benefits. Here are a few myths and tips to keep our conversation on track:

1) “Only 3 percent of people take transit so it’s not worth the money.”

Reality: The majority of the population does not live near transit. In the City of Atlanta, where frequent train and bus routes exist ridership is 30+ percent. Using diluted percentages to justify the rejection of transit is a dangerous business case for the future of our region and state. Every successful city in the future is building a choice of roads and transit, and they are not mutually exclusive.

Page 13 from the 1946 Lochner Highway and Transportation Plan

2) “We will save x amount of fuel and time with x road project.”

Reality: X project may save shave off some seconds for that segment of the roadway, but as a driver – or customer – you are now stuck on the side road that absorbed X road’s congestion. Ramp meters are meant to reduce delay on interstates, but consequently back you up on the local road. An improved signal timing for a thoroughfare also delays traffic on the local side street. At the end of the day, you pay gas tax for projects that essentially are passing the problem onto another jurisdiction. Overall, you still aren’t getting home any faster, but lots of money has been spent in the name of time savings.

3) “Hey you planner, the car is king.”

Reality: That may have held more water in the past, but those sentiments don’t reflect the current reality. The percentage of 16-year-olds getting their license is steadily falling. The number of one-car households is growing. Mixed-use developments do have more people walking. Indeed some people sitting in traffic, with higher prices at the pump are getting out of their cars or sharing a ride.

4) “The Atlanta BeltLine is not a regional project and is only about economic development.”

Reality: Every transportation project is about access and economic development. A new exit ramp has economic consequences for nearby landowners. A project that affects large numbers of people for work and personal trips is regionally significant, not simply if it crosses county lines during the 9am rush. The Beltline will attract new residents and jobs that will provide the city an increased tax base in districts with access to all modes of transportation, eliminating the need for future roadway expansions.

5) “My county needs roads not transit.”

Reality: County and city boundaries are not good indicators of the type of area someone lives in, or what kinds of transportation solutions are going to be most effective. There are very low-density, sprawl-style areas even in the City of Atlanta, and there are town centers like Marietta or Lawrenceville that actually did have successful rail transit before the highways dominated. So, the physical development type is a better indicator of the appropriate transportation solution.

No more can we afford to assume the project prioritization process of the past will get us to that ever-elusive cherished future.

No more broken records blaming the “other Georgia” – another tired sentiment.

From now on, every gathering we complain at, every business meeting we are late for and every soccer game starting short of its full team cannot be blamed on transit lovers and gas guzzlers.

We must measure additional costs and benefits of a transportation project and the associated land development changes.

It must include voices that are different, younger, and new residents who are unburdened by the racial politics of our past and unimpressed by the arguments of inevitable sprawl and continued auto-dependency.

58 replies
  1. ChristinaJohn1 says:

    I liked this post. Such tips are necessary to know and to conclude why there is a car shipping crisis going on. 
     
    Keep updating.
     
     
    Regards
     
    .A-
     
    <a href=”http://www.autotransportdepot.com/auto-shipping-reviews.htm”>auto transport reviews</a>Report

    Reply
  2. Question Man says:

    Is the following statement by Heather also a myth that needs discussion: “The transportation crisis we face is still here and is very serious?”  Report

    Reply
    • Burroughston Broch says:

      I think that it’s worthy of discussion. I commute 14 miles from Dunwoody to Galleria, and my 25 minutes average travel time is the same now as it was 7 years ago. From my view, the “transportation crisis” is a manufactured crisis.
      We must take what Heather writes with a grain of salt since she is in the transportation planning business and writes as part of business development.Report

      Reply
      • Henry Batten says:

         @Burroughston Broch
         For many years Heather was Senior Transportation Planner for the City of Atlanta and was responsible for developing the Connect Atlanta plan, a comprehensive plan to address transportation issues (http://web.atlantaga.gov/connectatlanta/). Therefore, I believe she is more than qualified to make the statements in her article without the bias you suggest. Since you only travel between Dunwoody and Galleria, all in the suburbs, perhaps we should take your comments with a large grain of salt.Report

        Reply
    • Bob Munger says:

       @Question Man The real transportation crisis we face is that the number of vehicles on planet earth is forecast to double within 25 years. While the USA has leveled off, the developing nations are trading in their bicycles for autos.  Knowing that, we cannot extrapolate the past patterns of petrol-intensive mobility inherent in sprawl-inducing road construction. We hope that the GA Legislature will consider our draft Bill, the Georgia Alternative, Sustainable Transportation Act (GASTA):
      ——————————————
      WHEREAS every major U.S. recession since World War II has been preceded by an oil shock, it THEREFORE seems certain that Georgia and the USA’s dependence on oil weakens both our economy and our national security. Oil’s virtual monopoly over transportation fuel coupled with limited alternatives for moving people and goods have left us vulnerable to the negative consequences of volatile and increasing transportation costs.
       
      Passenger vehicles and light trucks account for more than 45% of U.S. oil demand.(1)  To reduce the strategic importance of oil, the United States must embark on a comprehensive effort to both break oil’s monopolistic grip on fuel for the light-duty vehicle fleet and open the market to vibrant competition among transportation options.(2)
       
      Mobility choice can help provide flexibility both to individual drivers, businesses and to the nation as a whole, creating a protective redundancy in the economically vital transportation sector. It also fosters competition, which is widely recognized by economists as a fundamental requirement for healthy economies.
       
      Sustainable, affordable transportation has become a matter of growing concern and discussion throughout the nation. USA transportation costs have risen to as much as 20% of the average American income. According to a 2006 study(3), Atlanta ranks near the top in national rankings of working family household income percentage devoted to transportation, at 32%. Traffic congestion in Georgia cities, particularly Atlanta, have also been well-documented to have a considerable negative economic impact.
       
      National conversations concerning sustainable transportation tend to focus primarily on mass transit and bicycling. Car-sharing programs, such as Zipcar, have recently gained popularity, as have bike-sharing programs in a number of American cities.
       
      According to a recent study(4) metro Atlanta’s transit systems rank 91st out of 100 metro areas in the nation in terms of connecting residents to jobs. Georgia’s second largest city, Augusta, ranks 98th.  Key factors in the study measure both the percentage of metro residents that have access to transit, as well as the percentage of metro jobs that are connected to transit. To qualify, residents must be capable of reaching a job within 90 minutes or less.
       
      One of the central issues intended to be analyzed by GASTA is the extent to which alternative, sustainable transportation can be coupled with transit, to affordably increase transit ridership and improve connectivity between homes and jobs. This sort of multi-modal connectivity exists in many communities in the form of cycling racks at transit stations, bus-mounted cycling racks, etc.
       
      Of particular interest to Georgia is the fact that Georgia leads the nation in production of low speed electric vehicles, with four separate manufacturers headquartered in the State. Once confined to the golf course, the industry now produces higher-speed, roadworthy cousins of the golf cars, complete with seat belts, head/tail lights and turn signals. In 1998, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 500 (49 CFR 571.500), paved the way for the use of low speed vehicles (LSV’s) on roadways with speed limits of 35 MPH or less. LSV’s have a top speed ranging from 20-25 MPH.
       
      In 2011, Georgia became the first state to define requirements for an additional class of vehicles, known as a PTV, with top speeds of 20 MPH or less. In Georgia, these vehicles are also street legal on low speed roads (35 MPH or less).
       
      Despite enabling legislation, the market adoption of such vehicles has been modest, limited primarily to suburban neighborhoods. Nicknamed “neighborhood electric vehicles” (NEV), these low speed cars are largely trapped within the confines of their neighborhoods, the victims of late Twentieth Century, automobile-centric, suburban planning. These neighborhoods typically feature isolated, limited-access subdivisions connected to one another and to their metro areas by high speed arterial roads. Being off limit to LSV’s, these arterials severely restrict the utility of LSV/PTV’s, thereby maintaining reliance on conventional vehicles.
       
      If passed, GASTA will develop alternative transportation strategies and analyze the benefits and costs of implementation, as well as the economic benefits to Augusta, Atlanta and the State of Georgia.
       
      1. “Annual Energy Outlook, 2010,” Energy Information Administration, May 11, 2010.
      2. “Taking the Wheel, Achieving a Competitive Transportation Sector Through Mobility Choice.” Korin and Lovaas, 2011. Funded in part by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Surdna Foundation.
      3. “A Heavy Load. The Combined Housing and Transportation Burdens of Working Families,” by the Center for Housing Policies, 2006.
      4. “Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America; 2011,” The Brookings Institution.
       
      The Augusta Greenway Alliance
       Report

      Reply
  3. WolfandRhys says:

    Why can’t I blame the “other Georgia” when they voted down T-SPLOST?
     
    That’s their right but let’s have a plan for the City of Atlanta. 
     
    Then people in the middle of nowhere can vote on their own plans. Report

    Reply
    • ScottNAtlanta says:

       @WolfandRhys There’s a lot of blame to go around…just today in the AJC Steve Brown, who led the charge against the TIA is whining about how they now have to pay 30% matching funds to get any state money (a penalty written into the TIA…something he was well aware of before the vote but failed to tell his constituents), and they dont have it because they had to buy “bullet proof vests” so they cant match 30%.  Well, to the regions that voted yes…forgiving the penalty is a dog that wont hunt and it wont get through the legislature.  They will not be able to fix any of their infrastructure now and he knew that was going to happen.  He let anti tax ideology come before the needs of Fayette Co…and if they are smart they will vote him out next time HE comes up for a voteReport

      Reply
      • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

         @ScottNAtlanta  
        It wasn’t Commissioner Brown’s fault, or the fault of any other local official or anyone that opposed the T-SPLOST that the Legislature foolishly and idiotically placed a penalty in the TIA legislation that tripled the cost of routine road maintenance projects in the event that the T-SPLOST was defeated by voters.
         
        The public should not be penalized for doing what the Legislature asked of them, which was to go the polls and either vote for or against the T-SPLOST legislation that they wanted the public to vote on.  No one should ever be penalized for doing what their government asked of them, which was to vote on what they thought was or was not the merits of a piece of legislation that the state put in front of them to vote on.
         
        It is completely asinine for the State Legislature to make already very scarce funding for basic road construction and routine road maintenance even more scarce by penalizing the public for exercizing their right to vote as asked by their government.
         
        The State Legislature should have never put that type of ridiculously-absurd penalty in any type of legislation that supposedly attempts to recify and increase meager transportation funding in the first place and should absolutely repeal the 30% matching funds penalty along with any legislation on the books that provides for another T-SPLOST vote to attempt to increase transportation/economic development funding immediately upon convening in January.
         
        Local governments should not have already inadequate road maintenance funding penalized just because a lazy and seemingly indifferent State Legislature refuses to do its job in funding and maintaining the statewide transportation network that it is constitutionally responsible for.
         
        Poorly thought-out regional voter referendums in which the Legislature tries to push its responsibility of maintaining the state’s transportation network off on the voters through severely-flawed and convoluted pieces of legislation such as the recently-defeated T-SPLOST are no way for any state government to execute and carry out transportation policy, especially for one of the 10 most-populated states in the union.
         
        The state should not be asking the public whether it should rebuild the I-20 West and GA 400 North interchanges on I-285 or whether it should construct regional commuter rail lines or whether it should continue to operate an increasingly popular and increasingly necessary express commuter bus service on severely-congested freeways between the urban core and the outer suburbs.
         
        The state should be coming up with the money and doing its constitutionally-mandated job in constructing, maintaining and operating these critical modes of transportation that it is responsible for by law.  No ifs, ands, or buts!
         Report

        Reply
        • ScottNAtlanta says:

           @The Last Democrat in Georgia
          You miss the point.  Steve Brown knew about the penalty…whether it is right or wrong is irrelevant.  If people were informed by officials like Brown that there would be no road repair whatsoever, I dont think as many people would have voted no.  He acted in a highly irresponsible way and now wants to get a get of jail free card so to speak.  Sometimes hiding the truth is just as bad as a lie…and now he is trying this whining to the legislature.  The law is the law…and it has a penalty…and now the voters he represents will no have to deal with it like the rest of usReport

          Reply
        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

           @ScottNAtlanta
           The T-SPLOST legislation, while supposedly “well-intentioned” (which brings to mind the axiom that the Road to Hell is paved with Good Intentioned), was seen as so completely convoluted by an overwhelming majority of voters that they were likely going to vote against the legislation anyways in very-large numbers whether or not they knew about the road construction funding penalty.
           
          Besides it wasn’t up to Steve Brown and the opponents of the T-SPLOST, who had very little, if any, financial resources especially when compared to the multiple millions that the backers had for advertising and promotions.
           
          If anything, it was up to the proponents and backers of the TIA/T-SPLOST to get the information of the existence of the road funding penalty out to the voters that they were very much unsuccessfully trying to persuade to vote for such a highly-flawed piece of legislation as it was not up to the opponents to campaign for the T-SPLOST.
           
          Heck, if anything, the existence of the road funding penalty just made many people want to vote against the T-SPLOST even more and then go and chewout their nearest State Representative or State Senator to “persuade” them to reverse the idiotic road funding penalty and the active leftovers of the horrific T-SPLOST legislation at first chance upon convening in January.
           
          The voters spoke overwhelmingly against T-SPLOST earlier this month and the Legislature should act accordingly in working to mitigate the remaining ill-effects of such a wildly-unpopular and totally ill-advised piece of legislation.Report

          Reply
        • ScottNAtlanta says:

           @The Last Democrat in Georgia
          You are still missing the point I’m making.  The vast majority of voters had no idea about the 30% match increase for state funding.  Steve Brown did.  He knew that they were going to be at a disadvantage because of it.  To me, that is irresponsible leadership of the worst kind.  Ideology over the needs of the people you represent.  Opponents used anti-tax fervor and several less than truthful statements to sway the vote.  Thats not saying the pro-TIA  didn’t screw up royally…they did.  But for Steve Brown to be suddenly discovering that the 30% match will halt all repairs to infrastructure in Fayette Co is not believable. In fact, it was pointed out by several posters in comments on Saporta Reports articles that this penalty would kick in.  Voters having this knowledge might not have changed the outcome…but I say Steve Brown won this battle and in turn screwed the people of Fayette Co and he now wants the legislature to fix it…and knowing the dysfunction there…he might convince them to do so.  This isn’t about whether the penalty was right, fair, or whatever…it was passed into law, but most voters did not know what many of the consequences were…thats all I am saying.
          (side note to LDIG…can you keep it to one post…its hard to follow when you break up posts like you do…just a friendly suggestion)Report

          Reply
        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

           @ScottNAtlanta
           You are correct that there are many voters that had no idea about the 30% match increase penalty to road funding, but there are very many voters that did know about the 30% match increase penalty to road funding and voted against the T-SPLOST anyway because they were angry about being threatened with a penalty by the State Legislature for voting against a such a highly-flawed bill.
           
          And as for Fayette County, they were going to vote against the T-SPLOST as it was constituted by a margin of roughly 80-20 almost no matter what, penalty or no penalty. 
           
          Heck, most voters thought that the road funding penalty was indicative of why the T-SPLOST was viewed to be such a highly-flawed piece of legislation because its not as if Metro Atlanta and the State of Georgia were really lightin’-it-up when it comes to road funding before the defeat of the T-SPLOST as many major road projects (like the reconstruction of the I-20 West and GA 400 North interchanges on I-285) are already more than two decades overdue as those projects should have COMPLETED no later than 20 years ago.
           
          While its been abundantly well-documented time and again that the State of Georgia SEVERELY-underfunds transit, especially in relation to its peers in the other 9 of the 10 largest states in the union, the state also vastly underfunds road construction and maintenance, so seeing as though that road funding was already very meager in comparison to many of its competitors and peers (particularly in North Carolina, Florida and Texas) it made absolutely no sense to make already meager road maintenance funding even more scarce than it already was before with the road funding penalty that was found in the TIA/T-SPLOST legislation in the case of defeat.
           
          You don’t fix an already very severe transportation funding problem by making it even more severely scarce and needlessly and artificially making even less funding available for no good reason other than attempting to scare the public into voting for piss-poor transportation policy and such a crap piece of legislation.
           
          More and more voters being aware of the moronic road funding penalty both before and after the defeat of the T-SPLOST (and according calling to give their nearest state legislator a piece of their mind about it) is the reason why the Legislature will have no choice but to deal with it in the future. 
           
          Heck, the whole idea should be to find new and innovative ways to make transportation funding MORE available to address the logistical needs of a metropolitan region of nearly 6 million people and a fast-growing state of nearly 10 million people, the State Legislature shouldn’t be sitting around cooking up convoluted schemes to make already meager transportation funding even more scarce in an increasingly heavily-populated state. Report

          Reply
  4. DH-ATL says:

    We need to work regionally, however if the city (proper) supports transit and is willing to tax itself to get it– then let us.  A city of Atlanta, with street cars, a healthy MARTA system, bike lanes (and maybe even timed stop lights) can show the entire region a thing or two–  Support county by county and city by city votes on transportation–
     Report

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    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

       @DH-ATL
      Forget the votes and just fund what is so clearly and obviously needed as transportation infrastructure should not be treated as if it is something that is optional when it clearly is not.
       
      Where would this town be without the Interstates (four of the busiest stretches of superhighway on the entire planet are found in Metro Atlanta), the Port of Savannah (which has recently grown into one of the busiest seaports on the entire planet) and the airport which has grown into the World’s busiest?
       
      Transportation is not optional, transportation is an absolute critical necessity, it always has been and always will be and it should be treated as such by our pathetically inept state government.
       
      And instead of yet again raising taxes to fund projects like the Peachtree Streetcar and the Beltline, the City of Atlanta needs to be funding those critically-important projects with a combination of user fees (transit fares, ETHICALLY and FAIRLY-administered), public-private partnerships (private investment) and Tax Increment Financing (property tax revenues from new development that pops up along the new transit lines).
       
      It makes no sense to put the funding of critical transportation and economic development projects up for a vote in the form of wildly unpopular tax increase proposals that are highly likely to be rejected by a financially-strapped constituency, especially when the funding is out there and is very easy to find without raising taxes both in the case of regional transportation projects outside of the City of Atlanta and economic development projects within the City of Atlanta.Report

      Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

       @DH-ATL
       
      Forget the votes and just fund what is so clearly and obviously needed as transportation infrastructure should not be treated as if it is something that is optional when it clearly is not.
       
      Where would this town be without the Interstates (four of the busiest stretches of superhighway on the entire planet are found in Metro Atlanta), the Port of Savannah (which has recently grown into one of the busiest seaports on the entire planet) and the airport which has grown into the World’s busiest?
       
      Transportation is not optional, transportation is an absolute critical necessity, it always has been and always will be and it should be treated as such by our pathetically inept state government.
       
      And instead of yet again raising taxes to fund projects like the Peachtree Streetcar and the Beltline, the City of Atlanta needs to be funding those critically-important projects with a combination of user fees (transit fares, ETHICALLY and FAIRLY-administered fees on parking and traffic fines), public-private partnerships (private investment) and Tax Increment Financing (property tax revenues from new development that pops up along the new transit lines).
       
      It makes no sense to put the funding of critical transportation and economic development projects up for a vote in the form of wildly unpopular tax increase proposals that are highly likely to be rejected by a financially-strapped constituency, especially when the funding is out there and is very easy to find without raising taxes both in the case of regional transportation projects outside of the City of Atlanta and economic development projects within the City of Atlanta.Report

      Reply
  5. Burroughston Broch says:

    @ Henry Batten
    Sir, my comment is as valid as anyone else’s. Heather is far from an disinterested, impartial observer since she has an economic self-interest in promoting more transportation infrastructure.Report

    Reply
      • Burroughston Broch says:

         @ScottNAtlanta  My interest is my own self interest, a dislike of articles portrayed as even handed, and a dislike of those who presume to be entitled to be supported by me.
        My dislike of articles portrayed as even handed is why I commented that this author has an economic self interest in promoting what she and her firm sells – transportation facilities and planning.
        My dislike of presumed entitlement is why I respond as I do to your comments (among others) that the City of Atlanta is entitled to be financially supported by the rest of the region. If you taxpayers of Atlanta want to build the BeltLine, then please do – but with your money, not mine. I and mine will never have any benefit from it and shouldn’t have to pay for it. By the same argument, I pay my taxes to pay for transportation improvements that benefit me, but I don’t expect you to pay for them.
         Report

        Reply
      • Burroughston Broch says:

         @ScottNAtlanta  
        And why do you not respond to questions posed directly to you? You seem a coward, unable or unwilling to respond to criticism. This behavior doesn’t validate your position.Report

        Reply
  6. Burroughston Broch says:

    @ Wolfand Rhys I think that it’s entirely appropriate for the City of Atlanta to have its own plan. Include streetcar money for the BeltLine if you wish. But don’t expect the rest of the region to pay for it, since its potential benefit will be for City residents only.Report

    Reply
    • ScottNAtlanta says:

       @Burroughston Broch 
      You know…I’m so sick of hearing what you wont pay for like you have a choice.  Other people live here.  Every time you post on this issue you state how you aren’t paying for one thing or another…here’s one for ya…Most people just dont care what you are going to pay for.  The TIA was botched for lots of reasons …but need was not one.  Also, what the hell are your credentials to criticize someone who actually has training and education in this area…where’s yours?  I think you should apologize for the slanderous comment you made…and it was slanderous because you have no clue…never haveReport

      Reply
      • Burroughston Broch says:

         @ScottNAtlanta  If you don’t like what I post, then don’t read it. I will continue to comment when and as I see fit.
         
        Exactly which of my comments do you consider slanderous? Slander refers to speech, not to writing. Since you refer to what I posted, the term is libelous. Be specific and I will respond. And, since you questioned my credentials, what are yours? I suspect you have no legal training since you confuse slander and libel.
         
        My credentials are these. I am an Professional Engineer with over 40 years of experience, and the basic rules of engineering apply to every discipline. They are no different between my discipline and transportation engineering. I took some graduate city planning courses as an undergraduate, and they included the basics of transportation planning.Report

        Reply
  7. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    {{“It must include voices that are different, younger, and new residents who are unburdened by the racial politics of our past and unimpressed by the arguments of inevitable sprawl and continued auto-dependency.”}}
     
    Ms. Alhadeff, you are very correct. 
     
    But one must keep-in-mind that one of the very main reasons that the T-SPLOST got voted down so extremely heavily in the car-dependent suburbs outside of I-285 was that many of those anti-TSPLOST voters that live in that large and dominating car-dependent sprawl outside of I-285 feared that the T-SPLOST was nothing more than a way to fund even more traffic congestion-inducing sprawl and overdevelopment with taxpayer dollars that would nothing but benefit politically well-connected roadbuilders, land spectulators, real estate developers and consultants. 
     
    The rejection of the T-SPLOST was much more of a rejection of more gridlock-inducing auto-dependent sprawl and overdevelopment than it was regional transit as even a great many of the suburban voters who live in the sprawl outside of I-285 are tired of the sprawl and want less of it, not more.
     
    Heck, one of the reasons that many suburban and even many exurbanites voted down the T-SPLOST was that there was no real comprehensive regional transportation plan in the form of regional commuter rail service within existing rail transit corridors that parallel busy spoke interstate highways between the urban core and the outer suburbs and exurbs.
     
    One of the most common refrains that I personally heard from suburbanites, especially those who live in heavily-populated Cobb and Gwinnett counties and have to commute between the two counties on a daily basis was a repeated request (or even demand) for a rail transit line that roughly connects Lawrenceville in the I-85 NE Corridor with Marietta in the I-75 NW Corridor by way of the frequently severely-congested I-285 Top End Corridor.
     
    There’s a heckuva of lot more interest in improved rail transit in the suburbs outside of I-285 than you seem to realize, its just that those suburbanites who are interested in vastly-improved transit want something much more than MARTA in its current declining state. 
    Report

    Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      It should be noted that the State of Georgia actually has plans for a rail transit line that parallels the I-285 Top End between I-75 in the Cumberland/Galleria area and I-85 in the Doraville area as part of the totally-unfunded (and increasingly politically-unfeasible) “Revive285 plans” for the Top End I-285 Corridor.
      http://www.revive285.com/index.html 
       
      Because of the severe public backlash against the HOT Lane concept after the flawed and bungled startup of the I-85 HOT Lanes in DeKalb and Gwinnett counties and because there seems to be competing plans to improve the GA 400/I-285 interchange within the Georgia Department of Transportation and because tying the plans to improve the GA 400/I-285 to the highly-unpopular T-SPLOST meant that funding for the project dried completely up when the T-SPLOST went down in flames, the proposed rail transit line may actually be one of the few parts of the plans to improve the Top End of I-285 that survives into the future.Report

      Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      It should also be noted that with nearly 6 million residents, Atlanta is the second-largest metropolitan region on the North American continent and the largest metropolitan region east of the Mississppi River WITHOUT regional commuter rail service between its urban core and its outer suburbs and exurbs.
       
      (With just a hair over 6 million residents, fanatically car-crazed Houston is actually the largest metro region on the continent without regional commuter rail service.
      Though after serious attempts to seemingly literally pave over every square inch of land with an extremely ambitious roadbuilding program between roughly 1983 and 2008 that included the continued construction of nearly a dozen new toll roads, some within the abandoned right-of-ways of freight railroad lines, and road-widenings that include the widening of the I-10 West Katy Freeway to as many as nearly 30 lanes in some places, notoriously car-obsessed Houston has seemingly tired of being completely auto-overdependent and is in the very early stages of a very-substantial expansion of its rail transit network that includes an active expansion of its light rail transit system and increasingly serious consideration of implementing regional commuter rail service on existing freight rail tracks between the urban core and the outer suburbs.
      Yes, you read that correctly…Notoriously fanatically car-crazed Houston, a city in which people have been known to almost literally kneel down and worship their personal vehicles at the altar of the automobile, a city in which Atlanta has nothing on when it comes to “autophilia” (the love and worship of one’s automobile), one, actually has a rail transit network and, two, is in the active process of expanding that rail transit network that many outsiders are shocked to find that thoroughly car-dominated Houston actually has.
      http://www.ridemetro.org/CurrentProjects/METRORailExpansion.aspx
      http://www.gometrorail.org/go/doc/2491/1323787/System-Map
      http://transportationnation.org/2012/06/07/plans-move-ahead-for-houstons-new-commuter-rail-line/
      http://www.hgaccommuterrail.com/docs/HGAC%20Commuter%20Rail%20-%20Relative%20Demand%20Potential_2.pdf
       
      If Houston, a much more automobile-crazed metro area with a much, much, much more extensive network of surface roads and superhighways, can embrace the concept of transit on a regional scale, then Atlanta, a metro area with a severely-constrained road network where current road options and future road expansion options are severely-limited and substantial expansion of the road network is not happening anytime soon, if ever, can and MUST fully-embrace transit on a regional scale as the defeat of the T-SPLOST was infinitely much more a defeat of the long-held Metro Atlanta practice of development interests using road construction to further congestion-inducing auto-dependent sprawl and overdevelopment than it was a defeat of aspirations for regional transit upgrades.Report

      Reply
  8. billprettyman says:

    I am not a city planner and do not pretend to have the skill set that some of you possess. I am just a citizen. There were a few reasons that people in the area where I have lived and worked for the past 27 years (Johns Creek, Alpharetta, southern Forsyth County) voted against TIA. First, people in our area questioned how they would benefit. We have witnessed significant traffic increases over time with little secondary road expansions. Our cities and counties have continued to approve higher and higher density projects like turning farms (no cars) into 200 home neighborhoods (300-400 cars) with little secondary road expansions. People are frustrated and have a lack of confidence in their representatives to fix the increased traffic. People believe that there is no plan other than we will figure it out as we go and developers continued to receive building permit approvals when they could have been asked to contribute to the road expansion that fronted their new subdivision.
     
    Second, citizens were tired of increasing taxes with little value seen or understood. Citizens believe that it is time that our government did a little belt tightening of their own. The people do not exist to make the government, the government exists to serve the people. Citizens see government expanding and making little impact. I am not arguing whether this is true or not. It is just a belief of many in the area where I work and live.
     
    How do we get to solving the issue? As just a common citizen, here are a few thoughts:
    1. Go out to the citizens and meet with them to understand what they need
    2. Communicate what government is doing to steward its resources
    3. Develop a plan for the entire area not just projects
    4. Go out to the citizens and communicate the plan face to face in town hall meetings in subdivisions, businesses, etc.
     
    Thank you, Heather, for stimulating the discussion.Report

    Reply
  9. Bob Munger says:

    Bravo. Broadening the definition and the diligence via financial cost/benefit analysis, Health Impact Analysis, etc. is very important to getting it right. We have spent the last 75 years pandering to the auto-centric gods of oil, Detroit and suburban-sprawl-type real estate development. 
     
    Such analysis should not be conducted in a vacuum. We need to look at alternative modes of transport as well as whether or not Road A makes sense.
     
    Bob Munger
    President, Augusta Greenway AllianceReport

    Reply
  10. Question Man says:

    Jim: The McKinsey Report says investing in transportation will produce positive economic results, but where does it say anything about a “crisis” in Georgia (other than a conclusory statement on p. 1)? Report

    Reply
  11. maria saporta
    maria saporta says:

    My dear readers and commentators…Thanks so much for the lively and healthy discussion.  I really appreciate that almost always, the discussion is civil, enlightening, intellectually stimulating and constructive. A couple of thoughts — all your points of view have value, and it’s important that we can disagree with each other without it becoming personal. Second, what is now being called a “penalty” actually was an “incentive” to get regions to invest in their own communities and infrastructure. I believe that carrot approach should be used to encourage regional cooperation on all sorts of levels. Keep those comments coming. MariaReport

    Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      And, Ms. Saporta, thank you so much for encouraging lively and healthy discussions by giving us an opportunity to comment and opine on the most important issues of the day affecting the Atlanta Region through your forum.
       
      Your hallowed journalistic experience is greatly respected by your readers and the Greater Atlanta community and your coverage of the most important issues of the day that directly affect the quality-of-life of the Atlanta Region is greatly appreciated.Report

      Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      Ms. Saporta, I agree with your assertion that there most definitely needs to be much, much, much greater regional cooperation, especially within the increasingly heavily-populated Atlanta Region which has grown into one of the 15 largest population centers on the North American continent and is THE cash cow that brings home the bacon for the economy of the State of Georgia.
       
      But regional cooperation is not necessarily something that needs to be encouraged or “incentivized” by the state through supposedly well-intentioned but severely misguided legislation that makes already very scarce existing transportation funding even more severely scarce through extremely ill-advised penalties to routine road maintenance.
       
      The state does not necessarily need to “encourage” regions to invest in their own communities and infrastructure as many communities already do so through property taxes and supplemental SPLOSTs set forward by local governments and voted on and often approved by local voters in those communities that fund schools, libraries, roads and public transportation often in the absence of adequate funding by the state (especially when it comes to schools, roads and public transportation).
       
      Overwhelmingly, for the most part, local governments and communities within the Atlanta Region don’t necessarily need “incentive” from the state to invest in their own communities as they already do so very adequately through their own volition.
       
      As witnessed through the T-SPLOST results in the City of Atlanta where the referendum was supported by a margin of 57%-43% and the repeated results in other counties throughout the Atlanta Region and the state where local SPLOSTs are repeatedly approved by local voters, many individual communities within a region are more than willing to invest in their own infrastructure and economic development.
       
      If anything it is the State of Georgia that is not fulfilling its responsibilty of investing in transportation infrastructure within the Atlanta Region that it is responsible for managing by its own laws as many of the routes in question or up for funding through the failed T-SPLOST were STATE-OWNED and STATE-MAINTAINED routes and right-of-ways.
       
      It should be and it IS the job of state government to invest in regionwide infrastructure as in most heavily-populated states with major population centers state government plays a significant, if not dominant, role in funding and managing STATE-owned and STATE-maintained modes of transportation infrastructure.
       
      In the Greater New York City (Tri-State area) metro region (population 23 million) state government plays a dominant role in managing transit infrastructure through the Metropolitan Transit Authority which oversees the operation of local bus, local heavy rail, regional commuter bus and regional commuter rail lines (Long Island Railroad and Metro North commuter rail trains) in heavily-populated Southeastern New York State and through the bi-state Port Authority which operates PATH trains between New York and New Jersey and through NJ Transit which operates buses, light rail trains and commuter rail trains throughout the state of New Jersey. 
       
      In the Greater Chicago (Chicagoland) metro region (population 9.6 million) the State of Illinois plays a very significant role in managing transit infrastructure through the Illinois Regional Transit Authority which finances and oversees METRA which is the commuter rail service for the Chicagoland area and heavily-populated Northeastern Illinois.
       
      In the Greater Boston metro region (population 6.2 million) the State of Massachusetts plays a very dominant role in the direct hands-on operation of transit lines (bus, subway, commuter rail and ferry) in heavily-populated Eastern Massachusetts.
       
      In the Greater Atlanta metro region (population 5.8 million), the State of Georgia plays a minimal role, at best, in funding and managing the road network, just barely plays a bare bones role in operating the GRTA Xpress commuter buses (which the state has signaled time and again that it does not want to continue to operate and seemingly finds any way possible to NOT continue to operate) and plays virtually no constructive role in managing or overseeing the increasingly lacking heavy rail and bus network of MARTA.
       
      If anything, it is not necessarily local governments within a region that are not investing in their own communities and infrastructures, it is the State of Georgia that is the missing link when it comes to the funding and management of transportation infrastructure, particularly within the increasingly heavily-populated Atlanta Region which is severely in need of the state to do its job in providing a multimodal transportation network. 
       Report

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  12. Bob Munger says:

    Georgia has very low gas taxes in a nation with the lowest gas taxes in the industrialized world.  Why should taxes on food and clothing pay for roads? This shifting of the revenue source away from petroleum is an incentive for more automobile travel.  Is that wise, given the links between automobile use and air pollution, asthma and global warming? If more revenue is needed it should came from a higher gas tax. Higher gas taxes will incentivize alternative, heathier modes of travel that use less gasoline. Remember too that the majority of every dollar of gas that goes into your gas tank leaves the State. Oil-based transportation is a very effiective from of wealth transfer from Georgia to foreign lands and multinational oil companies.Report

    Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

       @Bob Munger
      Excellent point about oil-based transportation being a very-effective form of wealth transfer from Georgia to foreign lands and multinational oil companies.
       
      But, while higher gas taxes are an excellent way to encourage and incentivize alternative, healthier modes of travel, politicially the idea or even the mere suggestion of raising gas taxes is a total non-starter, especially in a state with very conservative and highly tax adverse leadership and a cherished tradition of relatively very low taxes.
       
      The idea of increasing gas taxes is an impossible sell politically, but something that might be an easy sell is to eliminate the state gas tax and just levy user fees to in-state drivers and tolls to out-of-state drivers on each major road as the idea of one paying for what one uses is an idea that is infinitely much more politically attractive to the conservatives and libertarians that dominate the political environment in Georgia.
       
      Switching from funding roads with state gas tax revenue to funding roads with revenues from distance-based user fees would also ensure that each major road, especially state-maintained roads, has available the funds needed for improvements and upgrades when necessary.
       
       Report

      Reply
  13. Bob Munger says:

    Yes, LDIG, in my home state of Arkansas, a rather well known politician named Bill Clinton lost his only gubernatorial race after raising gas taxes during his first term.  Rising vehicular MPG via new Cafe standards for fleets are eroding the power of gas taxes. I think it a matter of educating voters to that fact. The newly announced standards (yesterday) are going to really take a bite out of gas taxes. Tolls are a hassel and do not incentivize cleaner forms of transport. Every gallon of gas burned puts 19 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That piper will soon have to be paid.Report

    Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

       @Bob Munger
       The problem does not seem to be voters, the problem, particularly here in Georgia and especially especially as it pertains to the road infrastructure-limited Atlanta Region, is the almost total and complete lack of leadership on transportation issues at the state government level in Georgia.
       
      Especially in the extremely road infrastructure-challenged urban core inside of I-285 and even to a very substantial extent in the sprawling suburbs and exurbs outside of I-285 (a much more substantial extent than many both Inside-the-Perimeter and particularly inside of our highly-dysfunctional state government seem to be realize or be aware of), cleaner forms of transport and use of mass transit does not necessarily need to be incentivized or encouraged as much as many seem to think it does as there is a HUMONGOUS untapped market for increased multimodal travel options which, of course, includes mass transit.
       
      There is a huge market and very substantial demand for increased availability of high-quality mass transit in the Atlanta Region, which as I have mentioned before, is the largest metro region east of Mississippi River and is the second-largest metro region in the nation that does not have regional commuter rail service between its urban core and suburbs and exurbs.
       
      In fact, one of the (multiple) main reasons that the T-SPLOST was voted down was because suburbanites thought that the proposed tax did not include plans for an extremely long-overdue network of regional commuter rail lines and instead thought that the proposed tax spent too much public money on building roads not to relieve congestion, but only to increase it by helping to build more congestion-inducing sprawl and overdevelopment.
       
      In a very-large metro area and major population center, if high-quality mass transit is available, people will use it in very large numbers, especially if it means avoiding having to deal with some of the worst congestion on the continent on a daily basis. 
       
      As for the suggestion of using levying tolls on out-of-state drivers, using tolls to fund our Interstate highway system instead of fuel taxes will mean that each road will have the funds available to fund its own maintenance and upgrades as necessarily, especially as it pertains to accommodating some of the heaviest freight truck traffic and through Interstate traffic on the continent that only continues to increase in volume due to Atlanta’s central location in relation to the Southeastern U.S., the resort areas of Florida and the fast-growing Port of Savannah, which has grown into one of the busiest seaports on the planet.
       
      The same practice that has been applied to strongly government-encouraged automobile use and automobile-oriented development in the Atlanta Region over the last nearly 70 years since the end of World War II during the automobile-dominated postwar era also applies to transit use and transit-oriented development:  IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME! 
       
      People don’t necessarily need to be encouraged or incentivized much to use high-quality transit, because like the automobile if it is there, they will use it and even move to be very near and close to it if possible.
       
      If you build high-quality transit, they will come.  They have come in nearly every other major metro region over five million people and they will come in Atlanta too if the option is adequately available, which unfortunately right now it clearly and obviously is NOT available to Metro Atlantans and North Georgians in adequate quantities or even reasonable convenience.Report

      Reply
  14. FormerATLien says:

    How Hard is it to see that Commuter Rail is THE ONLY ANSWER…its something GDOT should have had in place at Best 10 Years Ago…Now we have to wait Until God Knows When (2020 or better? ) to Get it and thats IF we Ever Get it…I read on City Data Forums Atlanta section that the MMPT terminal cpuld be done by 2017. So Maybe GDOT And the state will Finally Get of its Ass and Get these Trains Rolling…Tracks exist Already…Thats Half the Battle…I bet if the Tsplost was for Commuter Rail Only It wouldve Passed Overwhelmingly probably Becuase evryone would be getting bang for there Buck and it Would Actually Decrease the Congestion overall…time to stop” studying and planning” and get down to construction and implementation…You cant keep doin the same thing Expecting diffrent results…its called Insanity.Report

    Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      Nashville, Tennessee, which like Atlanta is a metro region that has a very-limited road network but only has about one-fourth to one-third the population of Metro Atlanta, has regional commuter rail service that has been fairly well-received on existing tracks that parallel Interstate 40 east of the city.
      http://www.musiccitystar.org/Middle-TN-RTA-stations.asp
       
      Charlotte is the advanced stages of planning at least two regional commuter rail lines, one that parallels busy Interstate 77 north of the city and one that parallels busy Interstate 85 northeast of the city that North Carolina STATE officials are planning to fund almost entirely with Tax Increment Financing (a portion of property tax revenues from new development that is built along the transit line).
      http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2011/12/14/2848955/commuter-rail-funding-discussed.html
       
      {{The first would be through what’s known as “tax increment financing,” in which a portion of the additional property-tax revenues from new development expected near the line would help fund its cost. The second local funding source would be a special assessment on retailers, industries and other businesses attracted to the corridor…..
      …….”There’s not going to be a tax increase, or a tax obligation that the general public is liable for,” task force member and former Mooresville Mayor Bill Thunberg said. He is executive director of the Lake Norman Transportation Commission.}}
       
      If commuter rail can be deemed viable in two metro regions who each have a population that is only one-fourth and one-third that of the Atlanta Region, respectively, then not only is commuter rail viable in the Atlanta Region, but it is a necessity in a metro region of nearly six million people that has a very-limited road network and some of the worst traffic on the continent. 
       
      Heck, Charlotte and the State of North Carolina are jointly finding ways to fund commuter rail WITHOUT increasing taxes.
       
      Let me say that again for effect: Charlotte and the State of North Carolina are JOINTLY finding ways to fund commuter rail service WITHOUT increasing taxes.
       
      Paying CRITICAL transportation needs WITHOUT raising taxes or creating new tax burdens on the public across-the-board should be the focus when it comes to planning and enacting transportation expansions, upgrades and improvements in Georgia, particularly in heavily-populated Metro Atlanta and the surrounding North Georgia region.Report

      Reply
      • Burroughston Broch says:

         @The Last Democrat in Georgia 
        Let’s be honest about Nashville. They started the first and only operating line in 2006 with predictions of 1500 passengers/day. The state and local governments had to bail them out in 2008 and 2009. Even today, they only average 1225 passengers/day. It’s hardly a resounding success, but it does run 6 trains a day each direction.
         
        The Charlotte funding is similar to Atlanta’s Tax Allocation Districts (TADs) that are such a mixed bag and have such a spotted reputation. The property owners along the line will pay more taxes, which they will pass along to their customers. The customers will also bear an additional burden. It’s not imposed on the public in general but, if it were a great and cost-effective idea, private industry would have already done it. Don’t forget that all of the streetcar lines in Atlanta prior to the white elephant under construction were built by private industry.Report

        Reply
        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

           @Burroughston Broch
           I didn’t say that the Nashville commuter rail line was a “resounding success”, I said that it had been “fairly well-received” as people are using it as an alternative to the sometimes heavily-congested Interstate 40 on the eastside of Nashville.
           
          One of the reasons that the line had to be bailed out was that their fares don’t come anywhere near covering the operating costs of the line as frankly, for a metro about the size of Nashville (roughly about 1.5 million people) building transit ridership through regional express bus should likely be of much greater priority before commuter rail service is seriously considered or acted upon by transportation planners.
          (…Fares as low as $2.00 one-way on a commuter rail line means that heavy government subsidies are going to be continuously required.)
          http://www.musiccitystar.org/Middle-TN-RTA-fares.asp Report

          Reply
        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

           @Burroughston Broch 
          You also make a very good point about the streetcar lines in the past being built (and mostly operated and maintained) by private industry.
           
          The immense importance of the role of private investment and private involvement in the funding of the construction, operation and maintenance of an expanded rail-anchored transit network in the Atlanta Region cannot be emphasized enough as the involvement of private business can help the Atlanta Region and the State of Georgia make up a heckuva lot of seemingly lost ground really quickly when it comes to long-overdue transit needs
           
          As demonstrated by all of the interest that was generated by private industry when the State of Georgia put the proposed I-75/I-575 North-by-Northwest HOT Lane project out for bids on several occasions over the past decade, their is almost infinitely much interest by private industry in investing in the transportation network of one of the 10 largest and fast-growing states in the nation.Report

          Reply
        • Burroughston Broch says:

           @The Last Democrat in Georgia  As long as government fosters the concept that public transport must have artificially cheap fares with a massive taxpayer subsidy, we will never realize an effective system. MARTA will never be effective until it institutes a distance-based and time-based fare system, like Washington DC. It must generate enough income to pay for operation and expansion, just like the taxis.
          To see what public transport was like in the past, see this 1924 map upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/cc/Atlanta_streetcars_1924.jpg. Notice the interurban lines to Stone Mountain, Marietta, Hapeville, College Park, and Fairburn. It is much better than we have today, and we threw it all away.
          Sigh…Report

          Reply
        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

           @Burroughston Broch
           Thanks for the link!
           
          And you are very correct that MARTA and mass transit here in Metro Atlanta (Cobb Community Transit, Gwinnett County Transit, GRTA Xpress and, especially, the currently-defunct C-Tran) will never be effective until it institutes a funding mechanism that, in addition to private financing, is dependent upon distance, time and zone-based fares and user fees like our metropolitan peers in Washington DC and the San Francisco Bay Area of Northern California.
           
          Though I have the feeling that sooner rather than later (likely within the next decade or so and most certainly before 2030) that the Atlanta Region and the State of Georgia are going to have an epiphany when it comes to transportation funding due to the increasingly very noticeable lack of transportation funding available through traditional means.Report

          Reply

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