By David Pendered
The window of opportunity for the public to express opinions on state funding of transit, bike and walking paths – and all modes of transportation – opened over the weekend and public comments will be accepted online through Oct. 20. The outreach is part of the state’s effort to update mobility plans that are to guide spending through 2050.
Surveys are available in Spanish and English. Each of the six questions that pertain to modes of travel provides an answer that includes transit or public transportation – including a question that asks:
- “Where is/are the opportunity(ies) for the Georgia Department of Transportation to improve? [can choose more than one]”
The public comments are part of the information-gathering process launched by the Georgia Department of Transportation. GDOT has started its effort to update mobility plans for modes including roads, bridges, ports, airports, rail freight, transit, and trails for walking and bicycling.
The update is required to comply with state requirements regarding a Statewide Strategic Transportation Plan, and federal requirements for a Statewide Transportation Plan. The most recent update was completed in 2015, according to a GDOT report.
GDOT took the public outreach campaign on the road over the final weekend in September – setting up booths at Atlanta’s Streets Alive and at the 32nd annual Georgia’s Big Red Apple Festival, in Cornelia. Five upcoming festivals are to offer GDOT booths, ending Oct. 19 at the Georgia Peanut Festival, to be held in Sylvester, the “Peanut Capital of the World.”
GDOT doesn’t indicate online the weight that will be assigned to public comments in the setting of spending priorities for transit and transportation programs.
The plan is to be complete and presented to the board that oversees GDOT in autumn, 2020, according to GDOT’s schedule.
The state’s current long-range plan calls for a 10 percent funding target for transit/bicycle/pedestrian projects. This figure represents a total allotment of $6.4 billion for alternate transportation, out of the state’s anticipated $65 billion general investment portfolio by the year 2040.
This 10 percent figure is the one often highlighted by transit advocates in contending GDOT and the Georgia Legislature have little interest in evaluating or providing additional funds for mobility options other than roads and bridges, ports and airports.
Comments contained in the plan, and other documents, indicate GDOT planners have fairly extensive plans regarding these alternate modes of transportation. Money to implement the plans hasn’t been allocated.
The report reviews transit in two categories, urban and rural, and cites expansion needs in both categories. A section on bicycle/pedestrian notes that most such facilities are handled at the local level. GDOT adopted a Complete Streets policy in 2012 that’s used when state projects are in areas where there’s a high expectation of alternate modes of travel along the state roadway.
The section on transit begins with this statement:
- “Approximately 81 percent of the population of Georgia today is served by transit, either through urban fixed-route, paratransit/on-demand or rural human services (demand-responsive service).
- “Statewide, about 2.26 percent of commuters take transit to work; in the Atlanta region the figure rises to 12.66 percent. People also use transit to perform other significant functions of daily life, including medical appointments, shopping, personal and recreational trips.”
In terms of potential improvements to transit, GDOT planners observed three distinct funding needs:
- “Multiple transit-supportive clusters in the Atlanta urbanized area are not served by transit:
- “The Brunswick, Cartersville, Dalton, Warner Robins, and Valdosta urbanized areas lack fixed-route transit service, as does Georgia’s portion of the Chattanooga urbanized area.
- “Potential demand exists for park-and-ride facilities along key interstates around Atlanta, Macon, Brunswick, and Augusta.”
The plan’s section on bicycling and walking recognizes the growth in this sector of travel options, and dangers in the existing system:
- “The number of bicyclists and pedestrians has been increasing in response to population growth as well as a shift to these alternative modes of transportation. In the United States, the share of trips taken on a bicycle or walking has increased significantly over the last two decades. This trend is expected to continue into the future both at the national and state level given increasing demand for non-automobile travel options and growing elderly population.
- “This higher share of users also results in more crashes involving a bicyclist or pedestrian. Between 2010 and 2012, 1,125 crashes occurred involving a bicycle and 3,204 crashes occurred involving a pedestrian. As the number of cyclists and pedestrians increase, safer infrastructure and public outreach to share the road can combat these types of crashes.”
Regarding rural on-demand transport, the existing plan doesn’t appear to mention the state’s three years of efforts, through 2014, to improve the rural transit system and meet mandates including transport to health care, community options and jobs.
The state worked to reduce costs and improve transport services provided by three state departments – Transportation, Human Services, and Community Health. More than two thirds of the cost, or 68 percent, was paid by the federal government and state funds were used to match the federal dollars, according to a 2013 report.
Costs of the existing rural transport program were forecast to rise from $142.3 million in fiscal year 2012 to $187.6 million in FY 2030. The final recommendation to the governor’s Office of Planning and Budget, from the Governor’s Development Council, attached to GRTA, was for Georgia to maintain the existing program and seek to manage it more efficiently in order to curb costs.