Georgia losing millions by not moving on commuter rail

By Maria Saporta

Georgia’s continued lack of progress on building a commuter rail line towards Griffin is costing the state millions in lost stimulus dollars.

Unless the state acts quickly to get the project moving, it is extremely vulnerable to losing the $87 million federal funds already allocated to the project.

Those are two concerns expressed by U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-Georgia) earlier this week in an interview after speaking at the Kiwanis Club of Atlanta.

“I can’t stress to you the urgency to move on this,” Scott said. “I’m so fearful that they are going to ask for that money back. The state has got to come to the table. It’s going to take leadership.”

Scott, who described Gov. Sonny Perdue as a friend and “a good decent guy,” expressed great disappointment that the governor hasn’t grasped the implications of not acting on commuter rail.

“If it’s not used, that money will go away,” Scott said. “And we are losing additional stimulus money by not moving forward. We have lost $16 million because this wasn’t moving.”

Scott also said this project is much more that just a line between downtown Atlanta and Lovejoy.

A line to Lovejoy easily could be extended to Hampton and the Atlanta Motor Speedway.

“I think the way to the future is Bruton Smith, who owns the raceway in Hampton,” Scott said. “You’ve got 300,000 NASCAR fans. This will be an economic generator.

Clayton Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell, speaking to me before Wednesday’s monthly meeting of the Transit Implementation Board, echoed Scott’s concerns.

One of the big issues has been for the state providing the local match for those federal funds. At one point, it was thought the state had those dollars in hand, but with the financial issues at the Georgia Department of Transportation, it seems those dollars have evaporated.

But Bell said Clayton has sufficient amount of T-Splost dollars to provide the local match. He would be willing to provide those $30 million as part of an exchange similar to what the Atlanta Regional Commission did to help MARTA cover a $25 million in operating shortfall.

“It would be a means to provide for the local match and prevent the state of Georgia from losing that rail money and having to give it back to the federal government,” Bell said.

Scott and Bell, along with leaders in the city of Atlanta and in the south metro area, have been pushing for this commuter rail line for more than a decade. Georgia’s inaction also threatens the state’s future funding, Bell said.

“My longterm concern is that we don’t use that money, it’s going to be more difficult for Congressman Scott and others to get more federal money in the future,” Bell said. “I have pleaded with the Georgia Department of Transportation and will continue to do so to make sure we can make this happen. I’m going to my state legislators and requesting that they get involved.”

For both Bell and Scott, it’s not just about easing Atlanta’s transportation quagmire or providing alternatives to the automobile.

“It’s about econcomic development and the future of the Southside,” Bell said. “It’s about investing in the future.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

7 replies
  1. Roger C. says:

    It is unfortunate that this state is about to surrender millions of federal dollars simply because state leadership will not move on a project that was supposed to be completed in 2002. I think part of the problem is that the first phase of the line ends in Lovejoy. The DOT and GRTA and others involved need to think bigger and build the first phase to Griffin, then one year later, extend to Macon. There has been enough time to take baby steps. It is time to move this project forward!Report

    Reply
  2. Richard E. Hodges says:

    Thanks again to Maria Saporta for highlighting the continued lack of transportation vision and action by many of Georgia’s so-called leaders. After watching our state’s basic march forward economically, politically, and socially for more than 50 years, this observer, and occasional participant, is sad to see our wonderful state apparently head for the drain due to lack of courage, energy, and concern for the future by many who were elected to represent and lead. Good for Congressman Scott and Eldrin Bell for their recognition of the importance of commuter rail if metro Atlanta and environs are to continue as great places to live and work.Report

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  3. A.W. says:

    I think that it would be a great idea to extend the MARTA Rail System southbound past the Airport, through Lovejoy, down to Griffin, and end at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. The traffic on I-75 in Clayton and Henry counties are crazy in the afternoon. In my opinion, the whole south metro of Atlanta needs some new life and renovation, put more tourist attractions in those areas. But that is another story. The problem is that the government is not really financially supporting MARTA. If so, we probably would not be having this conversation right now.Report

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  4. Jock Ellis says:

    If we ever have another reform governor like Jimmy Carter, he/she should re-name the State Highway Department the Bureau of Unfinished Road Projects (BURP).Report

    Reply
  5. Ben says:

    I think what Georgia needs is better and more frequent Amtrak service, not a commuter rail to Griffin. I have lived in Georgia almost my entire life (and part of that in Atlanta) and have never heard of Griffin. We need a train between Athens and Atlanta more than anything! At least half the students at UGA are from Atlanta!Report

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  6. llward says:

    It would be great if they would run rails from I75 as far north as Chatt and as far south as Griffin.  That would be great!!!! Takes a lot of traffic off the road.  Not to mention – Cobb county getting a new braves stadium…Report

    Reply
  7. writes_of_weigh says:

    http://www.livefyre.com/profile/206797/ 8 minutes ago

    Lest we forget……Miami and Orlando are currently a-linking higher speed rail astride H.M. Flagler’s, Speedway to America’s Playground, the Florida East Coast Railway. FEC Industries, in concert with FECR, and presumably, with a former Florida Governors(BUSH??) blessing(as he has/recently had a seat on FECI’s board) is flying the corporate banner as All Aboard Florida. Barring NIMBYs or other inane obstructionists, intrastate passenger trains will likely ply the route in 2016, possibly late 2015. The state of Virginia, in concert with Norfolk Southern/Amtrak, is eyeing  recently expanded(and highly successful) D.C./Lynchburg service, to connect that to Roanoke(an NS operating “hub”, similar to Atlanta). GDOT and Gov. Deal, and would-be Gov. Carter should debate these developments as Georgia sits squarely betwixt and between these developments. Will Georgians and Atlanta’s logistics empire languish with nary a whimper from the pols?- See more at: http://saportareport.com/blog/2014/02/snow-jam-2014-reveals-to-the-world-that-metro-atlanta-is-a-divided-region/#sthash.XA5on3zk.dpuf- See more at: http://saportareport.com/blog/2014/01/snow-jam-14-the-george-washington-bridge-of-dumb/#sthash.PvdChh61.dpufReport

    Reply

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