Georgia needs to begin working on ‘what’s next’ for transportation

By Guest Columnist SETH MILLICAN, director of the Georgia Transportation Alliance

As we mark a year since the 2012 primary election, community and business leaders continue to assess the results of the Transportation Investment Act.

There is often a tone of chagrin in those conversations as people try to figure out why the referendum passed in only three of 12 regions and try to redefine a vision for Georgia’s transportation future.

While Georgia is fortunate that 54 counties chose to adopt the TIA and begin investing $2 billion in their local transportation infrastructure, the truth remains that as a “hub and spokes” state, Georgia’s economic success hinges largely upon the success of metro Atlanta.  Of course it was disheartening for voters to reject the regional approach to transportation and infrastructure improvements.

Seth Millican

Seth Millican

Despite the mixed outcome, Georgians should be proud of those who worked tirelessly to pass the referendum. And we should not forget what was gained through that effort.

Georgia’s business community found itself tougher and wiser about our state’s needs.  No single issue has more cohesively drawn together such a broad, diverse coalition of stakeholders in the pursuit of a long term goal.

As a result, we learned valuable lessons about building coalitions.  We learned about how communities of interest can interact and agree on transportation issues.  We learned valuable lessons about how voters view traffic, congestion, economic development and job creation, and we learned about what types of projects are seen as important and which ones are not.

Indeed, the TIA election of 2012 was not an exercise in futility.  And as we look forward, a protracted discussion about who’s to “blame” for the results of the TIA is neither helpful nor wise.

We shouldn’t be quibbling over the past but rather encouraging thoughtful discussions about our future and how we can improve our transportation infrastructure so that we are more competitive as a state.  Ultimately, we should be focused on the most important question of all: what’s next?

It’s time for Georgians to have a new conversation about transportation.  That conversation will include our elected leaders, chambers of commerce and advocacy groups, and it should incorporate the lessons we’ve learned over the last several years.

That conversation must be unconstrained, and we must have it with big goals in mind.  We must recognize and celebrate the excellent work currently being done by our state’s transportation agencies and leadership.  And as we have this conversation, we should closely examine other states to see what has been successful in states similar to our own.

Securing additional transportation investment must be one of our top priorities.  We must pursue that goal holistically and look for multiple creative pathways to success, including possible changes to our state’s governance and project delivery structures.

Ultimately, our transportation challenges have not changed.  According to the Reason Foundation, we are 35th in the United States for traffic congestion and we still face a population increase of several million in the next 17 years.  The motor fuel tax remains a regressive, shrinking source of revenue.  And our ability to rely on the federal government continues to decrease by the year.

At the Georgia Transportation Alliance, we look forward to facilitating a new conversation with Georgians about their transportation needs.

We look forward to drawing attention to the successes being achieved in Georgia and to working with community leaders and policy makers in both metro Atlanta and all across the state to develop wise, forward thinking investment strategies so that Georgia’s transportation infrastructure becomes a fundamental asset to our economic competitiveness as a state for decades to come.

The Georgia Transportation Alliance is an affiliate of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.  More information, please visit the Alliance’s webpage.

26 replies
  1. Wish for MIlton County says:

    Is this guy one of the so called “experts” who put the Beltline projects ahead of fixing the I-285 GA-400 interchange.
    Maybe he can explain to a citizen who lives in Sandy Springs, Dunwoody, Roswell, Alpharetta, east Cobb, why the Beltline was more important than out of date and dangerous interchange.
    T-SPLOT was going to be a feast of cronies.  The smell of corruption was strong.  To strong for the voters.Report

    Reply
    • moliere says:

      Wish for MIlton County What are you talking about? 
      http://www.metroatlantatransportationvote.com/documents/Final_project_list_5-3-2012.pdf
      I-285 GA-400 is the first item – and 2nd most expensive – item on the list. The Beltline wasn’t even top 10 on the list, even if it was 3rd in terms of expense.
      Second, the Beltline is going to be built. It is going to be the main priority of Reed’s second term, and by the time he leaves office it will be too late to pull the plug, even if he is replaced by Mary Norwood (plus the Atlanta business community fully supports the Beltline and no one is going to be elected Atlanta mayor without their support). But whether the big projects on the T-SPLOST in the suburbs get funded is up in the air. The governor, the state GOP and the GDOT – having been burned by T-SPLOST (which was a GOP idea supported by Deal and Perdue and the Republican legislature and other officeholders no matter what they want you to believe, they just flip-flopped) – are only going to add toll lanes to some of the most congested highways. The rest of Deal’s political capital and time in office in his second term where transportation is concerned will be on the Savannah port issue. The other projects, especially those that are A) expensive and B) span multiple counties have an uncertain future. You won’t be able to do them without new revenue, and who is going to raise it? You expect Republican county officials elected by Republican primary voters are going to approve those large tax and spending projects? Even better: you expect county commissioners from Cobb, Gwinnett, Hall, Cherokee etc. to coordinate tax and spending increases and to jointly manage large transportation projects? Granted, the law currently doesn’t allow them to do so even if they wanted, but let’s say that law was passed. What’s the likelihood of that actually happening? What if (for example) Cobb and Cherokee do their piece but Gwinnett doesn’t follow suit? The folks in Cobb and Cherokee won’t have any recourse because they don’t have any jurisdiction in Gwinnett. That is just one example. There are lots more, which is why you don’t see counties doing projects like this on their own ANYWHERE. 
      Also, please consult a map of the Atlanta metro area. Like it or not, real progress on transportation for Cobb, Gwinnett, Cherokee etc. won’t happen without including north Fulton and north DeKalb. Except that getting north Fulton and north DeKalb involvement on highways and whatever else will require including those entire counties. For the urban areas of those counties, highways aren’t a priority. Public transportation is. And that was the point of T-SPLOST. Folks in Atlanta, south DeKalb etc. were going to help pay for suburban highways that they were never going to ride on in return for the suburbs helping to pay for transit projects that they were never going to use (except for when they attend Falcons/Braves games or fly in/out of Hartsfield or go take classes at Georgia Tech/Georgia State/Emory perhaps). It was a way to get these projects done. Now, the truth is that most of these projects aren’t going to get done at all, so any “victory” that was accomplished by defeating T-SPLOST will be pyrrhic. And it is even more so for the suburbs. The Beltline and other intown projects will get done because Atlanta and similar are willing to tax themselves to get it done. Not so the suburbs. 
      Sorry, but the T-SPLOST opponents let the perfect be the enemy of the good. You can keep rejoicing over the fact that none of your money is going to go to build the Beltline all you want, but when the Beltline still gets built anyway and the projects in the suburbs on that list that were actually necessary never get funded or built, what will your response be then? I suppose somehow it will still wind up being all Atlanta’s fault as usual. Or maybe the fault of Atlanta and Obama. Or of Atlanta, Obama, Clinton and Jimmy Carter I guess …Report

      Reply
      • Wish for MIlton County says:

        moliere Wish for MIlton County I don’t mind the Beltline being built.  Atlanta can raise the funds to do it.  I object to projects such as the Beltline, Streetcars, etc.  That impact very few metro citizens being put on the time line of T-SPLOT projects ahead of more pressing projects such as I-285 / Ga 400 interchange.
        If Atlanta was so eager to tax themselves for the Beltline, Streetcars, etc.  why were they on the T-SPLOT list.  Why does Atlanta want a hand out.  Where I live we have bike trails, walking paths, etc…  I don’t believe they were on T-SPLOT because they are local / community projects.  And, we voted for a bond issue to pay for them.  We did not ask someone from south DeKalb county to pay for our trails, bake paths, and greenways.
        Look the state is trying to spend a BILLION Dollars on a train station in downtown Atlanta that most of metro Atlanta can’t get too.  The INTERMODEL Hub.  How is that going to help a citizen that lives in Acworth or Covington or Jonesboro.  Putting the Amtrak station and the Interstate Bus lines (Greyhoud and BigBus??) together makes some sesnce.  But a BILLION DOLLARS.  It also makes more sense to put the INTERMODEL Hub at the airport.  But that is another discussions.
        As for suburban projects – well lets see the Perimeter Center Business District area is putting up $10s of millions of dollars for the I-285 / GA-40 interchange.  City of Roswell is putting up millions of dollars for the Holcomb Bridge GA/400 intersection.  Also putting up money to study a new overpass just north of Holcomb Bridge / GA-400 intersection.  Alpharetta, I believe, is putting up millions of dollars for a new interchange north of the Winward Parkway intersection with GA-400.
        These projects have regional implications for east to west connecting corridors in north metro Atlanta, but are being funded by locals to get them done.  I am sure there are projects all over metro Atlanta that have a regional need being funded in whole are part, locally.
        I am not saying don’t have a T-SPLOT tax.  I am saying the projects must be truly regional in nature.  Not bike walking trails for locals or streetcars for touists.Report

        Reply
  2. inatl says:

    The Beltline helps because it gets more people to move closer to jobs and closer to existing transportation infrastructure that can handle the growth, MARTA. 
    Rather than chasing the fools dream of paving our way out of congestion lets focus on channeling future growth to areas and types of development with that mitigate the negative impacts on our transportation infrastructure. 
    How we develop and grow feeds the Demand for our Supply of transportation infrastructure.   The “Freeing the Freeways” folly of countless road expansions that soon were congested taught us that addressing just one side of the Supply Demand equation is a waste of money.Report

    Reply
    • Burroughston Broch says:

      inatl Bullfeathers. The BeltLine doesn’t help now and it will be years before it could be of any help. It is a few walking trails and green spaces dotted along abandoned railroad right of way.Report

      Reply
      • arctk2011tj says:

        Burroughston Broch inatl HA! Are you seriously denying the Beltline’s influence on development in Atlanta. Have you ever taken a stroll or bike ride along the current trail areas? There is well over a billion dollars worth of economic development within the corridor that the Beltline reaches and to say that it hasn’t influenced, catalyzed much of this then you haven’t opened your eyes lately. You should reach out to AMLI, Jamestown & Green Streets, Gables, Cousins, Novare and other developers and ask them if the BeltLine has has any influence on their developments. Not one will deny the influence.Report

        Reply
        • Burroughston Broch says:

          arctk2011tj
          inatl’s statement was, ”

          The
          Beltline helps because it gets more people to move closer to jobs and
          closer to existing transportation infrastructure that can handle the
          growth, MARTA.”
          The Beltline is close to MARTA in only a few points, and the development is not near those points. It is not getting people to move closer to jobs at this time. Maybe in the future, but not now.Report

          Reply
        • inatl says:

          Burroughston Broch arctk2011tj A good amount of Development is occuring around the Beltlne which has great access via the Beltline, the Street Car, the 10th St dedicated bike way and some MARTA stations and MARTA bus routes to jobs in Midtown and Downtown.Report

          Reply
  3. Bitter Broch says:

    Maybe somebody who’s knowledge of Atlanta is limited to being at Tech in the 1960’s or driving occasionally down Northside Dr. can be forgiven for thinking that a three block walk to the future streetcar is nowhere near the Beltline. Living in a car in Dunwoody can do that to you. But then again, nothing says quality of life like generic development around a mall.Report

    Reply
  4. writes_of_weigh says:

    Not so much for edification…..as elucidation…..{{http://bit.ly/13xKVdL}}….and as with all of metro’Lanta’s transportation woes…..tempus fugit…..Report

    Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      writes_of_weigh Thanks for the link. 
      That’s an excellent link because that map showing average annual daily traffic volumes on interstate routes across the U.S. shows that with average annual daily traffic volumes over 60,000 vehicles per day on most of the Interstate system throughout North Georgia and with average annual traffic volumes over 150,000 per-day on all stretches of Interstate in Metro Atlanta, a regional high-capacity passenger rail network is not only viable in North Georgia, but is also severely-needed.
      The need for a regionally-expansive high-capacity passenger rail network is particularly apparent on the stretch of Interstate 75 through the Atlanta region between Chattanooga and Macon where the map shows that average annual daily traffic volumes exceed 60,000 and 150,000 vehicles per day.
      With traffic volumes being so high on I-75 through the Greater Atlanta region between Chattanooga and Macon, regional high-capacity passenger rail service should ALREADY be in operation between Chattanooga and Macon in the corridor that runs parallel to I-75 through Metro Atlanta.Report

      Reply
  5. Burroughston Broch says:

    @ Bitter Broch
    I am in the City of Atlanta every week on business and take MARTA whenever it makes sense, which is about 1/2 of the time.
    Walking any number of blocks to a “future” streetcar on the Beltline is a conversation we can have in 10-15 years after we learn whether they are ever built.
    The closest mall is 5 miles from my home but I’m never there except to board MARTA.Report

    Reply
  6. arctk2011tj says:

    Burroughston Broch arctk2011tj You do know all that work to rebuild the  Edgewood Ave bridge is part of the planned extension to connect the streetcar to the Beltline – which is a mere 3-4 blocks.Report

    Reply
  7. Burroughston Broch says:

    @arctk2011j The 72 year old bridge was already scheduled to be replaced because it has long been functionally obsolete; to be precise – Replacement of bridge or other structure because of substandard load carrying capacity or substantial bridge roadway geometry.
    I agree that adding provisions for a future streetcar or light rail is an excellent idea (ala GA400). However, the streetcar will not magically appear once the bridge is complete. Let’s revisit this in 5 years and see whether the streetcar is running over the bridge.Report

    Reply
  8. arctk2011tj says:

    Burroughston Broch You seem to measure success in the now and somewhat short-term future. It is this mindset that has held Atlanta back in many realms. Vowing to the “we’ll just have to revisit this in 5-10 years” mentality is not enough to make these things happen. It takes the support of the community to get things done. Saying the BeltLine doesn’t help now and will take years before it does is a haphazard way of thinking considering it’s a pretty significant infrastructure project that is laying the groundwork for future transit options. You can’t build something without a strong foundation and the BeltLine is a major step in changing the way development is happening in-town. It’s not about the physical groundwork but also about the community support.Report

    Reply
  9. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    Wish for MIlton County {{{“Look the state is trying to spend a BILLION Dollars on a train station in downtown Atlanta that most of metro Atlanta can’t get too.  The INTERMODEL Hub.  How is that going to help a citizen that lives in Acworth or Covington or Jonesboro.  Putting the Amtrak station and the Interstate Bus lines (Greyhoud and BigBus??) together makes some sesnce.  But a BILLION DOLLARS.  It also makes more sense to put the INTERMODEL Hub at the airport.  But that is another discussions.”}}}
    …You are so correct that putting the intermodal hub at the world’s busiest passenger airport makes the most sense.
    It absolutely makes the most sense for travelers to be able to access airplanes, buses and trains from one location at the site of the busiest passenger airport on the planet.
    It also makes the most sense for virtually all future high-capacity passenger rail lines that originate from points above I-20 to terminate at an intermodal hub facility at the airport.
    Almost all future high-capacity passenger rail lines that originate from points below I-20 should run THROUGH the intermodal hub facility at the airport and through a major transfer point at Five Points (which is what the billion-dollar intermodal facility that is planned for Downtown should be…a major transfer facility) to terminate at major job centers on the Northside of the metro region (Cumberland, Perimeter and Norcross).
    Your comments also underscore the point that the heavy utilization of private investment is an absolute must when it comes to the development of future transportation infrastructure at the local, regional, state and national levels.
    The heavy utilization of private investment is a must because there just are not enough public funds available to get these transportation infrastructure projects built with public funds alone.Report

    Reply
  10. Wish for MIlton County says:

    The Last Democrat in Georgia Wish for MIlton County The reason why I believe the INTERMODEL HUB should be at the airport is simple:
    Envision a person catching a Delta flight in Macon or Columbus, buys their ticket from Delta.  They go to a statiion and check their bags, go through security, etc.. just like at the airport.  Only thei first leg of their journey is on a train that runs to the INTEMODEL HUB call Hartsfieled International Airport.
    Others could also use these trains by connecting with MARTA at the INTERMODEL HUB / AIRPORT.  But one has to try an build in some use.  
    Trains could run from Athens, Augusta, Macon, LaGrange, Columbus, West Point, and possibly Chattanooga,TN, Montgomery, AL, Auburn, AL.  If a person needs to go to Atlanta, they change trains at the INTERMODEL HUB / AIRPORT.
    This vision will probably cost BILLIONS.  Some rail coridors will need to be built, revised, enhanced, enlarged.  But trains already run to all these places. The basic infasctructure is already in place.
    MARTA is talking about expansion up the GA-400 corridor north of North Springs.  Maybe MARTA should expand southwards to Palmetto (down the I-85 corridor) and east & west as well (overtime).  MARTA must become a true feeder system to the airport.
    This a workable plan. State of Georgia already owns trackage going to Macon & Columbus.  These cities need to connect to Altanta Airport but only have a few flights a day that are expensive.  These trains could connect with any airline that services Atlanta.  So possible competative pricing could be manifested.
    Finally, how many cars would be taken off the interstate system?  If we truly want rail service, we need to make it a viable option for travelers.  Hartsfield Jackson is the businest airport in the WORLD.  There is a need for this type of service and a captive audience to sell train service to.
    Bottom line – Why are we trying to invent a new INTERMODEL HUB when we already have one call HARTSFIELD-JACKSON INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT.Report

    Reply
  11. Burroughston Broch says:

    arctk2011tj 5-10 years is not short term, but instead intermediate term bordering on long term.
    We’ll see who’s correct in 5-10 years.
    By the way, if you were designing a transit system for Atlanta today with a clean sheet of paper, the BeltLine wouldn’t be part of it. It’s a part of somebody else’s vision, and they think adding transportation will help them get what they want. It’s similar to why the 5 Points MARTA station is where it is. Dick Rich was the MARTA chairman, but his main aim was to get the central station as close to his store as possible. And that’s what he did.Report

    Reply
  12. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    Wish for MIlton County The Last Democrat in Georgia EXCELLENT POINTS!!!!…And EXCELLENT VISION!!!!
    And you are correct that that vision will cost billions (likely tens-of-billions).
    But the tens-of-billions of dollars that that vision will require to come to fruition can easily be raised WITHOUT a flawed, contentious and politically unfeasible regional tax referendum.
    The tens-of-billions of dollars that that vision will require can easily be raised without misguided attempts to raise sales taxes by utilizing:
    …Distance-based user fees (distance-based fare structures that aim to cover at least 70% of operating costs);
    …Tax Increment Financing and Value Capture (portions of property tax revenues from new development that pops up along transit lines) as opposed to misguided and unpopular sales tax increase attempts;
    …Real Estate transactional financing (long-term for-profit leasing-out of land over and around stations for the construction of high-density Transit-Oriented Development for revenues that can be used to subsidize transit operating costs);
    …Private investment (for-profit term-leasing of transit lines out to private operators who pay all design, construction, operating and maintenance costs).Report

    Reply
  13. Chris Parrish says:

    Burroughston Broch inatl   Ol’ Burroughston  has his head stuck firmly between his cheeks.  The reason people are still sitting in their cars is because of people like him.  Don’t want Marta, don’t want streetcars, don’t want livable neighborhoods, don’t want nuthin’.  Won’t be happy until every inch is paved over.  Probably lives in a gated trailer park in Cobb.Report

    Reply
  14. Burroughston Broch says:

    Burroughston Broch Permit me to disappoint you. I live in an older home in DeKalb, just OTP, so I pay MARTA taxes. I use MARTA at least weekly to and from the City of Atlanta and ATL. I would be happy to use MARTA more if it ran places I need to go, such as my job. I can ride MARTA and CCT and spend 1-1.5 hours each way, or I can drive 25 minutes each way. One to two hours wasted each day on existing public transit is not attractive, so I drive my little putt-putt that gets 35 miles/gallon.
    I anger you and other MARTA groupies because I don’t buy your happy meal verbiage of MARTA and streetcars as the only future. I think streetcars on private rights of way (as they used to be in places in Atlanta) would be OK, but taking up two lanes of traffic on Peachtree St. as proposed is absurd. One lane of traffic moves a lot more people than streetcars. I remember the trackless trolleys and how they snarled traffic downtown.Report

    Reply

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