Our transportation future: it’s not “either, or” — it’s “and…”

By Guest Columnist DICK ANDERSON, director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority

(This column is in response to last week’s Maria’s Metro Column: “If we can’t do it right, maybe we should put the brakes on new transportation funding.”)

As the General Assembly takes up again the issue of transportation funding, we begin with a clear path forward in terms of needed investment, strategies that would produce superior returns and a quantified view of growth in our gross domestic product (GDP), jobs and reduction in congestion that will result.

We have made a strong business case for transportation investment. With $65 billion in incremental investment over the next 20 years, the state of Georgia could realize $480 billion in GDP growth and 425,000 new jobs.

dick anderson

From my view, now is the time to press forward. So, I was puzzled by Maria Saporta’s recent suggestion that we scrap our current efforts and return to the drawing board.

Following my retirement from BellSouth, I have led the effort called “Investing in Tomorrow’s Transportaion Today” or IT3.

I approached our transportation challenges as a set of business problems with no preconceived notion of any single, simple solution. While there were many views of what a solution might entail, I didn’t find a business plan for transportation — at least not one that would pass scrutiny in the private sector — one with performance objectives, strategies, investment case metrics and assigned accountability.

For the past 18 months, we have engaged the senior transportation staff at agencies such as Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA), Transit Planning Board (TPB), MARTA along with direction from the boards of these agencies.

We also have had individual meetings with Gov. Sonny Perdue and input from the public to arrive at the interim Statewide Strategic Transportation Plan that Todd Long, director of planning for GDOT, recently delivered to the legislature, speaker, lt. governor and governor for comment before being finalized on Feb. 15. The plan can be viewed at it3.ga.gov.

The plan does not favor “planes, trains or automobiles.” It favors performance per taxpayer dollar invested. Not seeing your favorite transportaion remedy offered up should not take away from a very clear direction.

As we developed IT3, we used a fact-based approach and engaged Mckinsey and Co. to help put together a compelling business case. We tested all possible strategies against key performance metrics like congestion reduction, reliable commutes of 30-45 minutes and how they would drive economic expansion.

We looked at options like investing all available dollars in transit rail only. We also looked at investing only in expanding our interstate and arterial road capacity.
All options were tested with a high degree of analytical rigor using well established transportation demand models.

In the end, it was not an either-or choice of rail versus road or urban versus rural, or commuters versus freight. The best performing transportation investment portfolio has a blend of investments that:

* keeps our core transit systems operating (eg,MARTA, GRTA, local counties);

* upgrades the speed of our interstate system with new managed lane capacity and capability to guarantee a commute time;

* complements the managed lanes with new transit options, including bus rapid transit (BRT) and rail-based circulators (streetcars) in major employment centers;

* ensures that freight is moved out of the ports and metro Atlanta and on to the final destination with maximum speed and reliability;

* positions Georgia to transform the transportation network with additional investments in transit, commuter, freight and high-speed rail as funds are available; and

* links land use and development patterns with transportation investment to increase the effectiveness by more than 50 percent to 80 percent.

And the outcomes do not present even a close call in choosing the best performing portfolio. I have had much tougher investment choices to make in my career at BellSouth.

I admit I have some pride of ownership of the IT3 direction. I think it sets a new standard of expectation for what a transportaion plan should include and as a taxpayer, I feel good knowing what results to expect for a dollar invested.

More importantly, we have the endorsement of the boards of the ARC, GDOT, GRTA, MARTA and TPB for IT3. As well, the governor expressed his support for additional transportation funding this past week based on the IT3 direction and the business case returns for Georgia citizens.

We also know what the future holds if we don’t act — increased congestion, loss of jobs, decreased quality of life and the dilution of Georgia’s competitive position.

So, Maria — this one time, I completely disagree.

17 replies
  1. Cheryl B. says:

    With all due respect Mr. Anderson, this is exactly what Maria and others have been pointing … all that has been done is TALK. People are tired of hearing about these so-called plans and agendas and never seeing them come to fruition.

    How many studies do we need? The only ones benefitting from all this are these consulting companies.

    So, Mr. Anderson…on your response, I (respectfully) disagree.Report

  2. jim dexter says:

    As far as I can tell, GRTA has no real proposal for bus rapid transit. True bus rapid transit consists of buses running in dedicated lanes. What GRTA is really proposing is express buses sharing toll lanes that are primarily designed for cars.Report

  3. WestsideATL says:

    I am very skeptical that the high-occupancy toll lanes passed the cost-benefit “smell test” and would encourage GDOT and its partners to reveal the details behind the IT3 evaluation. According to the STIP, 55% of the state’s transportation budget would be spent on managed lanes. That’s a huge investment, and it’s not really something that the public has been clamoring for. The only people who want them, are the same folks who want the tunnel, David Doss and the road-building lobby.

    For once, it’d be nice if y’all actually served the people of this state instead of the special interests…Report

  4. juanita driggs says:

    So, Mr. Anderson…way past time to put the specifics of your plan on the table ALREADY for everyone to see. If it carries all the “endorsements” from the alphabet agencies you claim that it does, then maybe the rest of us can get our arms around it too. After all we’re the ones who count in the final analysis.Report

  5. Sally Flocks says:

    I’m delighted that the IT3 report recognizes the importance of linking land use to transportation investments. In areas with high density development,sidewalks and safe crossings that make it easy for people to access transit on foot are critically important.

    I have zero confidence, however, that a list of projects selected by the state legislature will include adequate funding for sidewalks and safe crossings near transit stations and bus stops. State legislators — like most GDOT board members — continue to equate pedestrian facilities with recreational trails.

    Meanwhile, the Georgia DOT lacks an ADA transition plan (something that the federal government required states to develop by 1992 and implement by 1995), numerous transit routes in Atlanta’s suburbs lack sidewalks and safe crossings, and over one-fourth of the sidewalks in the City of Atlanta are broken.

    Mr. Anderson, which pedestrian projects do you expect the state legislature to fund? How big is the funding pot for sidewalk construction or maintenance within 1/2 miles of transit?Report

  6. Dick Hodges says:

    Visionary Georgians, who, for years, have been advocating more attention to the need for the implementation of transportation policies and programs geared for the long haul, in keeping with rapidly changing times, have to be grateful to have “on board” with creative ideas an experienced leader like Dick Anderson. The challenging and potentially devastating economic situation facing the state in the months ahead has not been helped by the previous failure of far too many political and business leaders to see the danger of “business as usual” when the subject involved adequate and “balanced” transportation investments. Movement on this vital matter seems to be possible, at last. But just exactly what kind of “movement” is not clear to many of us? Proposals and plans galore are sufacing–some deserving of consideration, discussion and debate, many not. Mr. Anderson’s thoughtful response to Maria Saporta’s opinion is interesting and worthy, but not yet as convincing as Ms. Saporta’s reality viewpoint about the best time finally to mount the major effort to achieve true transportation progress in Georgia.Report

  7. Jock Ellis says:

    Frankly, we need to look beyond what it will cost us tomorrow to move people and look at ways to cut the import and use of petroleum. Nothing does that better than steel wheels on steel rails. People in other cities – towns which until the people took light rail or commuter rail were known as car towns – have flocked to commuter rail as a less stressful method of getting to and from work. It is the best option we have for cutting future oil needs and getting more jobs. A seat on a train takes up some four square feet while one driver in one car takes up some 550 square feet. At some point, you run out of space.
    Jock EllisReport

  8. Scott says:

    Looking at the plan I see one glaring problem. It includes the GA400 I-675 tunnel. There is no way in hell this is going to fly in any shape or form. You can run numbers all you want, but public resistance and lawsuits delaying (and hopefully killing) any such project would render it as NOT cost effective. We need to get off this kick that the private sector does no evil just like Government does no good. Public transportation is just that…PUBLIC. Its not meant to be run by the private sector, because the bottom line for the private sector is to make money, and whats good for a transit system isn’t necessarily going to be immediately self sustaining. The bottom line for government isn’t profit. The State needs to find a way to subsidize non road transit. There is already a mechanism in place to fund roads…the gas tax. Every plan I see with that tunnel immediately loses credibility with me. It shows the that the authors of the study are out of touch with the reality we all faceReport

  9. Chris says:

    great catch Scott. Any study that treats the tunnel as a true possibility is a waste of money. That is truly one measure that will never pass; especially now that the in-town neighborhoods are thriving again.Report

  10. Chris says:

    However, I do like the funding options in the funding study that Mr. Anderson referenced. If Metro Atlanta passes a 1 cent sales tax, we will easily have the funding for the fourth level of investment in transportation. However, we will only pass that a regional referendum if we figure out what to do about Fulton and DeKalb already paying a penny tax towards Marta.Report

  11. BPJ says:

    I’m a bit between Anderson and Saporta on this. (By the way, I was on the metro chamber’s transportation council for much of the 1990s.) I do agree with Anderson that the transportation plan for metro Atlanta needs to have a robust road component. However, Mr. Anderson and his colleagues need to listen to the critiques here.

    The current “it3” plan is too heavily weighted towards roads. It is a false objectivity to say, “well, that’s just how the study came out”. The assumptions going into the study predetermined much of the outcomes. Yes, you can get some quick congestion relief by adding a lane here and there, but that’s really just a repeat of the failed strategy of the past 40 years. The payoff from, for example, commuter rail takes longer to be realized, but it moves us into a future where people actually have CHOICES.

    Ms. Flocks is right; it’s crazy not to spend money to improve walkability around transit nodes. We spent billions building MARTA rail, and it is foolish not to ensure that walking from the station to a nearby destination is both practical and pleasant.

    As for the tunnel, (a) it’s a dumb idea, and (b) I doubt it will ever be built, because it relies on a private company charging tolls. The economics will probably kill it.

    But here’s the key point: a transport plan for metro Atlanta which favors roads over transit (and which includes the tunnel) will be voted down in a referendum. The “against any tax” crowd is going to vote against the sales tax no matter what. If the package is too heavily tilted against rail, it will also lose the pro-transit vote. So some adjustments need to be made. Dump the tunnel, and put in place some definite funding for commuter and intercity rail. Otherwise, I’m not sure I’ll vote for it….and I know a lot of other people who won’t.Report

  12. JM says:

    Dick, on one point I have to disagree. Guaranteeing a commute time is an economic benefit. But what you’re saying is also code language for toll roads. I support the idea of toll roads FOR ADDITIONAL NEW CAPACITY (in particular for 75,85, the top end perimeter, and the connector). But tolling our existing roads does not add new capacity and therefore does nothing to relieve congestion. Not to mention you’re making people pay for the roads twice (ignoring the issue of maintenance for the moment).

    If you want to improve commute times, you have to add road capacity, which means NEW toll roads. Again, tolling existing roads doesn’t improve capacity (the delayed commute times at rush hour already cost enough to justify getting up at 5 am to commute, so you’re not even shifting demand to off-peak hours).

    I would be interested in your response if you read this.

    John ([email protected])Report

  13. JM says:

    Also, I’ll add to some previous comments regarding the toll tunnel. The toll tunnel makes no sense, primarily because of lack of proximity to transportation users. It would make 100 times more sense to double deck the connector, and probably less expensive since there isn’t any right of way acquisition, and its not a tunnel (which is more expensive than an elevated highway).

    If the second level could be kept at or below surface grade, the political opposition which faces the toll tunnel would be significantly reduced. Cato and Reason foundation reports shouldn’t be the basis for adding to our road infrastructure. They didn’t even consider double-decking the connector.Report

  14. Scott says:

    found this image of future rail in Atlanta. I think it was one of the formal plans submitted…hopefully someone here will know


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