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.
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.