Hyperloops on Trump agenda as Gwinnett digests MARTA referendum results

By David Pendered

As MARTA and its advocates in Gwinnett County look beyond the unofficial negative transit vote Tuesday, the Trump administration is looking forward to a transportation future replete with innovations including hyperloops and autonomous vehicles – albeit with no details about how to pay for it or the nation’s existing infrastructure needs.

Elaine Chao

Elaine Chao

At the South by Southwest event in Austin, federal Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on March 12 addressed emerging transportation technologies. According to the program, these technologies include:

  • “Autonomous vehicles, drones, hyperloop technology, aerial ridesharing, a growing commercial space industry, and a host of other emerging technologies….”

To promote the development of these technologies, Chao said the federal government will try to get out of the way of inventors and entrepreneurs. Chao announced the formation of an internal entity that is to identify and resolve any regulations that could impede progress. Chao fleshed out the proposal in this one remark from the statement:

  • “New technologies increasingly straddle more than one mode of transportation, so I’ve signed an order creating a new internal Department council to better coordinate the review of innovation that have multi-modal applications.”

Evidently, this panel is to work on the “cutting edge industries of the future” the president cited in his Feb. 5 State of the Union address. Trump said the word “infrastructure” four times in the prepared remarks provided by the White House, including these three references:

  • “Both parties should be able to unite for a great rebuilding of America’s crumbling infrastructure.  (Applause.)
  • “I know that Congress is eager to pass an infrastructure bill, and I am eager to work with you on legislation to deliver new and important infrastructure investment, including investments in the cutting-edge industries of the future.  This is not an option. This is a necessity.”
GRTA

GRTA buses will continue to serve Gwinnett County in the wake of the transit referendum that voters rejected Tuesday, according to unofficial results. Credit: GRTA

Meantime, the nation’s public transit needs exceed $232 billion, according to a March 18 report by the American Public Transportation Association. MARTA has $3.75 billion in projects on the list, none of them in Gwinnett County.

Civil engineers put a $2 trillion price tag on the nation’s shortfall in areas including bridges, highways, transit, electric grid and water pipes, according to a Feb. 5 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Meantime, the fate of a national spending plan for infrastructure remains pending.

Trump’s 2020 budget proposal calls for at least $1 trillion in infrastructure spending.

The House is developing a strategy to move funding legislation early this year through its Ways and Means Committee. The committee met March 6 to convene its first meeting in nearly a decade to discuss infrastructure, according to a report by the ASCE.

Gwinnett County voters, in results that election officials still have to certify, rejected a proposal to sign a deal with MARTA to provide rail and bus transit. The deal envisioned extending a rail line to the corner of I-85 and Jimmy Carter Boulevard, and expanding bus service throughout the county.

Voters turned down the plan by the following margin, according to the county’s published election results:

  • Yes: 45.68 percent; 41,985 votes.
  • No: 54.32 percent; 49,936 votes.

The voter turnout was relatively high by local standards – 16.92 percent. That represents 91,982 ballots casts by 543,485 registered voters. Final results likely will be available before the weekend.

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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