If we can’t do it right, maybe we should put the brakes on new transportation funding

This could be the year when the Georgia General Assembly agrees to allow the Atlanta region to put a referendum before voters on a penny sales tax for transportation improvements.

And after years of urging the General Assembly to do just that, now I’m questioning the wisdom of passing such a bill this year.

We probably have only one opportunity to pass a new transportation funding tool for our region. So it is critically important that we make the right choices for our future transportation needs.

Here is the problem. A possible bill to allow the region to vote on a one-cent sales tax is in the works, but an integral element of that bill is a project list of what transportation improvements the region could fund.

And it’s the project list that worries me. Will it include the kind of transportation improvements that metro Atlanta will need for decades to come?

Given the agencies and people involved in putting together the project list, my fear is that it will include the same-old, same-old — roads and more roads with some limited transit projects thrown in.

Think about it. There are key state officials who seriously are proposing to build a tunnel under northeast Atlanta — an idea that is totally opposite of where our region should be going.

Just this past week, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed stricter air quality standards nationwide. Metro Atlanta already is out of compliance when it comes to air quality standards.

Metro Atlanta already has experienced a total cut-off in federal transportation funding for roads because it failed to meet air quality standards. That could happen again.

Over the years, the Atlanta region has had countless transit projects on the books to show how the region can improve its air quality. But year after year, it’s the road projects — not the transit projects — that get funded and built.

So our region continues to concentrate its dollars on roads — think of the rebuilt interchange of 316 and I-85; or think of the reconstruction of the 14th Street bridge that included an expanded Downtown Connector with a host of new ramps.

We are a region that knows how to fund and build roads. We are not a region that knows how to support our existing transit systems — much less expand our transit options.

Our transit systems are facing the worst financial squeeze they ever have. MARTA could have such an operating shortfall that it would have to drastically reduce its transit operations. Clayton County is on the verge of killing its bus transit system. Operating funding for all the other transit systems also is in jeopardy as federal “new start” dollars are about to sunset.

So if we’re having air quality problems now with the limited transit system that we have, imagine how badly we’ll perform with stricter ozone restrictions and drastically reduced rail and bus operations.

But making the right transportation choices is not just about federal air quality standards. It’s about molding the metropolis of the future.

A greener, more sustainable city is a city that provides a multitude of transit options that promote walkable communities , a city that builds and repairs sidewalks, bicycle paths and lanes — creating urban areas are not dependent on automobiles.

Studies and studies have shown that the only way the Atlanta region will be able to reverse its traffic stranglehold is if links smart growth developments with an alternative transportation system that will reduce the number of trips by car.

So when we’re putting together a “project list” of transportation improvements, the question should be whether they are consistent with our plans for a greener, more sustainable city and region.

Let’s consider what happened in Denver, Co. Before voters were asked to approve a one-cent sales tax, extensive surveys were done on what kind of transportation plans they were more likely to approve.

The surveys overwhelmingly showed that voters wanted transit rather than roads. And surveys also showed that voters didn’t just want any kind of transit, they wanted rail transit.

So the Denver referendum reflected the wishes of voters rather than the interests of politicians and developers. That’s how Denver’s one-cent transportation sales tax passed. And that’s how Denver is now building a transit system is propelling it towards the future rather than the past.

How is that different than the paved path we seem to be headed? We appear to be putting together a project list that has not been tested by the people who need to approve it.

Passing a regional transportation tax will need the support of residents in Atlanta, DeKalb and Fulton. If those three MARTA jurisdictions (which have had a one-cent sales tax for transit for nearly 40 years) end up feeling slighted or harmed by the proposed project list, the likelihood of passing a new tax will be slim.

Any state-driven project list will need to be viewed through the filter of Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb to make sure they are treated fairly and equitably. (But I’ll save that for a later column).

If it were up to me, a new penny sales tax would go completely to transit and alternative transportation systems — projects that can’t be paid for by the state’s motor fuel tax.

(The gas tax is constitutionally restricted to roads and bridges, which means the state will always have dollars allocated to automobile- and truck-oriented transportation).

But what the state does not have is a dedicated funding source for transit, not only in the Atlanta region, but across the state.

Restricting a new sales tax for transit is not such a radical idea — even in the South.

Last year, both North Carolina and Tennessee passed a sales tax dedicated solely to transit. Consider this: Tennessee’s majority Republican legislature unanimously passed Senate Bill 1471 that did not provide any funding for roads.

Unfortunately, our legislature is not so transit-friendly (understatement of the year).

So until our state, our region and our business community is able to present a truly progressive transportation funding bill, it might be best to continue doing what we do best — nothing.

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.

36 replies
  1. Phil says:

    Maria, while I agree with much of what you say, just to play a little devils advocate-

    In 1980, before Portland began building light rail, 9.8 percent of the region’s commuters took transit to work. Today, it is 7.6 percent.

    Since 1980, Portland has spent more than $2.3 billion, half the region’s transportation capital funds, building light rail. Yet light rail carries less than 1 percent of Portland-area travel. That’s a success?

    In 2002, Dallas opened a new light-rail line, doubling the number of miles in the city’s light-rail system. The new line attracted some rail riders, but the region lost more bus riders than it gained rail riders.

    Is light rail good for the environment? Hardly. Dallas and Denver light-rail lines consume about as much energy and emit about as much greenhouse gases per passenger mile as the average SUV.Report

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  2. Jock Ellis says:

    Seven point six percent of 2010 commuters is much greater than 9.8 % of Portland’s 1980 figures. Also, I think your figures are probably courtesy of Wendell Cox. Jerry Glanville told me a week ago that his wife dragged out her car about once a month when they were living in Portland and he was coaching football at Portland State University. He said people downtown took the trolley and left their cars at home.
    Jock EllisReport

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  3. JM says:

    Once again, Maria Saporta is right on the money.

    Transportation planning is being done at the moment by engineers and state politicians who seem to regard Atlanta’s city limits as a place to work and visit– but not live.

    The only priority seems to be on getting people out of the city and back to the northern suburbs.

    And it is not just the tunnel under the Downtown Connector. Consider Gubernatorial candidate John Oxendine’s plans to wreck revived intown neighborhoods by the construction of an all-new expressway:

    http://blogs.ajc.com/political-insider-jim-galloway/2009/08/28/your-morning-jolt-think-about-a-new-interstate-through-east-atlanta-says-oxendine

    The rest of the nation has left such flawed 1950s thinking behind. Why hasn’t Georgia?

    A healthy city of Atlanta– where people work, live, and play– is vital for all Georgians and our state’s economy.Report

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  4. Darin says:

    The claim about mass transit not being any greener than car traffic per passenger mile comes from an essay titled ‘Is green U.S. mass transit a big myth?’ by Brad Templeton:
    http://www.templetons.com/brad/transit-myth.html

    In his essay, Brad actually concludes that the benefits of mass transit do, in fact, make it worthwhile.

    These benefits that go beyond the issue of per passenger mile energy consumption — and pollution — are the kinds of things that could really mean a lot to Atlanta: reducing road congestion, providing a cheaper transportation alternative to car ownership, reducing the need for parking space, and building pedestrian foot traffic for neighborhood retail.

    Expanding transit availability in Atlanta will increase transportation options for a wider group of people. Having a diversified range of transportation options, rather than continuing the car-centric path Atlanta has dealt in up to this point, will be a more sustainable model for the future.

    Beyond having a solid plan in place for alternative transit expansion, which is a great idea, I’d like to up the ante and see a plan that integrates transit expansion with future residential and commercial growth. The two areas should go hand in hand.Report

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  5. Scott says:

    In response to the first comment, I’d like to refer him to

    http://www.geoearth.uncc.edu/people/iheard/3115Readings/CritquesLRTOperations.pdf

    The thing most striking to me about this study, is that Atlanta is not even included (since we dont even HAVE light rail).
    It also shows that the figures given for Portland are probably wrong from what I skimmed over in the data. Let me remind all here that PUBLIC TRANSIT IS NOT SELF SUSTAINING!!! No public transit system that I know of pays for itself. They receive their funding from government funding/taxation. Public transit brings workers to jobs in areas they might not be able to afford to live in. Cut public transit options and you greatly reduce the pool of workers you can draw from. Also, remember we are not talking about fixes for now, but a vision of what things will be like 10 or 20 years from now. Think about what Atlanta would be like if we hadn’t had leaders with the vision of what the airport could be when it was first built.Report

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  6. Anna says:

    Why can’t we do both transportation and transit planning in Georgia? Funding allocations(and what is in the budget) is policy, and right now public policy in Georgia clearly indicates that transit is not equally important to transportation.
    We DO need creative ways to reduce commercial truck traffic going thru Atlanta AND we do need to get highspeed rail from Charlotte to Atlanta AND we do need to get more people out of their cars. But the lions share of the one penny tax will go to transportation. So until the legislature changes how it allocates that one penny sales tax to support BOTH transit and transportation planning and improvement equally, I simply can’t support it.Report

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  7. Lonnie Fogel says:

    I would like to know the composition of the lobbying effort that is for roads, a tunnel under NE Atlanta (are they on crack, or on the take?) against mass transit, against rail. They should be outed.Report

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  8. Scott says:

    Anna…there are transit plans up to our eyeballs. I could point to many good plans that are commissioned, paid for, then simply ignored/shelved if they dont tow someones bottom line. We have the plans. The problem is choosing one and ACTING on it. The fact that we are even talking about the GA 400/I-675 tunnel/freeway (which will be studied at a cost of millions even though a 4 year old could tell you its a non-starter) shows that we have issues with that choice. We dont need to pay for more plans…we need to pick one of the ones we have. As a side note I want to emphasize that roads are already funded by the gas tax. There is no funding for other transitReport

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  9. atlmom says:

    Seriously – roads are not self sustaining either. So what if mass transit isn’t? Since when did a road ‘pay for itself’? Um, never.

    Another reason for mass transit is, well, there are many. Getting people out of their cars and walking to a bus stop/rail stop, whatever, well, it will help people get moving.

    The very young and very old…they need to get around, right? So we have this awful situation now where parents give keys to their kids as soon as they can…so they can shuffle themselves or their siblings around. Whether they are capable drivers or not. With transit, well, it’s not so much of an issue.

    As for the elderly – most kids don’t want to take the keys from their parents. Even if they KNOW they are a danger. Because they know that it’s a HUGE blow to one’s freedom to not be able to drive. One is then going to become a shut in…since there is no other way to get around.

    Also, well, the more people out and about, the less deserted our streets are…the less petty crime, the more bystanders, the less people will be willing to be out and about stealing/robbing/etc.Report

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  10. atlmom says:

    What roads out there are self sustaining? To think that mass transit should be, but not roads, well, why would one think that? What’s the difference?

    Also, well, the young and the old…well, they have no other way to get around. And parents are so quick to give their kids keys, the moment they can, so the kids can shuffle themselves or their siblings around. Regardless of whether or not they are capable. It’s easier.. If there was another way to get around, most parents probably wouldn’t be so eager to have their kids drive.

    And then for the elderly, most kids don’t want to take away their parent’s keys – the parent’s don’t want the blow to their independence. But if there was another way to get around, it wouldn’t be such a big deal.

    And, well, the more people out and about, the less crime…there are more witnesses.

    And the more people are walking, well, we all know the problems with obesity everywhere…Report

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  11. Maria Saporta says:

    Everyone, thank you so much for taking the time to comment on this column. How we proceed on transportation funding is critical to our future. And we need to do all we can to improve the level of discourse and be open to hearing from all sides. Folks providing links to studies and reports help all of us gain understanding on the issues and the impact of sound transportation policies.

    When I started SaportaReport nearly a year ago, it was my hope that it would be a venue for intelligent conversation on the most important issues facing our community. Your comments above certainly have given me comfort that this can be a forum for respectful dialogue.

    Thank you all for reading and commenting. MariaReport

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  12. Dick Hodges says:

    Maria Saporta, through SaportaReport, once again has provided an excellent and thought-provoking analysis of the transportation situation that finally seems to have arrived at the center of the table for civil discussion by incressing numbers of interested citizens and, we hope, some visionary, responsible politicians. Her latest thinking is truly outstanding and strikes this passenger rail advocate, with considerable ecumenical experience with all transportaton modes, as “on target”. The many “comments” responding to Maria’s viewpoints regarding the immediate future are strong evidence that she has achieved one of the principle objectives of SaportaReport, as she herself has acknowledged. I wish this piece could be reprinted in other media outlets covering as many “influentials” as possible.Report

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  13. BPJ says:

    Some excellent comments here, but let’s don’t shoot ourselves in the foot by making the perfect the enemy of the good. If we can get a regional sales tax that is in part a source of funding for transit, that’s good enough for me. Some of the money may go to roads -that’s OK. There are places in metro Atlanta where some road projects make sense, especially turning lanes and some bridge replacements.

    If we transit advocates become perceived as anti-road, we lose.Report

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  14. Sally Flocks says:

    The biggest flaw in the proposed transportation funding bill is that it comes with a project list. Do we really want the state legislature determining which projects get built? Wouldn’t it be better if the Atlanta Regional Commission, which has a far better understanding of the importance of connecting land use to transportation, selects the projects. Why don’t Republicans, who claim to support local control, allow local or regional agencies to make their own decisions about how to use tax dollars collected in their region?Report

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  15. BPJ says:

    I want to second Sally Flocks’s comment. The ARC would be a much better group to choose appropriate projects.

    The way to convince the legislature to support this is to point out that the referendum (the version I’ve seen) allows any local government or group of local governments to propose a sales tax for transportation. So this isn’t just about metro Atlanta. And we don’t know which local governments, or combinations thereof, will wind up actually adopting this transportation sales tax.

    For example, it could turn out to be 7 metro Atlanta counties – or just 3. Or 5. And there might be a consortium of coastal counties, or north Georgia counties, that would get together to fund their own priorities. How can the legislature come up with a project list, without knowing WHICH local governments will actually make use of this? The answer is local control – let the jurisdictions involved decide.Report

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  16. Maria Saporta says:

    BPJ and Sally,
    You both make excellent points. Yes, we can’t make perfect the enemy of the good, but we can’t also settle for mediocrity and more of the same.
    Yes, I would feel much more comfortable if it were our region calling the shots rather than the state. But my fear is that our state leaders will not be able to give up that power.
    In fact, at this morning’s Eggs & Issues breakfast, Gov. Sonny Perdue alluded to the fact that he will have a transportation funding proposal that will be announced in the near future. But some of the chatter I’m hearing is that the governor would want a voice in what projects would be included in a regional Atlanta plan.
    Yes, we should make the case for local control. My fear is that when the powers that be don’t feel that can control that outcome, then they will dictate what they think is best for our region (or for their political interests).
    Again, the best we can do is make our case for regional determination, continue to offer a “best case” scenario, not settle for mediocrity and the status quo, and hope the Atlanta region is able to implement a transit/alternative transportation plan that is not marginalized by a “roads-only” mindset.
    MariaReport

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  17. Jason says:

    Sorry to backtrack, but no one ever followed up on the numbers game alluded to in the top comment couple of comments. In the cause of good research, here’s the numbers that I found regarding Portland’s 1980 and 2008 population and transit ridership.

    1980: Population for City of Portland is 368,148. 9.8% of this = 36,078.50 people riding transit. Source of population figure: http://www.portlandonline.com/bps/index.cfm?a=122621&c=42773

    2008: Population for City of Portland is 557,706. 7.6% of this =
    42,385.66 people riding transit. Source of population figure: US Census

    Now, I have no idea where the author of the previous post got his numbers on the percent of people riding transit, nor if those figures account for the City of Portland or the greater Metropolitan area. All I know is if you’re gonna use a stat on the Saporta blog, you better damn well back it up.Report

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  18. Scott says:

    Maria is correct about the “power struggle” going on between the Governor and the ARC. I’ve always followed a philosophy of “past performance proves future actions”. The Governor has shown little regard for what experts think is best if it conflicts with what HE thinks is best (Sunday Alcohol sales and the tax revenue it would bring come to mind). I was listening to a audio playback on the local PBA.org website where Todd Long (director of planning for the D-O-T). Almost flat out says rail is not even in the mix (light or otherwise). Its hard to fathom the incompetence at GDOT
    Here is the link
    http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wabe/news.newsmain/article/0/0/1595886/Atlanta/New.Draft.State.Transportation.Plan.Calls.For.Big.Projects..Big.ExpendituresReport

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  19. Sally Flocks says:

    As proposed, the transportation tax bill seems like another strategy for urban disinvestment. Unlike a gas tax, which is paid by people only by motorists, a sales tax is paid for by everyone. As someone who lives and works intown, the transportation investments that would help me most are sidewalk maintenance, safer street crossings, and more frequent MARTA service. None are likely to be funded by a tax where state legislators pick the project list.

    The Superspeeder law, which went into effect last week, is a good example of the legislature’s blindspot for cities. The law assigns a $200 fine additional fine to motorists traveling 85 mph or faster on multi-lane roads or 75 mph on two-lane roads. Speeders on urban streets fell through the cracks. I won’t be surprised if pedestrians and cyclists do the same with the proposed transportation sales tax.Report

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  20. Scott says:

    I seems overwhelming. The state doesn’t get it, the DOT isn’t even equipped to get it, most of the candidates (if not all)for Governor dont get it. What is it going to take at this point? Do we have to wait till all the growth if siphoned off to other states? The only shred of hope it seems rests squarely on Mayor Reed’s shoulders. But with an unsympathetic Governor and the likes of Jill Chambers who seems dead set to kill any viable MARTA plan…he’s got a lot on his plateReport

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  21. Dose of Reality says:

    Nothing will change in the legislature until metro-Atlanta legislators gain political power that they can use to trade their support on another issue for better transit legislation.

    This political power won’t be found while the rest of the state stands so solidly together on so many issues. The water crisis may offer some regional differentiation to emerge – especially if additional reservoirs are built in one part of the state over another, or one particular basin is tapped for transfer over another. But Atlanta leaders need to start looking into how to create and blowup wedge issues around other parts of the state.Report

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  22. TarHeelBred bleeds TarHeelBlue says:

    I firmly agree that more attention needs to be given to transit funding in Georgia, but the importance of maintaining the road network shouldn’t be discounted at the cost of transit-planning. Many people complain that Georgia focuses too much on roadbuilding, but the fact of the matter is that the state hasn’t exactly set the world ablaze in any form of transportation planning, roads or transit, free or tolled, since the GA 400 extension in the early ’90’s as the State of Georgia has SEVERELY UNDERINVESTED in infrastructure of nearly all forms during a period of explosive population growth. The I-85/GA-316 improvements were about 10-15 years past due and a necessary improvement to any commuter who must frequent use that interchange. Since the completion of GA-400 thru Buckhead in 1993 and the MARTA North Line, Georgia’s population has added probably close to three-and-a-half million people while nary a new state-funded expressway or transit line has opened.

    I would just LOVE to see more investment by the Georgia General Assembly in bus, trolley, heavy-rail, light-rail and commuter-rail, but I know that the political atmosphere in Georgia makes that massive investment highly unlikely at this point. Mass transit just comes off as too unappealing and too unprofitable in the perennially warped business and political atmosphere that envelopes the Capitol. That being said, as a motorist whose job forces him to use the crowded and almost impassable Atlanta-area roads daily, I’m in no position to turn down any proposals for road improvements that could make my oft-miserable peak-hour drives just a little more bearable (except that idiotic proposal for a tunnel under East Atlanta, an obvious waste of time of money undertaken by with way too much access to both and not enough access to brains, books and I.Q……only the morons GDOT could seriously look at that one).

    The biggest problem with transit planning and funding in this state is that there is no big monied interests to push it forward to a legislative body that only recognizes significant need only where green appears. Sighting the recent article in the AJC about Georgia legislators gone mad in a culture of corruption with making acquaintances with lobbyists and powerful business interests, maybe transit advocates could get at least an occasional sympathetic ear to their cause if they had enough “green” to perennially throw at the spoiled rotten legislative brats in the frat house that is and has always been the Georgia State Capitol. The problem is that the transit crowd always has to crawl forth to the statehouse with their tails tucked between their legs to beg for handouts in the form of public subsidies while the roadbuilding crowd always has piles of money to shower on the frat boys in the Capitol to keep them happy, fat, bedded, laid in their pocket come time when the bills are made and passed. The roadbuilders are always on the minds of the boys at the D.O.T. and the statehouse when the contracts are cut while the transit advocates arent even an afterthought. Money talks, b.s. walks.

    You want more transit in Georgia? Then show the fratboys down at the Capitol where the bank is at, its that simple. It shouldnt have to be that way, but in the political climate in this state, that’s just the way the it is. You want more transit lines? Find a big-monied train and track builder or bus and railcar manufacturer and have them go down to the Capitol and start throwin’ around $500-a-plate dinners, free tickets to luxury suites at NASCAR races, Hawks games and Falcons games. Have the big-money transit lobbyist go down to the Capitol and set-up hot dates that includes nights out on the town with female escorts at the 755 Club, the fratboys favorite strip club and then a “nightcap” with their favorite girl of the evening at the legislators favorite upscale Atlanta hotel (preferably the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead or Downtown, the Four Seasons or maybe even the “lower-scale” InterContinental or Grand Hyatt). It’s a shame that one has to be so cynical, but if one wants to get their favorite piece of legislation passed then they have to “pay-to-play” and transit advocates just havent been ready, willing or able to play the high-stakes money game of lobbying, graft and bribery that is the Georgia General Assembly and until the transit flashes the cash, they’ll always be standing out in the cold naively wondering “why doesnt Georgia state government embrace mass transit?”. BTW, you all dont really naively think that those wonderful historical transit lines in the cities of the North/Northeast were built to just to make commuting easier do you? Just a little reminder: Those transit lines were built over the years because the construction companies that built them had enough political “clout” in the form of political “contributions” and money to get the contracts awarded to them in the historical system of Eastern Machine politics that existed in cities like New York, Chicago and Boston in the 19th and 20th centuries. A system of machine politics that still exists, albeit in a lesser form, today (look no further than Boston’s 21st Century “Big-Dig” and recently disgraced Illinois Gov. “Blago” as examples of corrupt political systems that still rear their ugly heads in the great cities of the North and East). Transit advocates in Georgia have to “play the game” if they want a shot at winning in a corrupt system!Report

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  23. Roscoe says:

    Ok Maria, let’s get specific. You want a rail-based transit system for the region – fine. Great idea that makes a lot of sense if you have a long-term outlook (say 50-100 years) for the city and region. The time to start is now. So:

    Name the first route we build and specify the funding source – both for capital and for operations. Remember that to access federal funds for transit projects you need at least a 20-year horizon on the operations money. Also remember that federal matching on transit is more likely to be 50-50 than the 80-20 it is for roads.

    And then lay out the plan to get it through the political and planning process. Remember that to get federal money for transit projects it must be earmarked – the process doesn’t work like the federal formula money does for roads. Also remember it has to pass muster with the Statewide Strategic Transportation Plan and the federally mandated planning process run by the ARC, and, of course, whomever you are going to tax to pay for it all.

    It’s time to stop throwing around generalities and get specific.

    Again – name the first project, tell us where we’re going to get the money, and how you’re going to get it through the political and planning process. Be specific. No credit for generalities anymore.Report

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    • Maria Saporta says:

      Roscoe, let me be specific. First and foremost, we must support the transit systems that already exist. Just about every transit agency in our region is in dire need of investment. Ideally, we would be able to increase the frequency of rail and bus service to make transit more of an option for us. The next move should be to go forward with the commuter rail line to Griffin. Next support commuter rail to Athens. Let’s hope Atlanta receives federal support to start the streetcar. The other great need is to have a light rail line headed towards Cobb, but not as an elevated structure over I-75, which would not encourage sensible land use. Gwinnett needs rail access. Plus it would be wonderful to extend MARTA to Alpharetta. And then build rail parallel to I-285. Where does the money come from? A regional penny sales tax dedicated to transit to serve as a local match for federal funds. Tax allocation districts that take advantage of the development opportunities that result from transit. What I can’t answer is how one gets that through our state legislature and how one overcomes the power and influence of road interests. And therein lies the problem that we face. MariaReport

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  24. BPJ says:

    Regarding the latest news from the capitol, please note this part of Jim Galloway’s report:

    “As an alternative, Republican lawmakers think they may be able to find a way – through statute – to permit counties (read “metro Atlanta”) to band together to create tax districts and hold separate referendums to levy taxes.”

    “That appears to look somewhat like the position pushed during the past two legislative sessions by Cagle and the Senate. Language in any measure would have to allow a sales tax to be in place for more than five years, if it is to be applied to MARTA or other commuter rail.”

    “But Democrats (and some Republicans) question whether creation of new tax districts by statute would be constitutional. “I don’t see how it would be,” said Senate Democratic Leader Robert Brown of Macon.”

    “A simple statute, of course, would only need a majority vote, as opposed to the two-thirds required by a constitutional amendment.”

    There may be a silver lining here. What if it’s true that it DOESN’T require a constitutional amendment to allow local governments to hold referendums to levy a transportation sales tax?

    Think about it: if that’s true, then we’re much better off. The assumption had been that we first had to have a statewide vote (this fall) to amend the state constitution to allow such local referendums, and then, in 2011 or 2012, the actual local referendums would be held, meaning that nothing could get started till 2013 or 2014. If an amendment is NOT required, then (a) we don’t need a statewide vote, in which a lot of people just vote against anything with the word “tax” in it; and (b) we could hold the local votes as soon as this fall, and presumably get started a year or two sooner on commuter rail, light rail, etc. Also, perhaps there wouldn’t be a state list of projects.

    The legal question is not an easy one. It’s not my area of expertise, so I will have to defer to lawyers who practice in that area (regulation of counties and municipal corporations by the state constitution). The Georgia Constitution is a long and detailed document, much longer than the US Constitution. I look forward to finding out.Report

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  25. Scott says:

    These guys elected to state office are morons…no other way to slice it. Cagle is talking about cutting the capitol gains tax…again (it worked so well the first time). A little lesson on that for our states elected…YOU ARE A STATE THAT IS REQUIRED TO BALANCE YOUR BUDGET NOT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT!!! The federal government can cut taxes and afford to wait 5yrs for the full effect to trickle through the markets because they can run deficits. You cant do that in Georgia!!! You have to balance the budget so to cut taxes you also have to cut spending. I’m thinking if we want any transportation funding the hire a hot prostitute idea is the way to go. You think they would give a bulk discount?Report

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  26. TarHeelBred bleeds TarHeelBlue says:

    “I’m thinking if we want any transportation funding that the hire a hot prostitute idea is the way to go. You think they would give a bulk discount?”

    Scott: Citing the recent developments in the Statehouse concerning ethics, I think they would!Report

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  27. L Clifton Oliver II says:

    Maria is 100% CORRECT!!! GA must have dedicated funding for rail transportation options – go to:

    http://www.examiner.com/x-25727-Atlanta-Metro-Transportation-Examiner~y2010m1d4-Legislators-2010-Transportation-Needs-in-Georgia

    to see the legislative plan that should be on the November 2010 ballot in this state.

    Also there seems to be a lot of confusion as to why GA doesn’t build rail based transit.. Go to:

    http://www.examiner.com/x-25727-Atlanta-Metro-Transportation-Examiner~y2009m11d17-Moving-People-Not-Cars

    Voters in GA are much more influential than most readers are given voters credit. If you agree with the dedicated rail transportation funding – send it to your legislators, call you legislators, e-mail your legislators make your desires known to your GA legislators. We can make a difference! Let’s get to work folks!!Report

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