Let’s use technology to better address metro Atlanta’s 21st century traffic ills

By Guest Columnist GEOFF DUNCAN, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor

For anyone who lives in metro Atlanta, there isn’t a day that goes by that their greatest nemesis – traffic congestion – isn’t a topic of conversation.

Geoff Duncan

Geoff Duncan

For far too many of us, just figuring out how we get from Point A to Point B has become the greatest challenge of living and working in this region. INRIX, the transportation analytics firm, ranked Atlanta’s congestion the fourth worst in the nation last year and eighth worst in the world.

With the region expected to grow to 7.9 million residents by 2040, Atlanta – and Georgia – residents are demanding solutions to our escalating traffic crisis. With that type of growth, it’s time to admit to an uncomfortable reality; We cannot build our way out of congestion. We cannot levy enough taxpayer money to build enough trains, buses, highways and neighborhood streets to accommodate the influx of new residents.

Instead we have to set new goals that are centered around “mobility,” not just infrastructure.

When heavy rail costs $250 million a mile and bus rapid transit is $20 million to $40 million a mile, it’s hard to make that math work. Atlanta is one of the least dense cities in the country. Jobs in metro Atlanta are spread out from Cumming to Newnan, from Lawrenceville to Smyrna to Downtown Atlanta. This makes it very difficult for transit to improve mobility.

Instead, we must embrace technology and other cost-effective ideas when it comes to addressing 21st Century traffic congestion.

For example, the region could:

truck bottleneck

Providing incentives to trucking companies to stay off metro Atlanta freeways from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. could ease congestion, including at the intersection of I-285 and I-85, reported as the worst traffic bottleneck in the nation in 2017 by the American Transportation Research Institute. Credit: trucks.com

  • Create incentives that encourage large trucks carrying commercial freight to move through the Atlanta metro area during off-peak hours between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., freeing up our interstates and highways during daytime hours for our commuters. The development and use of autonomous vehicles to move freight will help with this process over the coming decade and allow for the rapid growth we are expecting at the Port of Savannah.
  • Embrace telecommuting by offering tax incentives to companies and individuals so they can work from home several days a week. Employees are far more productive when they don’t have to sit in traffic and are stressed out from battling congestion. The Legislature should start with an expired telecommuting tax credit that offered up to $20,000 per employee annually and prompted many employers to allow workers to do their jobs from home.
  • Turn to the state budget to pay for critical highway needs, resurfacing and widening congested highways. With more than $2.5 billion in surplus in the state budget, Georgia has cash on hand to begin looking at making highway improvements based on what we can afford without raising taxes.

    I-285 Ga. 400 P3

    Expanding the use of public/private partnerships could hasten the pace, and reduce the cost, of projects, as it has for retooling the interchange at I-285 and Ga. 400. Credit: AP via accesswdun.com

  • Continue to support the state Department of Transportation and its public-private-partnerships (P3) to widen major interstate projects that the state cannot afford on its own.
  • Encourage staggered work hours. In the 19th and 20th centuries, all employees clocked in at 8 a.m. and were monitored by a supervisor as they began their work day. Computer technology now makes it possible for companies to create flexible work schedules so employees can schedule their hours around family life and traffic patterns.
  • Explore enhanced rideshare programs. Like UberX, vans that commuters can access on their smart phones can pool riders who at one location to manage to get more drivers off the road.

Atlanta commuters want innovative and cost-effective solutions to keep mobility from getting worse. If we want to change our reputation as having some of the worst traffic congestion in the world, it’s time to start doing what no other city has ever done. We need to demonstrate that we are a city that is embracing technology to help address its congestion problems – not just 19th century transportation investments. Think bold. Look forward and not backward, and the solutions are at are fingertips.

Note to readers: Geoff Duncan is a former Florida Marlins AAA baseball player and small business owner who represented a portion of Forsyth County in the state House of Representatives for five years. Duncan stepped down from the House to campaign for lieutenant governor and is in the July 24 runoff election with Sen. David Shafer (R-Duluth).

10 replies
  1. Sp 60 says:

    Excellent article.

    I would take the truck item one step further hand have an outright ban on trucks between 6-10 AM and 3-7PM.

    You could put weight stations outside 285 on all major highways, paid for by the rights to build mega-truck stops that would keep these vehicle off the road during peak periods.I bet companies would pay dearly for the rights to build these. .

    I would also completely ban semis from inside 285 except during the hours you mention. There’s no reason for a high-cube semi to be (trying to) drive during rush hour on the back streets of Atlanta, yet you see it all the time.

    They should be transferring in-town deliveries to smaller trucks, just like you see UPS do once in a while. And Atlanta PD… why do you let trucks just pull over and unload in the middle of rush hour? I can’t count how many times I see a semi blocking a travel lane to unload food at a hotel or restaurant.

    The second biggest improvement, at least in town, would be enforcement of ‘don’t block the box’. Atlanta get’s gridlocked because of poor street layout, traffic light timing and no enforcement of basic traffic laws. I constantly see intersections turned into free for alls by people who camp out in the middle of them.

    As a third thing, given our local high-tech talent, there also no reason to still have dumb traffic management. Traffic lights should be under central control, with video feedback and a neural network adjusting the traffic flow through tem to optimize conditions.

    Add in some drones for emergency management and maybe even enforcement and you could have one of the worlds first truly modern traffic systems. I’ll bet GA Tech would love to work on this.Report

    Reply
  2. Michel Phillips says:

    How about: tax fossil fuels. Increase fossil fuel tax until road traffic drops to level current roads can accommodate. The free market will figure out the staggered work hours, telecommuting, rideshare, shifting truck cargo to trains, all that other stuff—just incentivize the market and it will take care of the details better than government could. Increased ridership will pay for expansion of rail, bus, etc. Someday we might have enough private cars, running on electricity generated by renewables and nuclear, to exceed road capacity. If that day ever comes, we’ll deal with it then.Report

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  3. George says:

    Hoo Boy, where to start.

    1. Not much new tech here. Starting with the one based on home computers and good bandwidth. Or the one about staggering work hours. We’ve been having those conversations for twenty years.

    2. Restrict truck traffic? Through one of the prime throughput areas in the country? Would not end well, trust me. How about something really bold like promoting an Atlanta collaboration on the Georgia Inland Ports initiative already well underway (check it out: https://www.freightwaves.com/news/inland-port-of-georgia-understanding-the-prospects-of-murray-county )? I’ll bet some of the smart Logistics folks at Tech would have something to say about that, give ’em a call.

    3. Passively wait for self-driving cars to just happen to us? How about incentives to make Atlanta a demonstration and test city for autonomous vehicles? Now THAT’s some shiny new tech!

    4. More asphalt and more road surfaces will certainly play well with Geoff’s Base. However, “turning to the state” for funding anything in Atlanta, let alone transportation, is an uphill fight that wastes time and energy. For reasons beyond the scope of this simple note, Hinterland politicians are not motivated to “help Atlanta”, even that to do so would help grow Georgia’s economy as a whole.

    5. Yeah, Geoff, it’s hard to make that math work when your fundamental (and unstated) premise is that taxes cannot be used to fund infrastructure because everybody loves sitting in their cars for hours. Your desperation to deflect attention from such radical ideas reeks.

    Pathetically derivative, I’ll be looking for another Lieutenant Governor to vote for.Report

    Reply
  4. Molly Badgett says:

    One not-insignificant problem with implementing staggered work hours is our society’s obsession with showing who works longer and harder, and our contempt for the night owls among us. We love our career martyrs, those who come to work at 7 a.m. and work until 7 or 8 p.m. and tell everyone how busy (read: invaluable) they are. And, night owls are considered slackers, even though they work the same number of (or more) hours in a day or week as the next person.

    Our society is so wrapped up in the workaholic persona that even suggesting telecommuting is viewed as an affront to today’s work ethic. Americans are behind many developed countries in embracing remote work.

    It’s time managers and employees alike got over the petty concerns about presence and apply more emphasis (and better managerial acumen) on performance. Only then are we going to see the reins loosened up enough to allow Atlanta office workers to get off the streets now and then.Report

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  5. urban gardener says:

    And how much about mass transit? Not a whiff except to point out it’s not feasible…

    This fits right in with the recent NY Times article on the amount of $$ the Koch Brothers are pouring into regional transit fights to kill off mass transit projects, and how successful they were in Nashville….Report

    Reply
  6. Sp 60 says:

    Mass transit is of limited utility in a metro as spread out as Atlanta is. However there are some things that could be done.

    Any type of rail is incredibly expensive, however GDOT has been walling off and creating separate travel lanes for years now, and that can be done at a reasonable price.

    These lanes should be used by ‘bus trains’, linked buses that have dedicated travel lanes and interconnect with stations (a la Park and Ride) along major highway routes. This is concept is common in other cities across the globe, and I have already seen a suggestion for it here.

    It would allow mass-transit at a better price point, and by definition follow the roads that it would be pulling congestion from. It would be a much better solution in the long run than the toll-based commuter lanes GDOT is working on now.Report

    Reply
  7. Sp 60 says:

    “How about: tax fossil fuels. Increase fossil fuel tax until road traffic drops to level current roads can accommodate.”

    So just make it too expensive for people to be able to drive to work?Report

    Reply
  8. Brainstar8 says:

    Restrict large truck traffic through residential streets. These monsters not only aggravate traffic flow, but they are dangerous. Most go too fast for conditions. Come on, help out property owners who have sizable investments and many pay big taxes – especially in the City of Big A.

    Overall, this city/state needs someone who can actually envision the needs – then effectively manage them. This element has been missing for 40 years.Report

    Reply
  9. wrights_of_weigh says:

    George …The misunderstood aspect of the FreightWaves article (your enumerated item 2) is that there remain (rail)route inefficiencies on the CSX network between Murray County(Ga) and Chatham County’s (Georgia’s) port. Yes, yet there is a direct rail route between the two via Atlanta, however, the most direct routing involves components of both CSX and Norfolk Southern routes between the aforementioned port pairs(I.e. CSX Murray County, GA to Atlanta to Camak, GA on the CSX Georgia subdivision/service lane….thence Camak Georgia to the port in Savannah via Norfolk Southern’s former Savannah & Atlanta route(upgrading of this direct route would be necessary, but NS has already “convinced” the currently elected, that it’ s in their interest to add sidings(upgrade also) with your tax dollars, on the out of the way former Central of Georgia (think Nancy Hanks)passenger route between Atlanta, via Macon, and Savannah. Ask Govs wanna be Casey and what’s his name…and Stacey about this(for a public response PLEASE reporters…..Hello). Such route inefficiencies it seems are untenable in the current j-i-t(just in time) logistics demands of people like Mr. Bezos and the UPS and FedEx peeps, one would surmise.

    As to your enumerated item 4, re water and Southwest Georgia ag interests(the current Secretary of Agriculture to wit), and how to deal with the Special Master’s potential water division ruling, again, I suggest that the State of Georgia utilize extant water rights in downtown Chattanooga, TN (divined TN river water) piped directly to a waiting steam propelled freight/passenger train sitting on W & A (Georgia owned) tracks, with Tank Train(sm) cars solely, or a combination of passenger and Tank Train(sm) cars filled with people and water, then proceed at speed down the state’s route to downtown Atlanta, where the water filled tank cars could be interchanged for continuing transport to SOWEGA, via existing Norfolk Southern and CSX rail routes(certain regional/short-line rails might need to be utilized additionally)!
    .
    Just some random suggestions……Report

    Reply

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