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.
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:
- 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.
- 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).