Local opposition to state transportation bill illustrated in Fayette County proposal

Editor’s note: This story has been  updated to reflect that the transportation bill is eligible to be voted upon Monday.

By David Pendered

State lawmakers who are still counting votes on the proposed transportation funding legislation may also be watching for opposition such as that which is mounting on the Fayette County Board of Commissioners.

I-85 Express Lanes

Fayette County Commissioner Steve Brown cites GRTA’s Xpress bus service as an example of taxpayer subsidization of transit that benefits commuters who earn around $75,000 a year. File/Credit: GRTA

Fayette County Commissioner Steve Brown has introduced a resolution that essentially opposes House Bill 170, the current transportation funding measure. The next scheduled commission meeting is Thursday at 7 p.m.

Monday  may provide the next indication of appetite in the state House to vote quickly on HB 170. The bill is on the calendar and eligible to be voted upon.

There was some expectation the House would vote on HB 170 last Thursday or Friday, Feb. 19 or Feb. 20. The speculation was that the House would act quickly on the proposal in order to get it to the Senate and eventually to a conference committee. HB 170 sailed through the House Transportation Committee on Feb. 18.

Brown sent a copy of his resolution to House Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Roberts (R-Ocilla) late in the afternoon of Feb. 19.

Brown begins his letter by saying he wishes for, “some way to ensure accountability at the state level on transportation.”

Steve Brown

Fayette County Commissioner Steve Brown

Brown then contends:

  • “Not a single state agency has yet to calculate an official matrix on what constitutes an acceptable and affordable mass transit project based on ridership, cost-per-rider and total impact on traffic congestion.
  • “This is vitally important, especially now that taxpayers are being asked to fund transit projects statewide such as the 2.7 mile, $98 million Atlanta Streetcar boondoggle (could not even meet its ridership projections with FREE fare), and only 3 percent of the metro Atlanta population commutes by transit according to the Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey.”

In a related issue, WSB-TV reported last week that operating costs of the streetcar are now forecast to be 50 percent higher than the forecast last year – rising to $4.8 million to $3.2 million.

Brown concluded the letter by stating:

  • “The average GRTA Xpress bus rider earns around $75,000 a year and we state taxpayers subsidize their commutes with fares ranging from $5 to $7 round-trip?  You are opening the door to taxpayer subsidization of mass transit to future levels that will be extremely painful with an extremely poor return on investment.”
House Transportation Chairman Jay Roberts

House Transportation Chairman Jay Roberts

Roberts and at least one other member of the House Transportation Committee said at the Feb. 18 meeting that they were receiving quite a bit of communication regarding HB 170.

Brown’s resolution opposes the elimination of “boondoggle projects such as transit rail.” It also calls the state to conduct itself in a way such that, “there is no harm inflicted upon county governments, city governments and school boards across Georgia.”

The resolution also states:

  • “WHEREAS, There is general recognition that road and bridge maintenance along with upgrading infrastructure to keep pace with congestion is necessary and should be funded, but we also acknowledge the Reason Foundation’s 21st Annual Report on the Performance of State Highways showing Georgia’s rural roads ranked first in the nation, urban roads ranked fourth in the nation and the State ranked thirteenth in the nation overall; and
  • “WHEREAS, We also recognize that the crisis is not as much about funding as it is about how the funding is spent, and vague proposals with no specifics about what constitutes the state’s “full universe of transportation needs” is a drawback; and
  • “WHEREAS, HB 170 in its current iteration is not revenue-neutral at the State or local levels, and also significantly impacts local school funding; and ….”

Roberts said at the Feb. 18 meeting of the House Transportation Committee that he cannot guarantee that no local governments or entities will lose money if the state revamps the way it pays for transportation improvements.

“We’ve heard from government officials and hope we’re at a point where we’ve addressed a lot of concerns,” Roberts said.

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.

1 reply
  1. ScottNAtlanta says:

    I get so tired of people in counties barely even considered in the Metro Region telling the rest of us how we can/cant spend our tax dollars.  Nobody wants to put rail in Fayette Co, nor does anybody suggest that there be public transit there either.  Every citizen of GA pays taxes that go to a whole host of things.  Some benefit you locally, some do not.  The core Atlanta Metro region has the highest population, pays the most, and has the highest need.  I’m all about accountability, but we do need more rail build out to make MARTA go to the places people want to go.  As for the street car, Mr Brown is using a nice little trick in the projection numbers.  Those were made ANNUALLY so its misleading to go month by month when summer time will be much busier than winter.  and being down as little as it is in the middle of winter I would say it will beat projections and has probably generated more tax dollars in development than Fayette Co as a wholeReport

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