Metro Atlanta and nation need to step up investment in transportation

By Saba Long

Last week, national journalists unapologetically exposed Georgia and metro region’s dirty laundry. A mere few inches of snow crippled the state and the ninth largest metro area in the union. Frustrations and anger were displayed. And the blame-laying commenced.

An hour before the snow began to fall, I walked (a reliable form of transportation in a snow storm) to a Capitol press conference. Friends and foes of the 2012 transportation referendum – including the Georgia Transportation Alliance and the Georgia Tea Party Patriots – were there to urge state action on transportation spending.

Among their proposals were partial-penny SPLOSTS, and actually remitting the fourth penny of the state’s motor fuel tax to the Department of Transportation. Currently, it goes into the state’s general fund, although Georgia’s Constitution requires that it be used for transportation infrastructure.

As part of their Snowjam coverage POLITICO, major television networks and others recognized the T-SPLOST story and remarked with surprise that it was soundly rejected. Also a first – the infamous alternative euphemism for MARTA was uttered on national TV: “Moving African-Americans Rapidly Through Atlanta.”

Many asked: “How can a state not invest in transportation infrastructure spending?” But an equally important question is how the greatest country on earth can fail to do so as well.

The Congressional Budget Office recently reported to Congress that the “current trajectory” of the Highway Trust Fund is “unsustainable.” Federal funds are expected to run out by next year.

Just as Georgia has seen a decrease in collections from its motor-fuel excise and sales taxes, the same has taken place on the federal level.

Meanwhile, a third of U.S. highways are rated “poor” or “mediocre.” And sitting in traffic costs the American economy about $480 billion annually, or 3 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP).

For the region, an insolvent Highway Trust Fund will stifle the little that we are able to do now in terms of transportation spending. Approximately 35 percent of all transportation funding in metro Atlanta is with federal dollars.

That’s a hit that Georgia’s roads, bridges and transportation networks cannot afford to take. It’s also a hit our construction industry cannot afford to take.

How to pick up the slack? Georgia will have to get serious about making its own investments in transportation spending — with or without federal dollars.

Smaller, localized T-SPLOSTs, higher gas taxes, more HOT lanes, a tax on vehicle miles traveled, transit — all these ideas and more should be on the table.

Saba Long is a communications and political professional who lives in downtown Atlanta. She serves as the senior council aide and communications liaison for Post 2 At-Large Atlanta City Councilman Aaron Watson. Most recently, Saba was the press secretary for MAVEN and Untie Atlanta -- the Metro Chamber’s education and advocacy campaigns in supportive of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Referendum. She has consulted with H.E.G. an analytics and evaluation firm where she lent strategic marketing and social media expertise to numerous political campaigns, including that of Fulton County Chairman John Eaves and the 2010 Clayton County transportation referendum. In 2009, Saba served as the deputy campaign manager for the campaign of City Council President Ceasar Mitchell. Previously, Saba was a Junior Account Executive at iFusion Marketing, where she lent fractional marketing strategy to various ATDC technology startups operating out of the Georgia Tech incubator, ATDC. For the past two years, Saba has presented on online marketing and politics to the incoming fellows of the Atlanta chapter of the New Leaders Council.

2 replies
  1. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    Good column, Ms. Long.
    Metro Atlanta, the State of Georgia (the almost always-missing faction in all of these continuing discussions about ‘regionalism’), and the United States absolutely do need to step up investment in transportation.
    And in addition to remitting the fourth penny of the state’s motor fuel tax and indexing it to inflation, some other important ways that we can increase investment in transportation infrastructure are:
    …With revenues from user fees in the form of inflation-indexed distance-based tolls on major roads and inflation-indexed distance-based fares on bus and rail transit lines that aim to cover up to 80% of operating costs;
    …With revenues from real estate investment in the form of high-density mixed-use transit-oriented development along transit lines and at and around transit stations;
    …With revenues from Tax Increment Financing (which is property tax revenue from new development that pops up along transit lines);
    …With revenues from private investment in the form of for-profit term-outleasing of major roads, transit lines and real estate assets along transit lines out to private investors.
    The importance of user fees and private investment in building-out a transportation network cannot be understated, especially in a political environment where tax increases continue to be a very-tough sell to a tax-averse electorate.Report


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