Metro Atlanta still lacks ‘Plan B’ as other cities invest in transportation
By Saba Long
Later this year, the metro Atlanta region will reach the end of the state mandated 24-month cooling off period before voters can reconsider another attempt at a regional transportation referendum.
With no known “Plan B” in the works, the Atlanta Regional Commission is in the process of revising the PLAN 2040 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) to reflect current funding realities and updated MAP-21 requirements – ahead of a federally mandated 2016 RTP update.
Working with area transportation partners and local elected officials, a number of key changes are being presented to the public through late February.
Projects being dropped from the existing RTP include five separate conversions of existing HOV lanes to managed lanes on I-20 East, I-85 North, as well as I -75 North and South. Also, 24 projects are moving to the “aspirations” element of the plan – meaning, the funding feasibility is not clear.
It is important to note the Atlanta BeltLine and Atlanta Streetcar expansion projects fall in this category. However, the public-private partnership funding the entities are pursuing will move them from this category to a new yet-to-be determined line item.
Other removed projects include Georgia Regional Transportation Authority Park & Ride facilities in Rockdale and Cherokee counties.
Doug Hooker, ARC’s executive director, noted: “Maintaining our economically competitive posture as a logistics hub is dependent on our willingness to invest in the region’s roads and transit, as well as the investments the City [of Atlanta] makes in Hartsfield-Jackson.”
Civic and elected leaders must view the region’s transportation needs through a multimodal lens.
“Compared to some of our competitor regions, we continue to fall behind in transportation investment,” Hooker said. “This plan means we have roughly $600 million per year for all new capacity, safety or operational improvements projects.”
The Denver region is expected to spend more than $1 billion this year on its transportation infrastructure; and Dallas will invest more than $2 billion.
It is also important to note the local level property tax digest has fallen 18 percent from peak 2008 levels – a clear hit to local governments’ general fund and the line items specific to their local transportation network. Henry County has seen the sharpest drop at 31.5 percent while Cobb experienced the lowest – well above the region’s average – at 10.1 percent.
The same goes for state sales tax collections and the state motor fuel tax collections, down 10.3 percent from peak 2007 levels.
There are a number of notable PLAN 2040 projects that provide much needed congestion relief and have a clear regional impact, including interstate and arterial improvements and MARTA rail frequency improvements during peak hours.
Although we are entering the last few months of a mandated post-referendum waiting period, it is clear our region’s competitors across the country are moving ahead while we are standing still.
With various cityhood initiatives and education likely to be at the forefront of this year’s Georgia General Assembly, our region’s waiting period to vote on significant new investments in transportation — especially transit — could last for years.