By Guest Columnist TERRY LAWLER, executive director of the Regional Business Coalition of Metro Atlanta
In Colleen Kiernan’s recent article in the SaportaReport: “Turning Winning Transit Season into Loosing One,” she likened the development of metro Atlanta’s Transportation Investment Act (TIA) project investment list to the unfortunate ending of the 2011 Braves season.
Her supposition is that without the inclusion and/or removal of certain transportation projects in the metro Atlanta project investment list, metro Atlanta residents will be like the Braves and have to “wait until next year.”
To continue with Ms. Kiernan’s baseball analogy, let’s consider the region’s project list as our “team.”
Our original “team” started with hundreds of good transportation prospects, which was less than half of the $60 billion in transportation investment prospects the metro Atlanta region needs over the next 30 years. So the team management, or the regional roundtable, had to cut some more prospects.
First, the roundtable cut about half of these prospects to get to a manageable number of around 250 good quality regional projects, but still costing more than $12 billion.
Because the region had a “payroll cap” of $6.14 billion, the roundtable had to make another cut of our quality prospects to get to 157 projects to meet the needs of the whole metro Atlanta region and to stay within budget.
So the team we field next year had to be reduced from more than 400 quality prospects to 157, and from a price tag of $23 billion to $6.14 billion.
But for any team to be successful, it needs more than just numbers. You need teammates who bring varied talents and strengths to the game.
So our final team includes $3.2 billion for transit investments. Our team has $2.9 billion for highway and road projects. It has $24 million for ped/bikeways and $3 million for aviation.
And there is an additional $1 billion worth of transportation prospects “on the bench” that every individual city and county in metro Atlanta will decide separately how they want to invest.
So how many “fans” have come to look at this team? In just the past six months, more than 150,000 metro Atlantans have either written comments, attended dozens of community meetings, participated in telephone town hall meetings or visited the regional roundtable website. The fans have been paying attention and the roundtable listened to them.
Would we have liked to invest in more transit projects on our team? Absolutely! Would we have liked to invest in more highway congestion relief projects on our team? You bet!
Would we have liked to invest in more multi-use trails, bicycle lanes and other transportation improvements on our team? Without a doubt!
But this is our team. We should be proud that we are able to field a team that addresses a wide variety of diverse transportation needs throughout the region, especially considering the budget we have available. The roundtable has clearly built a playoff contender.
The reality is without a balanced investment in our “team” of transit, highways, commuter/light rail, intelligent transportation systems, safety improvements and mobility call center services, metro Atlanta’s future may be less like the Braves and more like the Thrashers.