Metro Atlanta transportation sales tax campaign needs to focus on transit projects

At this past week’s Regional Transit Committee meeting, the Atlanta Regional Commission’s David Emory made an interesting presentation.

A total of eight light rail projects are included in the Concept 3 plan. They would cost about $8 billion to build, and they would have an annual operating cost of $200 million.

Coincidentally, if metro Atlanta voters pass a regional sales tax for transportation, it would raise about $8 billion over 10 years.

I couldn’t help myself. I began to think about how wonderful it would be if the Atlanta region would spend most, if not all, of the new sales tax revenue on transit projects.

The eight light rail projects in the Concept 3 Plan actually would be a good starting point.

The first project was building the 22-mile loop for the Atlanta Beltline, now being planned by MARTA and Atlanta Beltline Inc.

The second light rail project was the Clifton Corridor light rail line that would connect MARTA’s North lines with the East line and Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control along the way.

The third project would be building light rail along the I-20 East corridor, a line that could extend to Rockdale County.

The fourth project would be to build light rail along the top end of I-285 between I-75 and I-85 (a transit specific study for the corridor is supposed to be done in 2012).

The fifth light rail project would be along the Northeast corridor going from Doraville, Norcross to the Gwinnett Village and the Gwinnett Area. That feasibility study is supposed to be completed later this year.

The sixth project would be to have a light rail line along the Northwest corridor in Cobb County, going along U.S. 41 from the Cumberland Mall area up to Town Center.

The seventh proposed line would be a fixed rail line along the Georgia 400 corridor — either extending the existing MARTA heavy rail line or building a light rail line towards the northern parts of Fulton County.

The eighth (and last) light rail project in the Concept 3 Plan is the Atlanta streetcar project that would go from downtown to Buckhead, and connect the tourist attractions around Centennial Olympic Park with the King Center.

The Regional Transit Committee, now chaired by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, passed a resolution this past Thursday to endorse establishing a permanent transit governing body for the Atlanta region.

The resolution was part of a “quad party” agreement between the Atlanta Regional Commission, the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, the Georgia Department of Transportation and MARTA.

Never before has there been such a level of consensus among all the 10 ARC counties and all the major transportation-related entities in the state and the region. And that can only be a welcome development for the region.

But then on Friday morning, metro Atlanta leaders launched a campaign to build a “big tent coalition” to support a regional sales tax for transportation. They unveiled a plan to raise millions of dollars for the campaign to convince people to vote in favor of the sales tax.

Metro leaders brought in representatives from the cities of Phoenix, Denver and Salt Lake City to talk about how they were able to put together winning campaigns for their transportation sales tax initiatives.

In showing TV spots on their marketing campaigns, the themes were the same. We can’t pave our way out of congestion. If we want to accommodate new residents to our region, we must invest in transportation options.

Every one of those campaigns showcased light rail projects in their separate communities. And the various representatives spoke about how important it was to listen to voters before presenting a list of projects.

In Denver, leaders realized that voters were far more likely to pass a transportation sales tax if most of the dollars were to be invested in transit and rail.

The representatives from Salt Lake City, Denver and Phoenix said it was critically important to sell the sales tax as a quality of life campaign. In Utah, part of the effort included explaining to voters that no transportation projects pay for themselves, including transit.

Lane Beattie, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce, said it was all about economics and how Utah would be able to handle all its growth. Because the city has been building 70 miles of light rail, there is now $4 billion in development underway with national companies moving to Salt Lake City.

Peggy Bilsten, who worked on getting the sales tax passed in Phoenix, said the city’s “Transit 2000” campaign ended up building a 22-mile segment of light rail connecting three different cities.

“We have transit-oriented development that would blow your mind,” Bilsten said. “We got $600 million from the federal government.”

Maria Garcia, who worked on the Denver effort, did make a back-handed comment. “The longer you guys take to get your act together, the better it will be for us,” she said.

That reminded me of what the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood told Georgians when he was in Atlanta nearly a year ago. He said Georgia would get left behind in transportation funding if it didn’t get its act together on transit and rail.

The region can decide whether the referendum of 2012 will be a game-changer and help pay for transit once and for all, or whether it will be more of the same — spending the region’s limited dollars on roads and bridges.

For the first time in decades, the Atlanta region has an opportunity to invest substantial dollars in transit, be able to leverage federal funds and to encourage transit-friendly developments.

Let’s not blow it.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

27 replies
  1. Yr1215 says:

    Early typo: 3rd paragraph should be “passed”, not “past”.

    Intuitively, I agree with this whole-heartedly. The practical side of me says there are two problems. First, existing road infrastructure is going to require significant sums just for upkeep. And now, since MARTA isn’t required to reserve for cap-ex, there is likely to be deferred maintenance at MARTA over the next three years that will require plenty of money.

    Second, there is a real need to double deck I-285 over the top end of the perimeter to I-20 West as well double decking the connector. These are likely to be PPP’s, should they ever happen. But they are desperately needed and even if they are PPP’s, they will probably require public subsidy for a portion of the cost.

    Oh, and it would be nice if they would finally connect 400 southbound with 85 Northbound sometime this century. Transit will get money, but definitely not more than half.Report

  2. Yr1215 says:

    Sally, I don’t disagree with the point that we need alternatives to the car. But the sad fact is that 90% of us will continue to get around by car for a good long while for a variety of reasons, no matter how much mass transit is offered.

    Adding new capacity via toll roads does increase capacity, in contradiction to your statement that Atlanta can’t “build its way out of congestion.” You’re right, the roads are going to be congested probably the day after their built. But they’ll be half as congested than if you didn’t build any new capacity.

    I’m not pro-roads. I’m just anti-congestion. New capacity, tolls, and mass transit all help to that end. And mass transit is no more a silver bullet than just building new roads. A shotgun approach is unfortunately needed after decades of deferred investment.Report

  3. scott says:

    People always seem to forget that roads HAVE a dedicated source of funding…THE GAS TAX, which is woefully low. This sales tax needs to be about transit. It has no other source of funding. I think what we will see here (sooner than later) is MARTA morphing into a true regional transit agency with a very conspicuous name change. One that includes all the balkanized transit authorities under one roofReport

  4. Sally Flocks says:

    Yr1215: Remember the “Free the Freeways” program that occurred at about the same time that MARTA rail opened? How long did the expanded roads remain uncongested? And remember when Georgia 400 opened — and filled to capacity almost immediately?Report

  5. J. Glover says:

    Yr1215, double-decking is a 20th century idea whose time has come and thankfully, gone. San Francisco didn’t rebuild theirs after it pancaked in the earthquake. Seattle is tearing down part of theirs by 2012 and wants to get rid of the rest too. The 21st century belongs to transit and electric/alt-fuel vehicles. As for maintenance on existing roads, remember that the Georgia gas tax is already earmarked exclusively for roads. Adding more and more capacity just continues to add to that maintenance bill.

    Concept 3 plans are available online:

  6. Yr1215 says:

    Sally – you made my point. Expanding MARTA and transit will not relieve congestion. It will offer an alternative, which is great. But transit is no more going to relieve congestion than building more non-toll roads.

    J. Glover, I beg to differ. Double decking (preferably below grade) offers a real alternative to otherwise very expensive right of way acquisition. Of course, double decking isn’t inexpensive of course. Hence, the use of tolls. If we want the core of Atlanta to increase in density, we need both transit and additional road capacity. In addition to tolls, I would obviously also support an increase in the gas tax. But apparently that is DOA in Georgia, which is silly. (And electric vehicles in mass are 20 years away. Oh, by the way, they’ll need road capacity too of course, in case you don’t realize that. I don’t think anyone wants to wait 20 years.) New roads are a must. This is a rehash of an old conversation. Don’t be surprised that the vast majority of money will be spent on roads. Unfortunately, they’ll probably be spent in the least effective places (like the exurbs) instead of on the connector and top end 285. That would be a lose-lose-lose.Report

  7. Sally Flocks says:

    Yr1215, MARTA rail provided a permanent alternative to traveling on congested roads. The construction of Georgia 400 and expansion of I-85 and I-75 resulted only in temporary congestion relief. They also enabled the increased VMT that comes with suburban sprawl.

    Cities are an invention that maximizes interaction between people, goods and ideas while minimizing the need to travel. Access through proximity reduces the need for additional road capacity. Demographic changes — with seniors accounting for one out of five people in the region, also means that a smaller percentage of the population will be traveling during peak hour.

    If a vast majority of the money in the proposed project list is slated for roads, don’t be surprised if the referendum fails overwhelmingly.Report

  8. Yr1215 says:

    Sally, but as you pointed out, the construction of MARTA has not reduced congestion (materially, I might add – it has had some benefit). Frankly, additional road capacity will relieve congestion better than transit. But I’m for both.

    And while I believe many voters do want more mass transit, I don’t think a roads-dominated initiative would fail. The actual user base, and thus, constituency, of transit users is too small (5% of Atlanta’s population) to defeat the initiative.

    I think everyone is going to vote for this thing almost no matter what is in it, so many Atlantans are rightly frustrated with the congestion. But I do hope it includes substantial mass transit investment. I just think it needs to include real road relief as well. Ie, while I’m sure someone’s contemplating a second perimeter (at the DOT in particular), I hope they also make an investment in adding capacity to the existing congested interstates.Report

  9. Yr1215 says:

    Sally, if I may point out one other giant problem with transit, as it specifically relates to Atlanta (but not a lot of other cities). A reasonably significant number of in-town people (and I’m sure other OTP people) want more transit.

    And yet, they are completely unwilling to permit the requisite density required to support the transit. (Witness the fiasco with the Beltline near Piedmont Park and elsewhere). So the transit becomes a giant fiscal black hole in perpetuity. I’m a fan of heavy rail, high speed rail, light rail, BRT, and other transit. But I’d be a far bigger fan if all new transit extensions were contingent on significant upzoning of all the land within a 1/2 mile of the transit lines (to something on the order of 50 units per acre and a 10 FAR).

    Without that, transit will continue to be a giant (and overly burdensome) financial failure, as MARTA already is currently.Report

  10. juanita driggs says:

    My wish list is a bit more modestly pragmatic and assumes that Roy Barnes returns to the governor’s mansion. If he can jaw bone the jug heads in the general assembly into re-channeling some of the gasoline tax revenues to ANY kind of mass transit project and away from the current legislatively mandated one hundred per cent dedicated gas tax revenues corralled by the powerful highway interests, Roy would be tantamount to the second coming of you-know-who and miracle enough for this old lady. That, my friends, is the multi-billion dollar gorilla in the room. As to the rest of the laudable projects outlined above, I fear that I and many of you will be long dead before any of that happens.Report

  11. Mason Hicks says:

    @ Yr1215,
    Let me make sure I understand what you are suggesting: You support expanding transit alternatives, but, at the same time, you champion double-decking both the top-end Perimeter and cross-town I-20. Sally pointed out that San Francisco never has, and has no intention of building back the bi-level freeway that pan-caked in the ’89 earthquake; Seattle has plans to dismantle theirs. These are not decisions, made on a whim; they are conscious decisions, carried out after endless study, as all project are; or should be. Admittedly, given decisions made in the past by GDOT, I won’t go too far out on a limb to defend that statement here at home.
    But to think through the practicality of double-decking these sections of local highway, consider that these highways have considerable infrastructure above them along their entire length, (i.e. existing overpasses, interchanges, and signage structures, etc.). In order to construct a second deck above, all of these overpasses, as well as all interchanges would have be completely redesigned, demolished, and reconstructed. Also with as much of a land barrier as has already been created by these dissecting thoroughfares, I suspect that the cities of Sandy Springs, Dunwoody, Doraville, Marietta, as well as the residents of the hamlets of Grant Park, Cabbage Town, East Atlanta and others might raise a hand or two in opposition to the idea of adding a second level above them. Other cities are considering burying their existing city and neighborhood severing thoroughfares at enormous expense. That is exactly what Boston did with their infamous “Big Dig”, which despite the notoriety of being years behind schedule, absurdly over-budget, and steeped in political and regulatory corruption; in the end, the project resulted in a very nice transformation of the cityscape. I’d love to see something similar to this done with the Connector and cross-town I-20. However, given our finite resources, I’d rather spend the money on aggressively developing a local, regional, and intercontinental passenger rail network.
    In this regard, you did lend your preference to going below grade with this work. As you may know, doing so involves one of two methods of below grade work: The first option is called “cut-and-cover”. Here, the existing road-way is torn-up. The earth below is excavated at least 20 feet down for the entire length of construction. A new highway roadbed is built to full highway standards at the lowered grade, and finally, a new structured deck is constructed to highway bridge standards at or near the existing grade. All crossing and storm drain infrastructure would have to be completely redesigned, and of course, as in all options, the interchanges would have to be fundamentally reworked and in most cases duplicated. This is not a repaving, or lane addition project. This would truly be a massive construction project, in-line with the order of magnitude of building a new Connector while trying to maintain the Connector’s existing traffic through the construction site. Heavy construction such a project would last at least a decade. When one considers the disruption caused during the recent reworking of an overpass over the Connector; it would pale in comparison to what is implicated with this type of project.
    The other method for working below grade, is tunneling, with Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs), such as were used to build the Euro-Tunnel, under the English Channel, and were also used here locally to bore the large sewer storage tunnels for the City of Atlanta. Now we must get out the graph paper and the drafting tools: (BTW, I am not an engineer, my background is in architecture). I invite any engineers reading this to check my logic and my assumptions… I believe that the standard lane width for a freeway is about twelve feet, with a required vertical clearance of probably fifteen feet as well, with a twelve foot wide emergency lane, or apron on each side. Currently, both the top-end Perimeter and cross-town I-20 are ten lanes each. I hope that you are not suggesting that we bury ten more lanes. I’ll give you six here: Three-over-three. That’s thirty-six feet of travel lane on each level with twenty-four feet of side apron; all with fifteen feet of vertical clearance. Assume forty inches of structural depth for the deck forming the second level, and you now have rectangle on our graph paper, sixty feet wide, by thirty-three feet, four inches high. Now, with a compass centered on the center of the rectangle, you trace a circle that intersects the four extreme corners of this rectangle. This gives you a tunnel clear-interior sectional diameter of almost sixty-eight feet. Add to that, at least a foot of thickness of precast tunnel lining, blind-side grouting, and water-proofing thickness, adding another two feet to your overall bore diameter. That yields over 142.5 cubic yards of spoil material (ten dump trucks, or roughly 200 tons) for every foot of tunnel length. Also keep in mind, that a great deal of this tunneling will be boring through solid granite. I just read on Wikipedia that the largest tunnel boring machine so far deployed is currently being used on a project in China. It has a bore diameter of 15.43 meters, (fifty feet, seven and a half inches), so I guess we have to eliminate a few lanes. I don’t pretend to know how much this cost, but I suspect that the eight billion dollars will have been sucked up somewhere in the vicinity of Spaghetti Junction, assuming that’s where you started digging.
    And finally, a thought on public, private partnerships, (PPPs): These are our public corridors, are you assuming that the needs of the commuting public will always, (if it ever will) coincide with the profit needs of whichever corporation wins a position of partial controlling interest of our public right of ways. With the implementation of public-private partnerships, that is exactly on what you are betting. Assuming that you will find a contractor, fully capable and willing to take on the gargantuan risk brought on by the scale of the projects suggested; very doubtful considering the required construction lead time before such projects begin earning revenue, you will find that once the highway modifications and enhancements are completed, and the tollbooths brought on-line, that this corporate entity’s interest will solely be in maintaining their constant revenue stream, regardless of whether or not their constructed enhancements actually render the promised congestion relief or not. In fact, since he will be collecting toll revenue, his motives will be to maintain the highest car volume possible through his toll booths. Later, when the public decides to go in another direction; perhaps by adding a rail system parallel to the freeway in question, they will find that this powerful corporate entity, to which we’ve assigned co-ownership of our public corridor, will be inclined to spare absolutely no expense in protecting his investment and defend it against all real and/or perceived competition. It would no-longer a “partnership”. We would probably be left having to buy him out. How much would this cost us in the end?
    YR1215, you claim to be in favor of all modes of transit and transportation, but your list of project priorities precludes anything but the most expensive and unsustainable highway projects. As for the other points you posed about the history of MARTA development as well as the direction state and local transportation planners took in MARTA’s earlier years, and their implications on the benefits of devoting the majority of our reneue resources towards transit and passenger rail as opposed to highway enhancement, I hope to be able to find the time in the next few days to address that argument as well.

  12. Yr1215 says:

    Mason, please relax. I was suggesting something along the lines of the “big dig” when I suggested double decking the connector when I said it should be “below grade.” I also never suggested double decking I-20. Where did you get that?

    I did also suggest double decking I285 top end, I don’t see the need for that to be below grade (since it is incredibly expensive as I pointed out).

    Finally, Mason, your toll related views are actually oddly right wing, or far left wing, or just out of touch with reality and modern mainstream transit planning. Using tolls is the best tool to mitigate congestion, and that comes from the right, middle, left, economists, and transit planners. I would advocate 50% of the lanes (the original ROW) would remain free, 50% (the new level) tolled.

    All that said despite your myriad unneccessary calculations, it would be very expensive (similar to the big dig with respect to implementation on the connector only). It would require both public and private capital to become possible. Frankly, I would prefer a 2 levels of the connector below grade (and hopefully eventually “capped”) over what we have now.

    I don’t need to point out the transit projects. As already mentioned by others, they’re in the C3 plan. Good grief dude, take a breather.

    The main point you completely miss is that transit will help, but only at the margins. We also need massive new road construction on existing ROW’s to get our city moving again.Report

  13. psjackets says:

    Actually, by reading this thread in length, it seems like he’s got it right and is in agreement with the majority of comments. But I respect your need to feel like you have the last word, as you do in many of Maria’s articles.Report

  14. Yr1215 says:

    Then let’s discuss where he’s wrong, or speculating wildly (and I would argue incorrectly):

    1. He doesn’t respond to the core argument
    2. Straw man #1 – he suggests I’m tilted against transit by not suggesting rail projects. The article was already pro-transit, I’m suggesting the obvious, that there need to be road improvements as well. That’s not anti-transit.
    3. Straw man #2 – Again, he completely misread my statements on double decking. I never suggested above grade anywhere earlier, although I would argue it only makes sense on the connector.
    4. Straw man #3 – Tunnel boring machines aren’t necessary unless you’re actually digging an actual tunnel, which again, isn’t what I suggested. And you can put as many lanes as you want, it’s a question of the spans. Clearly Mr. Mason isn’t an engineer. You don’t have to span all 12 lanes, and don’t have to use boring machines, that obviously wouldn’t be feasible and I never suggested that. He is correct that there is granite (which increases costs), but that doesn’t mean you need tunneling machines.
    5. I don’t think Mr. Mason is familiar enough with Atlanta. The connector does not, in local nomenclature, extend all the way to spaghetti junction.
    6. I’m glad Mr. Mason gets his research and engineering acumen from Wikipedia. I suppose that’s better than nothing.
    7. Straw man # 50 – He says PPP’s will result in the ownership of public property and anti transit lobby. There is no factual basis to support this. The state would retain ownership and lease the ROW or air rights to the company. His anti-PPP stance is consistent with a general lack of competence about business and PPP’s. PPP’s exist in a variety of sectors and have worked all over the country. They are highly regulated and managed partnerships. Electricity generation in Georgia is essentially a PPP, with more emphasis on private than public. When the toll revenue is maximized, the public investment will also benefit. He’s just generally uneducated about how these work. A toll operator isn’t motivated by volume, they’re motivated by revenue. That’s good for drivers, the state, and the private entity. In addition, the plans for a PPP on I-285 actually use the funds to help create the ROW for the construction of additional mass transit. A win-win. Being anti-PPP is narrow minded and clearly uninformed.

    Besides, none of this is going to get done anyway. Instead, we’re likely to see the tolling of the suburban interstates and expansion and widening of highways. You would think ITP people would at least be for the expenditure of highway funds where there’s the most congestion relieving potential: ie Atlanta, thus permitting higher density development that can then one day support all this transit plans. Frankly, right now the Beltline would fit my list of a “transit to nowhere” plan. There just isn’t the density there to support it. The only place it exists in Atlanta currently is along Peachtree from Downtown to Buckhead.

    Where we can agree is the need for more transit. I think 20% of the funds is a fair and reasonably equitable allocation for transit (an overly generous allocation given its representation in the movement of people in Atlanta).

    Ignorance will continue to reign I suppose. Oh well, I’ll leave it there, last word or otherwise. Hack away if you want without feeling the need to resort to facts. I’m done with this.Report

  15. Dose of Reality says:

    Who decides the project list that will be voted on? Is it the Regional Transit Committee? If so, what is the makeup of this committee and how will it change over time? How soon before the sales tax vote does the final list of projects take shape?Report

  16. Mason Hicks says:

    I do not remember calling you any names, other than “YR1215”. If I was in any way insulting, it wasn’t my intention. by the way, My real name is Mason Hicks, as I have listed in my post: I do not know of a “Mr. Mason” other than one referred to below, who is not me. I do not believe that I’m “unhinged”; at least I hope not. Anyone that knows me can attest that I am certainly not a “Straw-man”, whatever that means. I lived and worked in the Atlanta area from April of 1996, until I relocated abroad in October of 2009. I do know the confines of the “Connector”, and where “Spaghetti Junction” is located. I am “clearly” not an engineer, since I clearly stated that fact. I would love to go over your response “straw man” by “straw man”, but I simply do not have the time, nor is this blog about me and you.
    In fact, the discussion of the tunneling under our superhighways, while you alluded to it, was just as much to a wider audience with respect an idea, first presented by the Reason Foundation in 2004. This idea has had several lives, and even made it to a GDOT project list on the 2008 transportation funding legislation that eventually died. It keeps resurfacing and won’t die. The suggestion is to link the southern end of GA 400 with I-275 at the perimeter. The majority of this would, according to the Reason Foundation’s proposal be a double-decked, bored tunnel as to not interfere (it still would…) with the neighborhoods of Morningside, Grant Park and others that it would theoretically underpass. The proposal has also called for similar measures underneath cross-town I-20, parts of I-75 and others. You, in no way referred to this proposal, but your suggestion to double-deck the top-end perimeter gave me the opportunity to hit on this for a broader audience. I do admit that I misread your reference to I-20. You referred to it as the southern and western limit to your suggestion of the double-decking of the Perimeter. In my discussion, bringing up tunnel-boring came up after I discussed the other options, (decking above grade and cut-and-cover), and in my mind, I made a good case for their both being unfeasible, so I moved onto tunnel-boring as a third option. I was also responding to your statement below:
    “…Double decking (preferably below grade) offers a real alternative to otherwise very expensive right of way acquisition.”
    The discussion of tunnel –boring most likely caught your attention because I included figures and comparisons. That’s basic geometry and materials quantifying. After thirteen years as a design professional in two of Atlanta’s largest architecture firms, I’m qualified to do that.
    I fully support collecting tolls, as well as raising the gas tax, and revising it so that it is based on the pump-price, and not on cents per gallon. I gladly support any measure where motorist pay the real cost of driving. It is not solely anecdotal that I find the very idea that a gallon of fuel cost less than a gallon of milk appalling; especially when one compares what goes into the extraction, production, and transport of each. My concern about signing over control of our thoroughfares to private corporations is valid and shared by many others. In your response, you merely dismissed my concern, rather than actually answer it. The concern is partly based on issues that have come-up with unraveling PPPs in Europe, where this has been going on for long enough to see the other end of it.
    We also fundamentally disagree on the potential benefit that concentrating on transit can have on our collective way of life. You attempt to counter Sally Flock’s argument by minimizing the affect that MARTA has had on local growth patterns and highway development. But that minimization is in fact due to MARTA’s having been minimized from its onset. The MARTA Act was drafted, debated, and passed under the pretext that it would start with a five-county revenue base. To this day, it still rest with only two. You referred to the “Beltline fiasco” as an illustration of the people of Atlanta not willing to live with the density needed to support transit options. If you are referring to the Wayne Mason deal falling through; that was not an issue of density. That was a question of high-rises. The question wasn’t whether there would be density to support transit; it was about having enough density to give Wayne Mason the sale and rent revenue he required. The whole question of density in the first place has been overplayed by the Bush Administration, in an attempt to make qualification for federal matching funds for transit almost unattainable. Luckily the current administration is reevaluating its approach to the density issue. From where I currently live, in metropolitan Paris, one can ride the commuter rail network and pass through areas that from Google Earth resemble the lay-outs of Atlanta’s inner suburbs. At times, you can look out the windows and see cows grazing in pastures. But inside, the train is still full of passengers.
    I fully believe, and I will stand by the idea that if “Concept 3” were to be adequately funded, fully built-out, and implemented, its affect on the way and quality of life of Metro-Atlantans would be dramatic.
    I’m done.Report

  17. WestsideATL says:

    What’s interesting about this little discourse between Yr1215 and Mason Hicks is it’s but a small taste of what we have to look forward to as the T-SPLOST project lists get put together. There’s going to be an awful lot of bickering and infighting and no one is actually going to have any say in what the final list of projects looks like.

    For all the “big tent” conversations going on at the Metro Chamber and the Regional Transit Committee, the parochial nature of our 20-some odd local county governments, 100+ municipalities, community improvement districts and transportation management associations is going to get in the way of getting a good list for metro Atlanta. I just don’t see how an estimated $7B program is going to support enough projects to garner 51% support in a referendum. The only way I see the public getting onboard is to have a “big tent” project evaluation and selection process that evaluates and selects the right projects. The Transportation Act of 2010 created a highly political process that is severely flawed and only gives authority to the political power brokers. It does not provide a transparent process nor does it allow any real public access to development of the project lists. The legislation only provides for public input at 2 public meetings and the meetings are only going to happen after the lists are finalized!!

    On the mix of projects, GDOT and Georgians for Better Transportation will fight to get as many high-occupancy toll lanes/P3 projects onto the list as possible. MARTA and the RTC are going to be trying to get as many of their streetcar/light rail projects on the list as possible. GDOT has already stacked the deck by using the Statewide Strategic Transportation Plan (SSTP) as a minimum basis for project evaluation criteria. The criteria are primarily built around road metrics (reduction in traffic congestion, peak-hour freeway VMT, peak-hour freeway speed, etc.) that only road improvements are going to rate well against. IT3, through its own smoky, back-room process, has already put together a list of the state’s priorities and transit falls well behind the HOT lanes and arterial road improvements in the “burning platform”.

    Mason your comment, “I fully believe, and I will stand by the idea that if ‘Concept 3’ were to be adequately funded, fully built-out, and implemented, its affect on the way and quality of life of Metro-Atlantans would be dramatic” is endemic of those at the other end of the transportation spectrum. The transit advocates in this town all want transit for the sake of having transit. Honestly, some of what’s in Concept 3 is crap. However, if anyone says something negative about a single project, like the BeltLine for example, they get instantly branded as the transit opposition. On transit, we really need to know what projects actually have a shot at being successful in the near-term. Concept 3, based heavily on the Citizens for Progressive Transit’s fantasy map World-Class Transit Vision, a pinch of MARTA tampering (I-20 conversion to LRT, HRT extension at Doraville, etc.) and a smattering of suck-up politics (Canton LRT, South Fulton Hwy BRT, the list goes on…) and does not provide any assessment of why the projects were selected or how they should be implemented. To compound the problem, at the last RTC meeting, they decided to use MARTA’s project prioritization process. I can only imagine whose projects are going to get priority…

    In my opinion, neither GDOT’s IT3/managed lane plan nor Concept 3 need to be fully realized. Both project list development processes were highly flawed and overly politicized. We need to have an honest, analytical process that bundles the best ideas from the highway, transit, and even bike/ped (where as PEDS correctly states there is a substantial bang for the buck) realms to develop a passable T-SPLOST list, and then leave a secondary project list for a coalition to work on for the 2022 referendum.Report

  18. Yr1215 says:

    WestsideATL – I agree with 99% of what you said and the remaining 1% is generally irrelevant. I agree that public access should be more open. I suspect, though, that they’re trying to put a speed-bump in front of the people who always respond to any project with “NO.”

    I’m just hoping the referendum passes, almost irrespective of what’s in it. Something is better than nothing. And ideally, they’ll use some real world performance metrics for mitigating the coming tsunami of future congestion.Report

  19. professional skeptic says:


    How typical of Georgia and Georgians. Time after time, we spend countless hours and dollars on large-scale, comprehensive regional transit studies, only to cast them aside to collect dust once they’re finished. Inevitably, sometime later, these dusty studies are dismissed as being “highly flawed” from the start and “overly politicized.”

    It’s as predictable as the rising and setting of the sun: Commission a transportation study, praise its findings, sit on the damn thing for a while, dismiss it as a failure, then start over.

    All in the name of progress in the great state of Georgia, right?

    Do you suggest yet another transit study? Because G_d only knows we haven’t studied the matter enough. Why don’t we start right now, then circle back in another five years or so when the study is finished. Sound good? (All the while, the roadbuilders in Georgia continue business as usual, year after year, laughing their way to the bank.)

    I’ve been following Concept 3 from its inception. Perhaps shed some light on why it’s such a dismal failure?Report

  20. Sally Flocks says:

    A survey of that was completed prior to today’s ARC board retreat revealed that board members rank transit capacity as a higher priority than adding new roadway capacity. On a scale of 0 to 4, maintaining existing roads, ranked 3.74; new transit ranked 3.58; preserving existing transit ranked 3.26; new roadway capacity ranked 2.77; new non-motorized ranked 1.77.

    In addition, 86.8 percent of board members agreed that the region should meet the needs of a changing population by funding more non-driving options, even if it means less money for roads.

    The ARC board is showing a tremendous increase in regionalism, as evidenced by the fact that 97.4 percent of board members said they would “vote in favor of a proposal if it benefits the region, even if it does not directly benefit my jurisdiction.”

    ARC’s emphasis on the importance of creating lifelong communities — places where people of all ages can thrive — seems to strike a nerve with board members. Board Chairman Tad Leithead pointed out we’re not talking about them; we’re talking about us.Report

  21. Yr1215 says:

    ps – For starters, its not even up on TPB’s website anymore. But I don’t see where WATL called it a dismal failure. Of note, he also criticized the IT3 plan, so don’t accuse him of too much bias. There’s not enough money to do both (although IT3 includes transit funding anyway).

    But let’s us CfPT’s plan as a proxy for C3.
    1. A rail line from College Park to Lagrange has neither the user base, nor the available rail capacity to support commuter rail. This would be a waste of money.
    2. There’s ridiculous redundancy between BRT running out I-20E and having commuter rail to Covington also.
    3. Running commuter rail to Rome and Gainesville isn’t feasible with existing track capacity maxed out for freight. Or you have to build additional rail lines, at exhorbitant cost relative to demand – so not feasible.
    4. The DMU component makes absolutely no sense due to its redundancy with everything else.

    That said, a lot of the rest of the plan looks great on paper to me. One would have to then pick up the calculator and figure out if the remainder makes the most minute amount of financial sense. Which a lot of it probably doesn’t, but that’s mass transit for you. So you make the remaining investments that get the most bang for the buck without breaking the bank or blowing all the new transit funds on possible (but not certain) white elephants.Report

  22. WestsideATL says:

    “Do you suggest yet another transit study? Because G_d only knows we haven’t studied the matter enough. Why don’t we start right now, then circle back in another five years or so when the study is finished. Sound good? (All the while, the roadbuilders in Georgia continue business as usual, year after year, laughing their way to the bank.)

    I’ve been following Concept 3 from its inception. Perhaps shed some light on why it’s such a dismal failure?”

    PS, there no arguing the fact that we, as a region, have spent far too much time studying and far too little time doing. The problem is we’ve been studying the wrong things. Most of the transit studies done over the past 20 years have been project-specific, with no greater sense of how in the big picture they might fit together or how they should be prioritized. Most of this fault lies at the feet of MARTA. They’ve known for years that without a new source of funding, that the growth in sales tax receipts over time would never be enough to support new projects. For some reason though, they’ve squandered millions (yes, some of it was federal and needed to be spent on something lest it be lost) on studies for projects that never had a chance of getting off the ground. There are shelves of multi-million dollar alternative analyses and environmental reports sitting on some shelf somewhere at MARTA. The projects on those shelves include the GA400 North Extension, I-20 West HRT/BRT, I-20 East BRT (now being updated to LRT thanks to Dr. Scott), BeltLine and the Clifton Corridor. Under the MARTA Act, MARTA could not afford to build or operate any of these projects, yet they went out to the public, got people’s expectations up and then could not deliver. And they’re still out there doing it with 3 active studies, although perhaps this time, the T-SPLOST will be able to support one or more of them.

    On the regional planning side, which is what I was alluding to in my earlier post, there have really only been two regional studies that I can recall since the MARTA referendum: GRTA’s Regional Transit Action Plan and TPB’s Concepts 1 through 3. The RTAP was flawed because there were some built-in biases towards express bus and bus rapid transit. Rail, which is what the public said they wanted, was mostly an afterthought and dismissed part and parcel due to cost. The express bus service actually turned out to be halfway decent (although Xpress is about to go broke) and GRTA was unable to advance any of the bus rapid transit corridors. But at least it was a plan – it put forth an implementation process that was, in most part, achievable, even if it was not really what the people at the community meetings had asked for.

    TPB’s Concepts 1 through 3 were not plans, they were pure fantasies. Some of the projects had and have merit, but almost all of them were going through their own project development processes that could have continued or been coordinated independently of the TPB. All TPB did was take CFPT’s fantasy map, add political projects to get as much support as possible and then string a bunch of suburb-to-suburb bus lines between the projects. There was no prioritization of projects, no finance plan, no implementation plan, just a map with something for everyone. Now, I wouldn’t say Concept3 is a failure, if its only intent was to build a regional coalition for transit. By all accounts, it would then be considered a success (even if governments are only playing along because they think they’ll get something out of it). However, if its intent was to put together a real plan that should and more importantly, could, actually happen in our great-grandkids’ lifetimes, then it was not successful. It’s just not realistic and really, that hurt the credibility of the process and the end product.Report


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