Type to search

Maria's Metro

Regionalism in Georgia still the best path for new transportation investment

By Maria Saporta

After the regional transportation sales tax lost in nine of the state’s 12 regions on July 31, it was convenient to say that regionalism can’t work in a divided Georgia.

But actually the opposite is true. Regionalism is the only logical way for Georgia to address its future development and transportation plans.

Consider this. Because of its 159 counties and hundreds of cities, Georgia has found it nearly impossible to develop coherent plans for all those communities.

But if all the authority is turned over to the state, the one-size-fits-all leaves much to be desired. And it invites envy and distrust. All too often, people in metro Atlanta believe they are subsidizing projects in other parts of the state. And people outside of metro Atlanta believe most of their money is being spent in the state’s capital.

That’s why the Transportation Investment Act was a wonderfully wise approach. The money that was collected in a region would stay in that region.

The bill also had a couple of sweeteners. City and county governments would be able to keep a portion of those dollars for their own projects. And regions that passed the tax would receive a greater share in state transportation funds.

Three regions did pass the regional transportation sales tax — the Central Savannah River Area, the Heart of Georgia Altamaha and the River Valley regions.

Because of those three regions were willing to tax themselves to invest in their future, it makes it almost impossible for state leaders to abandon the regional approach to solve our transportation issues.

Also, the bill was written so that regions that did not approve the tax could revisit the issue after two years. Not only is that the law, but it also gives the eight regions that defeated the tax an opportunity to see progress underway in those three regions that stretch from the Columbus area to the Augusta area.

Understandably, Gov. Nathan Deal was upset the day after the defeat because he had stuck his neck out to support the regional transportation sales tax. On Aug. 1, Deal said he wouldn’t try that again.

“I have heard the voice of the public and respect that opinion,” the governor said. Then he made an assumption (that hasn’t been substantiated with facts) that voters had sent a message that they don’t want any more money going to Atlanta’s MARTA system.

The tax lost in the Atlanta region for a multitude of reasons — a badly messaged and executed campaign, the fact that it occurred during the primary election rather than the general election and the anti-tax sentiments among those going to the polls.

Had the vote occurred during the Nov. 6 election, there’s a really good chance that the results in metro Atlanta would have been different.

In the 10-county Atlanta region, President Barack Obama won by a 56.4 percent (954,829) vote to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s 43.6 percent (737,081).

So, at least during the general election, the Atlanta region actually was blue — a good indicator of a voting population that would have been open to passing a regional transportation sales tax and supporting MARTA and transit.

The Georgia Association of Regional Commissions — which includes leaders in cities and counties in the 12 regions throughout the state — met for its annual convention on St. Simons last week. The energy in the room last week made it clear that regionalism in Georgia is not dead.

In fact, the Transportation Investment Act proved just the opposite. Each of the 12 regions were able to build consensus around a list of transportation projects for their individual regions — an amazing feat when considering that all the regions had to balance the desires of county commission chairs and mayors in putting together their list.

But a majority of the people voting on July 31 did not understand or appreciate the value of building a regional consensus in this era of fractured governments.

In many competing cities across the country — from Denver to Seattle — voters defeated their attempts to pass a regional transportation sales tax. But when voters were given a second chance to vote on a transportation plan (geared primarily towards transit), they supported the new tax with a solid majority.

So it comes down to this. We must embrace regionalism. We have to make new transportation infrastructure investments. We must be smart on when we hold the vote, how best to include the general public in the process and how we can do a better job explaining why it is vital to be willing to tax ourselves for the greater good.

The best place to start is with our 12 planning regions — especially the three that had the foresight to invest in their future.

Maria Saporta

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.



  1. The Last Democrat in Georgia November 12, 2012 7:00 pm

    {{“Regionalism is the only logical way for Georgia to address its future development and transportation plans.”}}
    Ms. Saporta, regionalism in the form of horribly convoluted regional tax referendums cowardly punted off by the state onto voters is NOT a logical, or even reasonable, way for Georgia to address its future development and transportation plans.
    The best (and only) way for Georgia to address its future development and transportation plans is for the STATE government to execute its constitutionally-mandated duty of finding ways to fund the critically necessary improvements to the transportation network (both roads and transit) that is under its jurisdiction.
    Finding ways to fund the critically necessary improvements to the transportation network that is under its jurisdiction does not necessarily mean just simply raising taxes and creating politically unpopular new taxes to fund a handful of pressing transportation needs.
    Finding ways to fund the critically necessary improvements to the transportation network that is under its jurisdiction may mean that the state may have to actually ELIMINATE some current underperforming, underproducing, under-yielding and inadequate transportation taxes (like the gas tax and the 1% sales tax that funds MARTA in Fulton and DeKalb counties) to be able to adequately fund our increasingly overwhelming transportation needs through the utilization of user fees in an tax-adverse political climate.
    Supporters of the failed T-SPLOST initiative can fret over all of the “what ifs” to their heart’s desire, but as the voters confirmed OVERWHELMINGLY on July 31st, the fact remains that the T-SPLOST was an incredibly ugly and hideous-looking pig that no amount of lipstick or makeup could have dressed-up enough to make voters want to kiss.
    Supporters of the miserably-failed T-SPLOST have to get over it and move on to finding much more realistic and productive ways of adequately funding our overwhelming transportation needs because the T-SPLOST ain’t coming back and nor should it ever.
    The Metro Atlanta region as a whole (the entire 28-county metro region, not just the 10 counties of the ARC that voted on the referendum) has almost twice the population of the two metro regions of Seattle and Denver that Ms. Saporta cited that eventually approved a regional transportation tax after initially defeating it at the polls.
    Metro Atlanta is well past the point where funding transportation needs should be put punted off to the voters by a cowardly and absentee state government in the form of a referendum loaded with goodies for special interests as if our REAL transportation needs are only merely optional.
    Transportation NEEDS like a rail-anchored transit network, truck lanes, turn lanes and synchonized stoplights are ANYTHING and EVERYTHING BUT optional at this point.
    It is the responsibility of the STATE OF GEORGIA to find the funding necessary to finance the critically necessary improvements that are needed to the transportation network that is under its jurisdiction according the Georgia State Constitution, it is NOT the responsibility of the voters to find funding because their political leaders are too cowardly and uncaring to do the jobs that the voters elected them to do!
    The state has known for MORE THAN TWO DECADES that improvements & upgrades to MARTA (which operates in state-owned railroad right-of-ways for many stretches), the implementation of regional commuter rail service in STATE-OWNED railroad right-of-ways, funding for the continuation of GRTA Xpress commuter bus service, truck lanes on I-75 South, I-20 West & I-285, the reconstruction of the I-20/I-285 West interchange and the reconstruction of the I-285/GA 400 interchange were severely needed and yet, after more than 20 years of knowing that these projects absolutely need to be done, the state cowardly and lazily punted the decision to fund these critically-needed transportation infrastructure projects off on the voters to decide in a misguided, convoluted and half-assed referendum filled with goodies for special interests.
    Regionalism is NOT the only logical way for Georgia to address its future development and transportation plans.
    COMPETENCY in state government is the ONLY logical way for Georgia to address its future development and transportation plans.Report

    1. writes_of_weigh December 9, 2012 3:52 pm

      @The Last Democrat in Georgia The ONLY rail right-of-way owned by the State of Georgia, currently operating connecting(passenger rail sustainable) major population centers happens to spring from the Zero milepost near the Sloppy Floyd Building and (Marta’s)Five Points junction in downtown Atlanta, plots North/ northwestward via Marietta and Dalton to Rossville(Chattanooga exurb) and is currently operationally leased to CSX and is currently only utilized by them for freight rail movement(including the occasional move of official Business/circus passenger-type trains. It is blatant disinformation to suggest that there are multiple state owned railroad rights of way emanating from Atlanta in multiple directions(excluding Marta’s r’s-o-w which are incapable(due to third(hot)rail utilization)of development for either commuter or H-S-R. Please be more factual in future posts on this topic.Report

      1. DavidWelden December 9, 2012 6:03 pm

        @writes_of_weigh  @The Last Democrat in Georgia
         Oh, were you expecting facts? LOL
        Methinks you’ve set the bar a little to high for some posters.Report

        1. writes_of_weigh December 10, 2012 11:00 pm

          @DavidWelden  @The Last Democrat in Georgia Once we straighten out our tutus, this too shall pass, or at least be intwoitive?Report

      2. Burroughston Broch December 9, 2012 6:37 pm

        @writes_of_weigh  The CSX right of way does not go through Rossville. After Dalton, it goes through Ringgold, Graysville, Chickamauga Station, and then around the north end of Missionary Ridge before entering Chattanooga from the northeast. It is reported to be one of the most heavily used single track lines.Report

        1. The Last Democrat in Georgia December 10, 2012 6:34 am

          @Burroughston Broch  @writes_of_weighReport

        2. The Last Democrat in Georgia December 10, 2012 7:34 am

          @Burroughston Broch  @writes_of_weigh
           That CSX line that you refer to and describe is key because of how it passes by and runs immediately adjacent to the terminal of Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport before going around the north end of Missionary Ridge and entering central Chattanooga.
          This is key because the Chattanooga Airport has been repeatedly mentioned in recent years as a possible candidate to be a second Atlanta Airport of sorts by way of being connected to Atlanta through a future regional commuter rail line and/or a future high-speed intercity passenger rail line.Report

        3. Burroughston Broch December 10, 2012 12:42 pm

          The railroad across Airport Road from the Chattanooga Airport is a spur off the W&A line, and is most probably not owned by the State. The W&A is about 2 miles north of the Chattanooga Airport.
          Why would the second Atlanta Airport be built in Tennessee 120 miles north when the City of Atlanta already owns two 10,000 acre tracts of land for future airports, one in Dawson County and the other in Paulding County? See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlanta's_second_airport.Report

        4. The Last Democrat in Georgia December 10, 2012 2:19 pm

          @Burroughston Broch
           The talk hasn’t been about building a brand spankin’ new airport in Chattanooga.
          Rather, the talk has been about in effect turning the existing Chattanooga Airport into a second Atlanta Region airport to service North Metro Atlanta and North Georgia by connecting the Chattanooga Airport to Atlanta by high-speed passenger rail and connecting Chattanooga to Savannah by way of high-speed freight rail in exchange for Georgia getting access to the water resources of the Tennessee River and the greater Tennessee River Valley.
          The land in Dawson County, while owned by the City of Atlanta and intended for eventual use as a second airport when acquired by the city back in the 1970’s, has also been floated as a potential site for partial development into a future reservoir on the Etowah and Amicalola Rivers.  The City of Atlanta-owned land in Dawson County has also caused the city to come under intense pressure from environmentalists who don’t want to see the heavily-forested and undeveloped land disturbed for development into a second airport or reservoir.
          The land in Paulding County, while surrounded by less controversy than the land in Dawson County, has some connectivity issues as officials in Paulding County desperately want the potential second major airport to be connected to other portions of North and West Metro Atlanta by way of a new toll road that they have proposed to run through the exurban/outer-suburban northwest portion of the metro area between I-20 West and I-75 North.
          The biggest problem with Paulding’s proposed toll connector between I-20 W and I-75 N is that the route mimics the erstwhile path of the western portion of the wildly-unpopular and politically-radioactive Outer Perimeter.  Which means that Paulding officials can’t get state officials or local officials in any of the counties on either side of them in the potential path of the road to touch it with a 10-foot-pole or even acknowledge the proposal exists.Report

        5. The Last Democrat in Georgia December 10, 2012 2:44 pm

          @Burroughston Broch
           Also, that railroad right-of-way that runs across from Airport Road along the eastern edge of Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport is actually apart of the CSX/W&A railroad right-of-way that is owned by the State of Georgia even though its in the State of Tennessee.
          Once into Tennessee, that CSX/W&A railroad right-of-way is actually still owned by the State of Georgia all the from the Georgia-Tennessee State Line up past the Chattanooga Airport around the north end of Missionary Ridge and down to a railyard in Central Chattanooga.
          That section of the Georgia-owned CSX/W&A railroad right-of-way through the railyard in Tennessee was also the subject of a lawsuit filed by the State of Georgia against the City of Chattanooga in the 1920’s.
          The lawsuit was part of an effort by the State of Georgia to prevent the City of Chattanooga from condemning part of the Georgia-owned CSX/W&A railyard for the construction of the extension of a Chattanooga city street through the railyard.
          The lawsuit and legal action in that case of “The State of Georgia v. City of Chattanooga” is detailed here:

        6. writes_of_weigh December 10, 2012 11:14 pm

          @The Last Democrat in Georgia  @Burroughston Broch In terms of being Georgia transpo-centric, what about the proposed Pike/Paulding location for Atlanta’s second aeroport, or the (now scuttled)plans for a Gwinnett/Lawrenceville secondary passenger facility close to the proposed “Brain train”  route? Then there were the rumors that Macon one day would serve as the back-up to H-JIA? And besides, the grant for studying the Chattanooga route was for a magnetic levitation system, not conventional heavy or H-S-R………likely causing yet another Environmental Study/Review. But, I digress.Report

      3. The Last Democrat in Georgia December 10, 2012 5:56 am

        I wasn’t referring to the type of arrangement that you are describing where the government owns both the entire right-of-way (both the tracks and the entire strip of land that railroad tracks run on) and leases out the tracks to a private railroad company as the State of Georgia owns the right-of-way of the old Western & Atlantic and leases out the tracks to CSX (through the end of 2019 on the current lease).
         I do apologize if it is assumed that I have stated incorrectly, but I have been repeatedly told by those supposedly in the know about railroad operations and land/real estate matters, and therefore have long been under the assumption, that the railroads own the railroad tracks and the immediate land under and on the sides of them and the state owns/controls the land on both sides along the edges of the outside of the privately-owned trackage on many, though not necessarily all, sections of railroad right-of-ways…Sort of like a vehicle owning its very own lane or lanes, but within a publicly-outlined right-of-way, if you will.
        And even those sections of railroad that are not exclusively owned by the state are still under the jurisdiction of state rail transportation planners, who are responsible for overseeing the inclusion of both state-owned and privately-owned railroad lines into statewide multimodal transportation plans (proposals).Report

        1. Burroughston Broch December 10, 2012 7:40 am

          @The Last Democrat in Georgia  @writes_of_weigh 
          The State owns the W&A in total. Excerpted from Wikipedia:
          “A major change in the new lease in 1890 stipulated that all improvements to the road made by the lessee would become the property of the State at the termination of the lease. CSX signed the current lease in 1992 and it is set to expire on 31 December 2019.”Report

        2. writes_of_weigh December 10, 2012 11:30 pm

          @Burroughston Broch  @The Last Democrat in Georgia Excellent. Plenty of time for the “planners” at CSX to envision routing massive tonnage currently moving through Atlanta to mid-western connections(UP, BNSF,KCS) and “plan” for upgrading their Manchester, Ga. – Parkwood, Al mainline, thus relieving the W&A of it’s overburdened freight tonnage, making way for plenty of conventional heavy/H-S-R or even potentially, commuter trains. It just may be a new route for how tomorrow may move!Report

        3. laurelbeth December 29, 2012 10:11 am

          @writes_of_weigh  @Burroughston Broch  @The Last Democrat in Georgia
           Does anyone know what the chances are of the rail line from Bishop to Madison Georgia being restored and operational? What company owns it?Report

        4. The Last Democrat in Georgia December 29, 2012 7:48 pm

           According to GDOT rail maps, the rail line between Bishop, GA and Madison, GA that you are referring to is currently owned by Norfolk Southern.
          Though I personally do not have any official knowledge on that particular line, one would have to assume that because that line is not in a high-traffic corridor (not-to-mention that the line doesn’t have any high-powered politicos in state government going to bat on its behalf) that its chances of being restored and operational are close to nil at this point.Report

        5. Burroughston Broch December 30, 2012 12:39 pm

          @laurelbeth  @writes_of_weigh  @The Last Democrat in Georgia 
          I looked at the right of way on Google Maps, beginning at Bishop. Most of the rails are gone and the right of way is overgrown. Chances are nil unless you want to do it yourself at your expense.Report

  2. DavidWelden November 13, 2012 12:27 pm

    Ms. Saporta said: “Regionalism is the only logical way for Georgia to address its future development and transportation plans.
    Consider this. Because of its 159 counties and hundreds of cities, Georgia has found it nearly impossible to develop coherent plans for all those communities.”
    Methinks Ms. Saporta grossly underestimates the capabilities that exist within the Georgia DOT.
    Were we to remove the politicians from the issue and tell GDOT to collaborate with the counties on a project-by-project basis, most of Georgia’s major transportation and transit issues could be resolved quickly.Report

  3. SteveBrown December 2, 2012 6:26 pm

    There has to kind of regional construct within which to work.  
    I think the main problems are a confounded network of state-level politicians and special interest groups, both of which drive the GDOT process.
    Another major problem is an unrealistic “one-size-fits-all” approach to transit and road networks.Report

    1. DavidWelden December 2, 2012 9:37 pm

       Counties working individually and counties collaborating at the project level can work just fine, especially if there is an agreement on standard technical parameters. There is no regional/political scheme that will be accepted by most counties. If Fulton, Clayton and Dekalb want to establish a “region” unto themselves, they can have at it. Just leave the rest of us out of it.Report

      1. SteveBrown December 2, 2012 10:44 pm

        Yes, the one thing most are not excited about is another layer (regional) of official governance.  People express their worries over the Atlanta Regional Commission chairman not being an elected official and I think that is a legitimate concern.
        “Regional” entities appointed by the Governor, Lt. Governor and the House Speaker do not give many people hope that equitable representation is on the way either.Report

    2. writes_of_weigh December 11, 2012 12:35 am

      @SteveBrown If those you indicate, indeed, “drive” the process, they should collectively be pulled over and ticketed(Georgia State Patrol, where are you when we need you?) for D.W.I.(Driving Without Inter-modality)Report

  4. writes_of_weigh December 11, 2012 12:09 am

    I’m truly sorry. I was convinced that rail route  planning responsibility fell to the entities who actually own/operate/maintain/dispatch trains over right’s-of way(s), not the day dreamers sitting in ivory towers in Atlanta or Washington, D.C. collecting fat paychecks to…..well, dream of playing with real, live choo choos, and making them all inter-operable, user-friendly,and gosh…..even profitable. Curiously, even the former bunch(real railroaders) get it horribly wrong, at times. To wit……rail “executives” at New Jersey Transit, a Jersey/New York connected commuter carrier, made a disastrous “decision” in the face of an approaching hurricane(Sandy), despite coastal flooding advisories/warnings, to “yard” hundreds of millions of dollars in commuter rail equipment adjacent to their Meadows Maintenance Complex,(hard by the confluence of two rivers)Dispatch/Operations Center, to “ride out” the storm. The site flooded, extensively. Other New York area transit operators herded their equipment to higher ground(s). Now the taxpayers(who don’t dissent) will pay for the “decisions” of those forewarned New Jersey Transit “executives”. Perhaps next hurricane or nor’easter, if one listens carefully, that old Southern quip “How high’s the water Momma?” just might be heard whistling in the wind(s) in/near Jersey’s meadow lands.Report


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.