Whatever happened to IT3?
And what can we do to make sure it becomes reality?
IT3 — Investing in Tomorrow’s Transportation Today — was launched by Gov. Sonny Perdue last year as an effort to take a thorough look at what the state should do to improve its transportation challenges.
It commissioned McKinsey & Co., a top consulting company, to conduct a $2.5 million study on a far-reaching assessment of what it would take to build out our transportation infrastructure.
IT3 was presented to various transportation agencies at the end of last year, but then its recommendations got lost in the whirlwind of unproductive state politics in the transportation arena.
Now the Livable Communities Coalition — a group that combines developers, enviromentalists and other civic leaders — is trying to bring IT3 back to life.
The bottom line is that metro Atlanta will not improve its congestion problem unless transportation investments are done in tandem with land-use decisions.
The coalition has written a letter to board members of the Georgia Department of Transportation urging that them to link land-use plans with transportation projects when going after federal stimulus dollars.
”IT3 was a gift from the governor,” said David Allman, chairman of the Regent Partners development company and chairman of the Livabile Community Coalition.
IT3 outlined a three-pronged approach to solving transportation — to better manage our existing resources (staggered work hours, telecommuting, traffic sychronization), to invest in major capital projects (commuter rail and more efficient roadways); and to encourage denser development in corridors with good transportation.
“The biggest bang for the buck is land use,” Allman said. “If we don’t change the way we develop and the way we grow, we can’t solve our transportation problems. We have to drive the link between land-use and transportation funding.”
Two GDOT board members who were on the LINK trip to Minneapolois also wanted to make sure the recommendations in IT3 were not forgotten.
“What happened to IT3?” GDOT member Robert Brown, a Decatur architect, asked a group of folks when the delegation was flying back to Atlanta. “At the end of the day, IT3 was based on identifying needs and promoting integration.”
Brown had been particularly optimistic last year when a group of GDOT officials went to New York and Chicago to study commuter rail systems, and to push for rail service between Atlanta and Griffin.
“We were all moving forward, and then it just stopped,” Brown said.
Fellow GDOT board member Brandon Beach, president and CEO of the North Fulton Chamber of Commerce, said the region has to prepare for an additional 2.5 milliion people by 2030.
“We’ve got to pick out certain nodes of density and connect then with transportation,” Beach said, adding that MARTA is the transit backbone for the region. “It’s going to have to be more than two counties.”
Undoubtedly, the lack of progress during this last legislative session on any transportation initiatives has been discouraging.
But the Livable Communities Coalition sees the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 as offering “unprecedented opportunties and support for change. Game-changing trends make the time ripe for new approaches to transportation funding, not just for ARRa funding, but for the foreseeable future.”
The coalition called IT3 a “trailblazing state study” that shows a more effective way to spend transportation dollars.
Combine that with a new federal parternship between the U.S. Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban development — which is also bridging the relationship between transportation and housing and giving people more options of where they live and how they get around.
The coalition also points to three significant plans in the Atlanta region that promotes solid transit investment with development — Concept 3 of the Transit Planning Board (providing a regional framework for all modesof transit; Connect Atlanta (the city of Atlanta’s first-ever comprehensive transportation plan); and Atlanta’s BeltLine, which seeks to transform an old railroad corridor into new developments connected with transit, pedestrain/bicycle paths and green space.
President Barack Obama also has been urging greater emphasis on renewable energy, energy independence and climate change. All that points to more sensible ways to develop our communities. It doesn’t hurt that transit ridership is up across the country.
In a recent executive summary on this topic, the coalition said preference should be given to repairing roads, bridges, sidewalks (especially near transit stations).
According to the coalition “transit upgrade and expansion can create 31 percent more jobs on the dollar than new highway lanes.”
Invest in transportation alternatives between job centers or other development nodes. And whenever possible, the state should invest in projects with multiple benefits — improving the environment, health, mobility and accessibility.
Anticipate the likelihood that gas prices will go higher so invest in projects that minimize the need for fuel.
Lastly, the coalition urges state and regional officials to “pick projects that stretch the taxapayer dollar.”
As Allman said, “We are not taking the public where it doesn’t want to go.” In other words, as our society is changing so that more and nore people want to live in midrise or highrise buildings and be accessible to transit.
Which brings us back to IT3. What happens now?
Word has it that the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority is looking to publish an IT3 report complete with its recommendations.
Maybe then we can revive IT3 — and reintroduce why its findings are so critical to the Atlanta region as it continues to grow.
As Allman said: “ IT3 gives us the high ground to rethink transportation in a strategic way.”
If only our state leaders were listening….