We can’t keep ignoring the need to invest in transportation infrastructure

By Saba Long

Lately, I’ve been watching Aaron Sorkin’s latest TV series The Newsroom. In true Sorkin fashion it’s rife with overly emotional characters spitting out $10-words and plenty of snark.

In a recent episode, an official from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) goes on TV to declare the impending death of humanity due to global warming.

When the fictional news anchor Will McAvoy asks how to rectify the situation, the agency head casually remarks, “We should have turned the cars off 20 years ago.”

In the real world, outside of climate change, there’s a different grave issue we keep ignoring – transportation infrastructure.

Our public transit, roads and bridges have all come short in the transportation funding equation. As Sunday’s “60 Minutes” special highlighted, this is a national problem with grave consequences.

On Capitol Hill, and here at the state capitol, some bold action is long overdue.

Interviewed by Steve Kroft, former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, “Politicians in Washington don’t have the political courage to say, ‘This is what we have to do.’ That’s what it takes… They don’t want to spend the money. They don’t want to raise the taxes. They don’t really have a vision of America the way that other Congresses have had a vision of America.”

For starters, allow reduced taxes for U.S. multinational corporations to repatriate their foreign profits and bring those dollars back to the American economy. Any taxes collected on repatriated funds would go towards funding a national infrastructure bank.

Worried about “big government?” Implement the fund for a finite period of time, say 10 years. There is no shortage of “shovel ready” transportation projects waiting for a federal funding match.

This could be a net benefit to the public and private sectors – safer road conditions for truck drivers, improved bridges for freight and faster commutes.

According to the World Economic Forum, countries can expect a long-term gain of 5 cents to 25 cents on annual gross domestic product (GDP) for every dollar spent on public infrastructure.

While the national unemployment rate is declining, it’s trending higher in states reluctant to invest in infrastructure spending.

So, why not implement a transportation lockbox to ensure Georgia’s “fourth penny” only funds transportation projects rather than getting lost in the general fund?

The beauty of the fourth penny is that the revenue would not be restricted by the Georgia Constitution to just roads and bridges. It could be invested in public transit and alternative transportation projects, which means we could actually have a Georgia Department of Transportation rather than just a Highway Department.

WorldPay US, a payment processing company, recently announced its move from the Sandy Springs suburb to intown Atlanta.

On Nov. 20, Invest Atlanta – the city’s development arm – approved its financial support for a number of downtown projects, including the long-awaited Post Properties development near Centennial Olympic Park. And, as I look out the window, red construction cranes tower over the new stadium project.

Atlanta is attracting quality jobs and more residents, in large part due to its public transportation network, although it has received little investment over the past decade. MARTA’s Red Line expansion to Dunwoody was completed in 1998, with North Springs service beginning in 2000.

With the Atlanta Streetcar set to open any day now, it has revitalized the Edgewood corridor, cleaned up pockets of concern and has created successful hospitality entrepreneurs like Grant Henry and the group behind SoundTable.

In a few months, Atlanta voters will have the opportunity to approve a bond referendum to fund long-overdue road transportation projects, including critical bridge repairs.

Clearly, Atlanta and Georgia politicians cannot afford to keep waiting on the U.S. Congress to act when they keep hitting snooze on the alarm.

Saba Long is a communications and political professional who lives in downtown Atlanta. She serves as the senior council aide and communications liaison for Post 2 At-Large Atlanta City Councilman Aaron Watson. Most recently, Saba was the press secretary for MAVEN and Untie Atlanta -- the Metro Chamber’s education and advocacy campaigns in supportive of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Referendum. She has consulted with H.E.G. an analytics and evaluation firm where she lent strategic marketing and social media expertise to numerous political campaigns, including that of Fulton County Chairman John Eaves and the 2010 Clayton County transportation referendum. In 2009, Saba served as the deputy campaign manager for the campaign of City Council President Ceasar Mitchell. Previously, Saba was a Junior Account Executive at iFusion Marketing, where she lent fractional marketing strategy to various ATDC technology startups operating out of the Georgia Tech incubator, ATDC. For the past two years, Saba has presented on online marketing and politics to the incoming fellows of the Atlanta chapter of the New Leaders Council.

4 replies
  1. Greg Moore says:

    I think transportation systems are the answer, but I would keep the reversible and express lanes for rapid transit buses only. I would also put MARTA under GRTA and reorganize into a private-public partnership with incentives such as wifi and more transit times throughout the days and weekends. MARTA in and of itself has caused more problems and very closed minded to provide enough public benefit. Rail should be limited to core areas and rapid rail between Chattanooga, Birmingham and Valdosta.Report

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  2. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    Good article, Ms. Long
    Though, I’m not completely sure but I think that the “fourth penny” or 25% of revenue collected from state motor fuel taxes that the Georgia Legislature diverts from road maintenance to the general fund is supposed to go road maintenance.
    In other words, the legislature’s diversion of motor fuel tax revenue from road maintenance to the general fund may itself be unconstitutional but it’s just that that diversion has not been challenged yet in a court of law.
    Besides, there’s a reason that the Georgia State Constitution stipulates that motor fuel taxes are only to be spent on roads….It’s because even if all motor fuel tax collected was not diverted to the general fund and went straight to maintaining the road network as intended by the state constitution, it still would not be enough to maintain the state’s road network.
    Instead of attempting to unconstitutionally divert motor fuel tax to transit instead of unconstitutionally diverting motor fuel tax revenue to the general fund as is done currently (as you can best believe that attempting to fund transit with motor fuel tax revenue would most certainly draw a constitutional challenge in a conservative state where much, if not most, of the population remains highly skeptical of the effectiveness of transit), what we need to be doing is finding new revenue streams for transit funding that do not involve taking very limited dollars from the state’s vastly underfunded road network.Report

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  3. writes_of_weigh says:

    Unfortunately, devastating, dastardly, downsizing of the U.S. rail network was “permitted” in the name of “saving” an industry whose performance(in the eyes of Wall street analysts) had become, to be generous, lackluster, at best. Though Savannah in the early 1960’s had service along a high speed(100 M.P.H.) rail route, that Atlantic Coast Line mainline linked Savannah to Jacksonville and Florida to the south, and Charleston and Richmond to the north(east) ultimately, (via connections) gaining Washington, D.C. and (via the Northeast Corridor)New York. Upon Amtrak’s inception, the lowly Savannah-Atlanta link, the Nancy Hanks, then Central of Georgia(now Norfolk Southern) was deemed not “vital” to the Amtrak “national network”, and though the C of Ga became an Amtrak member railroad(at the insistence of then Southern Railway law department(and future Amtrak president) chair W. Graham Claytor, Jr., the “Nancy” was permitted to be discontinued, thus breaking a near century old rail passenger link from the ocean to the Capitol. Fast forward to the current state of the “grand bargain”, where formerly close ties between government(Amtrak?) and the railroads(Norfolk Southern, CSX, Union Pacific, Kansas City Southern, Genessee & Wyoming, BNSF) are now, at best, strained relationships, due strictly to money and political affiliation posturing, where-in the current carrier on this “oh -so-critical” route insists that any infrastructure upgrades(including GA Ports Mr. Foltz’s desired Atlanta westside rail link((referenced elsewhere in this Blog)) be done with the public’s (taxed) $ billions, but find that it’s “improbable, if not impossible” to operate passenger trains on those same (to be) publicly upgraded tracks(route’s) between Savannah and Atlanta nor from Atlanta (over the Georgia taxpayor-owned(CSX operated) right of way) on to Chattanooga, nor from Atlanta to Columbus, Albany, Augusta nor Athens.
     Curiously, higher speed rail is a-building in Florida at the behest of the likes of  former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush(a Fortress Industries(parent to Florida East Coast Railway’s All Aboard Florida passenger railroad)board member who had quite publicly opposed taxpayers (financing) building the proposed Florida Overland Express (FOX) High Speed Rail route, and has supported verbally, if not financially, California pols like Neil Kasparsky who criticized voter approved California High Speed Rail development, which has been championed by no less than CA GOV. Jerry Brown. Apparently U.S. east coast velocity physics differ markedly from those on the left, er west coast. What say ye Jeb?(and while we’re at it…Nathan??  
     Then there’s the matter of rail safety, or lack thereof. Recent news, has included items relating to crude oil and energy industry related ethanol “unit trains” derailing their combustible loads in burbs and cities killing and injuring the masses, as well as  high-speed train wrecks in Niles, Michigan, (Amtrak train throttling up to 110 m.p.h. operation, “is routed” off the mainline into a siding and comes to within 22 feet of colliding with Amtrak freight cars full of rock(yes Amtrak owns/runs freight cars to maintain tracks it owns, as in Niles), this occurring only one day after D.O.T. Secretary LaHood, Sen. Durbin(D-IL) and Gov. Quinn(R-IL) traveled from a Chicago suburb(Joliet, IL) downstate to Pontiac, IL to ribbon-cut a high speed Chicago-St. Louis three decade old route “upgrade”. Then there’s the (too?) fast UP train wreck in Midland, Texas involving a veteran’s parade trailer, and the Conrail train dumping chemicals into a waterway next to Philly’s airport(the bridge broke “boss” even though it was repaired the day before). Yes, we can wait a year to find out if we need to fix rail safety problems(thanks NTSB) even though High Speed rail infrastructure is the “solution” to the “grand bargain.” I refuse to pay for it. You will refuse as well, if you educate yourself.  Maria, it’s as if the Credit Mobilier scam just occurred. I’m sure you are familiar. It involved a French Bank and proposed high speed trains. Different centuries, different players, same ol’ scams. – See more at: http://saportareport.com/blog/2012/12/a-grand-bargain-between-railroads-and-government-needed-for-high-speed-rail/#sthash.GsKrL1S9.dpufReport

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