Metro area must find
 unity on traffic plan

By the AJC Editorial Board

The people have decisively spoken. And that will prove the easy part, as strange as that may sound in the aftermath of the beatdown of the transportation sales tax last Tuesday.

The hard work comes starting now. For something must come next. It must come if 
metro Atlanta expects to remain what we have been, let alone rise to what was projected for coming years when millions more new residents are expected to arrive. Condemning the T-SPLOST to doom was, in hindsight, not difficult. Most everyone could find fault with the tax, especially the 62 percent of voters who said “No.” Even ardent supporters conceded it was a flawed plan.

Yet, shortcomings and all, the Transportation Investment Act was all we had.

Now we need something better; something more effective at hacking down traffic congestion. That means Atlanta must once again corral smart people around a common goal, devise an innovative game-changer of a new plan and enact it as quickly as practicable. All of us should be part of this process.

We cannot stand still.

T-SPLOST opponents should not be content to gloat victoriously while Downtown Connector traffic continues to consistently crawl — or stall — too many hours of the day and night. Champions of the failed tax plan cannot salve their wounds. They must leap back into the fray with new vigor and tactics. As a community, we must now reason together as we have never done before.

We don’t have to start from ground zero. Nearly to a person, Atlantans who spoke yea or nay about the T-SPLOST shared the broadest of agreements that congestion is choking our local economy and way of life. That view holds true from the executive suites, to the Gold Dome, to meetings of neighborhood organizers in south DeKalb County and tea party groups. This roughest of common ground must prove a foundation upon which to construct future success.

An AJC poll late last month found 70 percent agreement among those polled that traffic congestion was “deteriorating our quality of life.” When asked how important it was to “address the region’s transportation problems,” fully 90 percent of poll respondents said it was either “very important” or “somewhat important.”

If that isn’t the base of a workable consensus, then nothing is. So let’s get on with the task of creating a new transportation remedy that a majority of us can support and drive through to reality.

The combined push of We the People is needed now more than ever because the state General Assembly is likely to want to head for the North Georgia hills and flee even from the memory of the T-SPLOST idea that they passed into being in 2010. Lawmakers didn’t want to directly fund a costly fix for our chronically underfunded transportation infrastructure. That would have cost real money and carried sizable political risk in a time when popular sentiment was to cut, not build and spend, no matter how urgent the need.

Those who’ve argued the Legislature should get cracking on Plan B early next January face a nearly insurmountable climb. Gov. Nathan Deal admitted as much last week when he began outlining the strategy he will begin assembling from the wreckage of the T-SPLOST.

To say his proposal of focusing on the most needed work statewide will be modest is likely an understatement. Yet what comes out of his office will likely be the best we can do in the short run. And something beats nothing.

But it will not be an Atlanta metro-centric plan. No, we will take our place in line with the rest of the state.

So the responsibility for comprehensive fixes still resides within metro borders.

We’ve got a headstart in that a powerful positive coming out of the T-SPLOST process was the impressive degree of unity, vision and political courage shown by the leaders who decided the ill-fated project list. Quibble with this project or that, fine, but the 21 regional roundtable members behaved in a manner worthy of a diverse region of nearly 6 million people that shares a common destiny, like it or not. We can build on that success.

But for now, relatively dinky 
improvements, if any, are the most likely scenario for the Atlanta area. That should not be nearly good enough for this great metro’s taxpayers.

For we’re in a race. Other cities’ chambers of commerce are now rejoicing over our election result and crafting selling points about why they now are a better relocation mecca than Atlanta. We must keep building if we are to remain competitive.

Given the magnitude of problems that the $8.5 billion T-SPLOST would have only begun to address, any solutions — all-road, all-rail or anywhere between — will remain expensive. More dithering will not make that bill cheaper or any less inevitable. We now must begin analyzing anew what most needs to get done, and how to pay for it. No more, no less.

Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.

Tea party, Sierra Club agree on solutions

By Debbie Dooley and Colleen Kiernan

Political polarization is at a 25-year high, according to the Pew Research Institute. This surge has resulted in gridlock in Washington and Congress’ lowest approval rating ever. But the Pew study also says that our shared social values haven’t changed much in the last 25 years. Thus, when it comes to local issues, we can reach across the divide and forge common ground.

The Sierra Club and the tea party come from opposite sides of the political spectrum. But we were united in opposition to the T-SPLOST, and we share a common vision for fixing Atlanta’s broken transportation system.

Our first principle is to “Get the House in Order.” We need to restore trust in our transportation agencies by making them more transparent and accountable. As a first step, Georgia DOT board members should be elected to no more than one-year terms at annual public meetings in their respective congressional districts. An equitable transit governance structure similar to the one the Atlanta Regional Commission endorsed in January 2011 should be established.

The Sierra Club calls the second principle “Tie Transportation Revenue to Travel Behavior.” The tea party calls it “user fees.” It’s the same idea. Georgia should scrap the current gas tax and create a single tax that rises and falls with the price of gasoline. This could be started at the current level so that it doesn’t amount to a tax increase. A portion of the resulting revenue should go to all transportation purposes, not just roads and bridges. The Legislature should also allow any two or more local governments to create and fully fund (through local motor fuel taxes, sales taxes, parking taxes and others) transportation projects that meet the needs of their citizens. The tea party calls this “local control.” The Sierra Club calls it “flexibility.”

The third principle is “Provide Georgians with 21st Century Transportation Solutions.” Telecommuting, van pools and flex time are great commute alternatives. So are riding transit and cycling. Before MARTA is expanded, service cuts made in recent years need to be restored and the system brought into good repair. The Legislature should remove permanently the restriction requiring MARTA to spend 50 percent on capital projects and 50 percent on operations. A hotel/motel tax should go toward transit, rather than a new stadium.

Much of the conversation around the T-SPLOST was about fear. Fear that the government wouldn’t be a good steward of additional resources, fear that without it, metro Atlanta would sink further into economic decline. But people are motivated by both their hopes and their fears.

For us to move forward, our elected officials need to tap into our hopes for a thriving Atlanta — for our children and their children — that surpasses our most ambitious dreams.

Debbie Dooley is a co-founder of the Atlanta Tea Party. Colleen Kiernan is director of the Sierra Club’s Georgia Chapter.

26 comments Add your comment

Chip

August 6th, 2012
10:12 am

Here’s a relatively easy solution that will not involve bonfires of taxpayer dollars…

Every time I see or read anything about TSPLOST and the metro area’s growth/sprawl/traffic issues, that story always involves quote from downtown/intown urban residents and activist types who constantly whines about how Atlanta could be like Chicago or Portland or NYC or Seattle or wherever if only we greedy, selfish suburbanites would just “sacrifice” and “contribute” unending amounts of our hard-earned money in order to meet our “social” and “environmental responsibilities.”

Here’s an alternative suggestion: why don’t all you miserable suffering in-town elitist liberals just MOVE to Chicago or Portland or NYC or Seattle or wherever? Those cities already have the things youj want. You could be happy riding around on street cars, Atlanta traffic would diminish, we wouldn’t have to listen to you scream whine and moan all the time, and you wouldn’t suffer the indignity of living near those of us who are so inferior to you.

Everyone wins!

WeNeedAlternatives

August 6th, 2012
10:27 am

Chip,
And after all of us supposed liberals (hardly…) move from downtown Atlanta, who would be left to pay for the roads/infrastructure that all the suburban folks use when they commute into town?

Oh, yes – I guess there would be no city left so who cares? Right?

And without the city, there would be no suburbs….

That’s the ticket.

Don

August 6th, 2012
10:31 am

Chip – Don’t worry. They will. Hope you enjoy your “New Detroit”

AtlDriver

August 6th, 2012
10:42 am

The title is “Metro area must find
 unity on traffic plan”. Hello, we just did that last Tuesday. The unity is to plan a way within the current cash flow to cut the waste and accomplish the things that need to be accomplished. The current situation is an example of why the current planners can’t be trusted with more money. Transit does not reduce automobile congestion. It is essentially useless to most of us and certainly can’t be justified financially. Keep listen to the DOT experts that closed the HOV lane in favor of the HOT lane and you will continue to get the same results. Keep listen to those that say urban sprawl is the problem when the only problems exist in the highest density areas. The people spoke, no more money for the cronys.

Laurie

August 6th, 2012
11:29 am

For me, THIS idea is a much better starting point than our elected officals came up with for TSPLOST. It addresses the issue of general distrust of our government officals and GDOT. It addresses a plausable “pay to play” option to fund projects. It also engages our local companies by asking them to promote commuter friendly initiatives like van pool services and telecommuting. Thank you Debbie Dooley and Colleen Kiernan for coming together from opposite ends of the spectrum and presenting a plan I can support. Wouldn’t it be nice if our legislature could do the same?

BW

August 6th, 2012
11:46 am

At some point, some body of people have to collect and distribute the funds as well as manage the projects. Who should this body be given the distrust of elected politicans? If you don’t trust the people you are voting into office, who would you trust? All this sounds wonderful from a 10,000 foot level but at some point you have to get in the weeds on this matter especially given the accountability being demanded. If the co-authored article is something broadly agreed to by the constituents of metro Atlanta, then the next General Assembly needs to be mostly focused on starting the mechanisms to enact it not passing more pro-gun, anti-abortion bills. The politicans need to have their faces on TV or in articles about their plans to address this every day of the 40 the body will be in session. If this is truly a concern the region wishes to address we will see very soon whether or not we can overcome the polarization to move towards a solution.

@ Chip

August 6th, 2012
11:46 am

Being one of those “intown urban residents” I must say.. the traffic doesn’t bother me. I live and work within five minutes of Midtown. Not surprisingly, the city is actually not that choked up unless you want to get IN or OUT of it. However, I see traffic crawling along every day from 4-6 and I want the city I live in to be better. Why? Not to be like “Portland” but just because I would the city I live in to improve. I didn’t support TSPLOST but the region needs to make investments in its transportation. You don’t need a study to tell you that.

I’m not sure exactly who you’re so mad at? People who want to improve the city?

You know, you’re right.. I’m sure all us transplants have only brought the city/state down. Shame on us for wanting to invest in the future. I guess we should all just move back to 1972.

UGA ECONOMICS MAJOR

August 6th, 2012
12:11 pm

Atlanta will slowly but surely become Detroit.. due to its terrible racial divide and 1950,s thinking..its 2012 and no race is going anywhere..white,black,latino.asians..ACCEPT THAT! move on make things better if you can we all live here..remmember a fallen Atlanta=fallen Georgia..Atlanta is the engine that keeps Georgia humming..no suburb could survive on its on without the big peach(Atlanta)…meanwhile..our backwardness is making Charlotte,wonderful Seattle(america,s best city)Dallas,Houston,Nashville.get years ahead of it Atlanta use to be the lone place for companies and conventions the competition is now tight as Charlotte,Nashville ,Charleston…have stepped up thier game…but we will never compete with Seattle

Angus

August 6th, 2012
12:30 pm

The TSPLOST should’ve put the final nail in the coffin of “metro unity.”

I’m guessing the COA will bond away its future to build the Beltline and the suburbs should get ready for more tolls.

Jack

August 6th, 2012
12:37 pm

Before I voted NO on T-SPLOST, I said it was too big and too complicated. And since a majority of voters agreed with me, I wasn’t alone in my opinion.

Michel Phillips

August 6th, 2012
1:14 pm

Here’s an alternative: (1) Cut all state and local property, sales, and income taxes by 2/3. (2) Replace lost revenue with greenhouse tax on fossil fuels. Cost of commuting will go up significantly. People will demand their local jurisdictions reform zoning laws to allow mixed-use, high-density development. Average daily miles traveled will plummet. Existing road capacity will be adequate. Air quality will improve. Metro Atlantans will spend a lot less time sitting in their cars, and a lot more quality time with family, recreation, community service, the things that make life worth living.

jewcowboy

August 6th, 2012
1:19 pm

Chip: “why don’t all you miserable suffering in-town elitist liberals just MOVE”

Or you suburbanites who contribute the majority of the congestion could stay in your suburbs. We’ll pay for ours and not ask a contribution from you and your suburban brethren if you promise not to clog our roads. I’ll certainly promise not to clog your suburb.

We “miserable suffering in-town elitist liberals” “could be happy riding around on street cars, Atlanta traffic would diminish, we wouldn’t have to listen to you scream whine and moan all the time.” Deal?

SAWB

August 6th, 2012
1:50 pm

Jewcowboy said, “We’ll pay for ours and not ask a contribution from you and your suburban brethren”

It really seems one of the biggest issues with the failure of TSPLOST was the lack of trust between the ITP & OTP crowds. While much of this is probably irrational it does exist. It would seem the best way to move forward would be locally focused projects and funding mechanisms. Let each County and/or City identify projects that are important to their citizens and then determine how to fund these projects.

Bernie

August 6th, 2012
2:20 pm

Here we are again!…The editorial board, The Tea Party and the Sierra club. All who have their own respective self interests in mind. All who are ignoring and dancing around the 800lb Gorilla in the room. Race and Economics! its ever widening expansion that is consistently growing to a point where all three commenting parties are hoping and wishing that it would just go away or magically disappear.

Just in Life those anecdotes are not likely to happen until the work is done to address those issues and how it relates to our many varied communities. In the end we will just continue to build on a already broken transportation plan on to an already broken transportation system. Any improvements moving forward will be small and modest for we lack the political will and Leadership to address the issue of the 800lb
Gorilla in the room. How can we possibly support the thinking and the views of a obstinate and racist group as the Tea Party and move forward?

This very group is very much behind and openly supporting of the impending Charter and voucher school plans for the children of Georgia. Both plans will further guarantee the separation of our children’s education for years to come. The very ones who will be responsible for correcting the very mess we have left for them. Tell me again how the coming together of these three groups will improve our transportation issues. I was a bit distracted from the reality that surrounds ME!

JR in Mableton

August 6th, 2012
2:27 pm

I am glad to see that the Tea Party and the Sierra Club can agree on everyone staying home and not using the roads. How about a real plan from Ms. Dooley and Ms. Kiernan? Maybe a list of real projects that the two can agree upon? A financing plan that the two can agree upon? Changing the DOT board will not fix our transportation issue. Scapping the gas tax is a nice idea. Explain the politics and how you will achieve your goals. And I would love to ride my bike 26 miles to the office….I really would. Can you add a bike lane on I-285 to get me from Mableton to Norcross? I can’t even begin to figure out how I could take transit. The ball is in your court Tea Party and Sierra Club. You promised a better solution. I am ready to hear your plan. You have proven that you are more than capable of delivering defeat. Now let’s see you deliver a victory of the Atlanta region.

too little time

August 6th, 2012
3:34 pm

Clearly, the funding for transportation is the gasoline tax. Taxes raised on the purchase of motor fuels should go to TRANSPORTATION… not to general budget coffers. Those who use the most motor fuel will pay the most taxes. Yes, this means YOU UPS, Coca Cola, long distance commuters, trucking companies.. all those companies pushing for a free ride from TSPLOST . Revoke any deal Delta has on motor fuel taxes while we are at it. This puts the cost of construction and maintenance of roads on those who use it.

Hillbilly D

August 6th, 2012
3:36 pm

Not being one that lives in the Metro area, whatever the Metro area wants to do to solve their problem, is ok with me, as long as they don’t try to involve my area like they did with T-SPLOST. They tried to find a statewide solution to deal with a Metro problem and it didn’t work.

Chris Sanchez

August 6th, 2012
3:37 pm

The people in metro Atlanta spoke quite clearly and said “we will not permit ourselves to be boondoggled by this monstrosity that was T-SPLOST”. There is plenty of unity in the region to address our traffic congestion issues. All we want is a plan put forth that will actually do just that: address traffic congestion. Dooley climbing in bed with the Sierra Club undermines her role though it is obvious that she does not see it that way. So be it.

Before we can move forward on a plan to address traffic congestion, the issue of economic development (a.k.a. transit) needs to be split off into a separate debate. This is really two conversations: traffic congestion and transit. Split the two and lets move forward on the one that we actually agree on. Develop a project list in the metro Atlanta area that can be completed within ten years that actually relieves congestion and lets discuss it. I have no doubt that we can reach agreement on such a project list so long as it is not stuffed full of pork.

It should be stated that economic development is not a bad thing in and of itself. If transit supporters feel so strongly about expanding MARTA then get your project list together and propose it. If GA law needs to be changed and allow MARTA to change the current 50/50 split it operates under then make the case. Stop trying to marry your transit wish list to traffic congestion relief. We voted on that idea and in a unified voice said “no.”

Hi-miler

August 6th, 2012
3:45 pm

Another 2 cents worth – the 1% tax was not the problem, obviously the plan was the problem.

- completely remove MARTA from the plan
- 1% for the 10 years
- roads & freeways only
- only approve projects that can be completed and paid for in the 10 years
- 2 year “cool off” period at the end of the 10 years before another SPLOST can be proposed
- ban tolls statewide
- gas tax and sales tax pay for roads

JDD

August 6th, 2012
3:56 pm

Instead of trying to figure out a way to fix the traffic problem we have now and will have in the next 10 years, why don’t they try and come up with a solution to eliminate a percentage of the traffic. This is 2012! Every company out there, with the exception of a mom and pop gas station, has the ability to allow a percentage of their employees to work from home. Provide companies with some tax incentives/rebates for allowing employees to work from home multiple days a week. If every company in Metro Atlanta allows 25% of their staff to work from home, we have just reduced the amount of traffic by 25%, give or take a percentage or two.

The problem with is idea, however, is the working class would benefit from this, not the politicians and the government. Therefore, it won’t happen!

Bernie

August 6th, 2012
4:02 pm

Mr Jackson, Now that we have heard the views of these two political supported groups for the second time. Why not offer an opportunity for other organizations to provide their input on such an important forum as this one.

I for one, would love to hear from Georgia’s oldest civil rights organization The Georgia NAACP. As well as Mr.Evans of the Dekalb county NAACP chapter and Sen.Fort’s thinking about the plans going forward. I think it is only fair and reasonable that you include their input as well. Many of your readers would be interested as well, I am sure of that.

middle of the road

August 6th, 2012
4:14 pm

All of you MARTA supporters, a suggestion:

Find you a job near a MARTA train station.

Find you a house near a MARTA train station.

Py enough fare to cover the cost of your transportation.

Easy.

SAWB

August 6th, 2012
4:18 pm

Bernie said, “I for one, would love to hear from Georgia’s oldest civil rights organization The Georgia NAACP. As well as Mr.Evans of the Dekalb county NAACP chapter and Sen.Fort’s thinking about the plans going forward.”

I too would be interested to hear what these guys have to say. During the debate leading up to the vote it sounded like they wanted more transit and no tax increase. So, in what utopian dream world is that possible?

Hillbilly D

August 6th, 2012
4:45 pm

Working from home isn’t a bad idea but I doubt that 25% of people can work from home. Retail people, factory workers, construction workers, and many service people can’t work from home. A whole lot of people don’t work in offices.

jewcowboy

August 6th, 2012
4:47 pm

middle of the road: The same could be said for drivers. There isn’t some magical road fairy which drops asphalt at night for free.

StuckINtraffic

August 6th, 2012
6:48 pm

Eliminate Interstate backups by eliminating people that just need to pass through….OUTER PERIMETER!!!! We are so due for one its unreal. The side of the outer metro counties is enough to say so. We need a Highway 475 at least from I85 west around the entire west side of Atlanta. Then later finish the otherside.