Ga. 400 transit options

Today’s lead column discusses how MARTA, Georgia Department of Transportation and local community improvement districts are studying heavily traveled corridors, such as Ga. 400, to find transit alternatives that can ease commutes. The trick is creating the public-private partnerships that will pay for them, since there is no state money in the post-T-SPLOST world. In our second piece, a highway engineer endorses a universal per-mile user fee as a fair way to fund new roads and bridges.

Commenting is open below Rod Fogo’s column.

By Tom Sabulis

If you think the thumping of the transportation tax referendum (T-SPLOST) on July 31 means that residents of north Fulton county are happy to stick to their cars, steadfastly uninterested in alternative transit methods, you would be mistaken – or at least not in attendance at recent meeting about the Ga. 400 Corridor Transit Initiative (Connect 400) at the North Fulton Chamber of Commerce in Alpharetta.

Sponsored by MARTA, in partnership with local community improvement districts and the Georgia Department of Transportation, Connect 400 is conducting an 18-month study, due next spring, that will recommend alternative transit options along the 400 corridor, from the topside Perimeter north to Milton and the Forsyth County line.

The study area bulges east and west to include Dunwoody, Sandy Springs and Roswell.

All transit options are being considered — buses, light-rail, a heavy rail extension of MARTA’s North Springs line — and likely a combination of solutions.

East-west connectivity across the corridor is also being considered, said Jason Morgan, MARTA’s project manager on Connect 400. But it’s still due diligence time: nothing has been decided.

The big catch, of course, is that there will be no state funding for any improvements, a point driven home by officials and staff invited to speak.

Sen. Doug Stoner, D-District 6 and a member of the transportation committee, dashed any idea that there would be another tax effort put before voters any time soon.

“The voters have made a decision,” Stoner said, “that they’re not going to look at a funding mechanism in the near future. I just want to dissuade anyone who thinks that we’re going to deal with that issue in the Legislature in the next two years; it’s not going to happen. We probably won’t have this discussion until 2016 at the earliest. Between now and then, it’s going to be getting whatever federal dollars you can get, and the federal government is going to be looking at communities that can build public-private partnerships.”

Brandon Beach, a GDOT board member from Alpharetta, cited the proposed multimodal passenger terminal in Atlanta as the kind of project a public-private partnership can launch by leveraging private money from developers and businesses to attract federal funding. “That’s going to be built with private funds,” Beach said confidently about the mega-effort, still in the embryonic stage.

“There’s going to be hotels, retail, office, residential, and there’s going to be a transit component. When you look at the [terminal] compared to the whole 124 acres, it’s a very small component, but it’s the centerpiece that’s going to make those private dollars flowand pay for that transit facility.”

The terminal’s current price tag is $1.2 billion.

An overflow audience of about 100 people crowded into the Connect 400 meeting, a small but perhaps symbolic sign of the new urgency transportation issues are taking on in the aftermath of the T-SPLOST.

“We’re disappointed T-SPLOST failed,” Beach said, “but we still have a transportation problem. We still have a congestion problem. It’s just we heard the voters loud and clear that they don’t want to increase their taxes to pay for it. We’ve got to figure out ways to improve our infrastructure because when you look at our funding both on the federal level and GDOT level, we have money to maintain [the roads and bridges] we have; we just don’t have money to build new capacity. And we have more people moving here and needs that need to be taken care of.”

By Rod Fogo

It is not surprising that Georgia needs supplemental funding for road projects. Georgia has not chosen to go the supplementary funding route except for Ga. 400.

But any state that has been supplementing its revenues with a major toll road over the past 56 years or more has had a multibillion dollar funding advantage over states that have not.

Georgia has relied mostly on fuel taxes for construction, maintenance and reconstruction of its interstate mileage.

What would have been the effect if all the interstate routes outside I-285 had been built as toll roads?

In that case, no federal or state taxes would have been spent over the last 56 years on any of those hypothetical external toll roads.

Instead, all the money spent outside the Perimeter would theoretically have been available to add to the highway funds within the Perimeter — no small chunk of money.

But that is not all. Toll road customers pay both fuel taxes and tolls. Fuel taxes accrue to the DOT, not the toll roads.

Over 56 years those fuel taxes would have amounted to huge surpluses of additional supplementary dollars for the state DOT.

Another reason Georgia needs supplemental funding is because Federal Highway Trust funds are inequitably distributed. Some states receive more than they contribute.

If Alaska, which gets four times more than it contributes, needs supplemental funds those should come from its own state. It is difficult to see why Georgians and other donor states should have to send that state our needed fuel tax funds.

Federal fuel taxes have not kept up with inflation: It has been 18 years since the tax has been raised.

Highways and bridges, like humans and houses, need more and more maintenance as they age. Postage has inflated by a factor of 15 since 1956. Had federal fuel taxes increased accordingly, we would be looking at 60 cents per gallon rather than 18.4.

Roads and bridges eventually must be rebuilt. The inflated cost to rebuild is many times more than what it cost to build.

Georgia DOT deserves major credit for replacing only the upper surface of the pavement every 10 years on one of the most travelled interstates in the country (I-285) in northeast Atlanta; by this method GDOT likely will be able to extend the full-depth pavement life to 100 years or more.

Retroactively adding tolls to an interstate highway is not the best plan. Neither was raising the sales tax to fund special projects. Nor is allowing electric vehicles to ride our highways for free.

Rather than doing nothing about our deteriorating highways and traffic congestion, it would be preferable if Congress would enact a 2-cent per-mile-driven surcharge applied equally to every vehicle registration without exception.

These supplemental funds should be transferred directly to each state DOT without restrictions. (Emission testers can certify the odometer reading each year when they test vehicles.). After all, a per-mile-driven fee is a more equitable alternative to raising the federal fuel tax, which should, over the next 10 years, be eliminated as the per-mile-driven fee is increased.

Crossroad toll booths are becoming obsolete. But paying for toll roads with “user-pay funds” (fees collected electronically on per-mile usage) will be around for a long time.

Rod Fogo was a highway manager and engineer for more than 40 years. He lives in Dunwoody.

19 comments Add your comment

Bernie

September 12th, 2012
11:58 am

BHG @ 8:52 am – why you would reference my name in reference to a belief in a panacea effect is beyond my comprehension and I think yours too. Never have I ever had such lofty goals or ideas. As an Native Atlanta resident, I understand the social and economic complexities of this city. I have lived it and experienced from my early childhood. It always have had a peculiar tilt to it and its operation. Subtle but direct in its social expectations and approval. Everyone is expected to know their place. those who forget are quickly reminded through a disapproved look,snarl and or a visit or a sudden appearance of one with a badge. He is there to remind you!

Many of you who come from other urban areas across this Nation, are new to this game. You are not aware of the long history of the southern social experience. This experience is still being played out to this day, even without your knowing, comprehending or acknowledging or aware of its presence, everyday, wherever you go ALL over the South!

Bernie

September 12th, 2012
11:46 am

MANGLER @ 10:54 am – I suggest you reread all of the posts and if you do it slowly with an intent to comprehend what is being said. You would say…Oh! I understand now. The time period of that true occurrence of denial of MARTA into those areas was in the early 1990’s and before. Check the AJC newspaper archives for verification. A verification of a statement of truth and not opinion as you callously and wrongfully claimed.

with that being said I would like to further espouse on the issue of that Real Estate agents comments to the poster. Long term residents of Atlanta know that my comments were correct in its explanation. Atlanta has had a long and sordid history of neighborhood segregation. A majority of the fears were mostly being stoked and played upon by some of Atlanta’s oldest real estate companies. White citizens were
commonly told even if one Black family moved into the community. That single families presence could affect housing values, and community standards of living. They were told if you move now, you would get the best price before anyone else. That story was repeated over and over thousands of times. The strangest part many of you are not aware of ,is that same Black family typically paid 20%-30% over market value of the purchase price of that same home. All with the same Home being sold in many cases by the original Real Estate agent or a representing agent of color. Pretty much like a switch and bait scheme, as we all were faced with in the current mortgage crisis fiasco.

MANGLER

September 12th, 2012
10:54 am

Ooh, he’s blaming whites for all the ills of the world again, I’m shocked.

Bernie, news flash … there are blacks up in the “white” northern suburbs. Hispanics and Asians as well. Even Hindus and people from all around the Middle East. We’re actually quite mixed up here in the arc. Come on up sometime and you’ll see that.

There are stories that imply that whites are moving into the city core at higher rates than anyone else and that blacks are no longer the majority within the city limits of Atlanta. Does that bother you? Do you hate them as much as you hate the white suburbanites? After all, those people are moving in near your so called undesirables.

Taken for a Ride

September 12th, 2012
10:06 am

Ten years ago I commuted from OTP Decatur to Sandy Springs everyday via MARTA. I had to take a bus to get to the Indian Creek station, take two trains and walk a mile to my office. After seven years I moved to Roswell and had a delightful 20 minute drive. Now I face a position in downtown ATL and am not looking forward to an hour+ drive in traffic or the 25 minute drive to the closest train station – North Springs, and then the ride downtown. I will probably end up riding again, but dang I have to drive and sit in traffic to then ride the train? Trying to balance parking, stress, time and cost of drive/idling in highway traffic. You would think in the ten years of ridership, things might have gotten better, but they haven’t. The price has gone up, but the connectivity has not improved. Hope Avalon helps.

ND

September 12th, 2012
9:54 am

Extending MARTA to the suburbs makes no sense. A train with stops every mile or two like MARTA should be confined to higher-density areas within the city. The suburbs should have their own independent commuter rail system that links to MARTA at certain points within the city (like Midtown and Five Points). People in Alpharetta (or Lawrenceville, or Snellville, or Marietta) are not going to drive 5-10 minutes to a MARTA station, wait 5-10 minutes for a train, and ride a train for 30-35 minutes to get to downtown when they can drive there in 40 minutes.

This is how cities with functional transit systems do it. Commuter rail with limited stops for the suburbs, rapid transit with many stops within the city and immediate surrounding areas.

[...] AJC Looks at Georgia’s Post-TSPLOST Options [...]

BHG

September 12th, 2012
8:52 am

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I would be quite happy to have a MARTA station in Alpharetta, perhaps integrated into that new Avalon development that’s supposedly coming (public/private partnership, anyone?). I used to live in D.C., and I could go out to any part of the metro area I wanted at just about any time of the day or night with little hassle. In comparison, MARTA is a joke – the only time I ride it is when I’m going to or from the airport, which means that all of my entertainment dollars stay within about a 10-mile radius of my house.

And Bernie, I live about 3 miles from my office, and it still often takes me 20-30 minutes to drive to work. Living close is not the panacea you seem to think it is. If I had an easy and safe way to ride my bike to work (i.e. bike lanes or connected sidewalks), I would certainly take advantage of that option. Since my commute is going to take that long anyway, I might as well get some health benefit from it…

Bernie

September 12th, 2012
2:38 am

On the Fulton/Forsyth line @ 2:25 am – Your comment is not True and a Blatant LIE. It has been your many neighbors whom have voted against YOU and any planned,studied or considered issue to remotely bring MARTA or anything like Marta
even close to that area. The thinking behind the denial of the services was to prevent the UNDESIRABLES (bLACKS mainly) easy access to your suburban communities. This action just may encourage others moving into, what is describe as PRISTINE communities.

If anything Marta has been almost criminally and racists in its actions and reluctance to serve any low income or economically depressed area. Actually, it took a Federal Lawsuit to force MARTA to even provide what limited service what areas that are considered low income now.

These are just some of the many Lies,half truths and distortions that has prevented this City to truly address its Transportation needs over the years.

On the Fulton/Forsyth line

September 12th, 2012
2:25 am

My real estate agent promised a Marta train to Windward Parkway when we moved in in 1990. Politicians keeps trying to build Marta out to “under-served” aka low-income and “future-growth” aka developers-make-money areas instead of connecting the places where people are already commuting. N. Fulton residents didn’t want to pay another penny for what we were promised with the first penny thirty years ago. Even T-SPLOST promised more studies, not actual trains. Build in and we will ride.