Openness, ideas can get Georgia rolling

By Kelly McCutchen

To get transportation policy back on track, Georgia must embrace projects with clear impact and broad support, rebalance infrastructure spending and rebuild public trust.
Rebuilding trust involves transparency and reform. Simply streaming Georgia Department of Transportation meetings online, as do many state agencies, will open them to the public. Reform begins with addressing the common complaint of the “alphabet soup” of agencies; consolidating some could simplify governance and cut costs.
Georgians also need to understand how individual projects fit into a long-term vision. For example, Georgia has an opportunity to cut congestion in Atlanta by investing in projects that will divert through traffic away from the metro area. Estimates suggest this could reduce truck traffic in Atlanta 30 percent to 60 percent. This helps improve our freight network and is far more affordable than adding capacity inside Atlanta.
Technology, too, can maximize the value of existing infrastructure. Atlanta should have a premier Intelligent Transportation System: technology to synchronize signals at intersections, dynamically react to incidents and transmit real-time traffic data to drivers. With autonomous, “driverless” vehicles already being tested in real-life traffic, Atlanta should be ahead of the competition.
Transit’s long-term vision should be an interconnected network reflecting commuting patterns. Atlanta’s only realistic network approach is a focus on rubber-tired transit: Bus Rapid Transit vehicles that look and feel like light-rail vehicles. They can escape traffic via HOV, HOT or managed lanes on interstates and dedicated lanes where needed on arterial routes, offering competitive trip times and costing far less than rail.
The state should lead this effort by providing transit funding in metro Atlanta and statewide. Transit enhances economic opportunity by providing access to jobs and education, plus mobility for the disabled or elderly.
How to pay for it? The best policy on transportation funding is not to put all your eggs in one basket. Several possible sources exist.
All new capacity, where possible, should be funded by tolls. Dynamic tolling creates routes that are congestion-free even during rush hours, helping both commuters and transit riders.
Less than half of Georgia’s sales tax on motor fuel is dedicated to transportation. Shift some of those dollars back to transportation. Understandably, this will have to be phased in to minimize the impact on the general fund budget, but it will provide flexible dollars for both transit and roads.
Georgia is among the top 10 in the nation in education capital spending and the bottom 10 in transportation capital spending. Correct this by allowing counties to voluntarily replace the local sales tax that funds education brick-and-mortar projects (E-SPLOST) with a fractional sales tax, up to 1 percent, for education capital spending and/or transportation spending.
This approach enables Georgia to start enhancing quality of life and economic opportunity immediately and meaningfully, without raising taxes.
The Georgia Public Policy Foundation’s proposals are simply a framework to get Georgia moving. Now, Georgia’s leaders must find the common ground for a targeted, fiscally sound approach to transportation that moves the state and the economy forward.

Kelly McCutchen is president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent think tank.

14 comments Add your comment

HarryA

October 10th, 2012
11:08 am

In all the talk of moving traffic one major item continues to fail to get any recognition: accidents caused by excessive speed and inattentiveness. No where in the Atlanta area is traffic running at the posted speed limit. In consequence, any accident slows the most wide 6 or 8 lane highway to a standstill creating backups and potential further accidents. Likewise those who do drive at the posted speed limit actually create potential accident events by “obeying posted traffic signs” and creating slow spots in the traffic flow.
My other wish is that “someone in a position of authority” over road signage would actually drive the highways and see how inefficient and hazardous the current placement of road signs are. Take the east bound section of I285 at Glenridge and 400, this perennial misdirection is caused by the sign placement, or lack thereof, causing continuous backups and potential accidents.
The lack of planning by “Traffic Engineering” really is deplorable.

BHG

October 10th, 2012
8:56 am

IMHO, the only way to really alleviate traffic congestion is to get cars off the roads. Do a better job of encouraging tele-work, bicycling, living closer to the job, public transit, car-pooling, etc. Take an example from the D.C. area, where there are bike routes all over, and the metro system actually takes people from where they are to where they want to go. When I lived there, I drove my car maybe once or twice a week. (Not saying D.C. traffic is all that great, either – there are some examples that should be learned from, not copied.) Unfortunately, an all-around approach requires the kind of outside-the-box thinking that GDOT just doesn’t seem to have. It seems like every proposal coming out of these think tanks is “build more lanes, maybe with tolls”. But new lanes quickly fill up, and we’re no better off than before.

Road Scholar

October 10th, 2012
7:13 am

” It was set to expire in 2011, but our political leaders have betrayed public trust by extending that deadline until the end of the decade. ”

Gov Deal has said that the tolls and the booths come down at the end of this year…not the end of the decade (2020).

Outer Perimeter….who wants to lead the public involvement? I wonder if a responsive route can be found due to the unchecked/planned development that has occurred. GDOT was within one month of having an approved route with an approved environmental document, but Sonny nixed it for his republican friends. Within a month those same people wanted it to move the OP a few miles from their new homes. Alignments/locations had already been defined, reviewed, analyzed, and the best alignment was chosen…only to be tanked.

Christopher Sanchez

October 9th, 2012
10:08 pm

I thought we voted about this already? Enough with the “talking heads” and so-called “experts” trying to tell those of us who actually live in the metro ATL how we need to do this and do that. We do not have a problem funding clearly defined projects that will actually reduce traffic congestion. We have a problem with garbage (a.k.a. economic development/MARTA) disguised as relieving traffic congestion being shoved down our throats. We voted and said overwhelmingly NO.

On outer perimeter makes good sense. Get the project plan together, present it, and sell the voters on the benefits of funding it. A lot of ATL traffic will be relieved from that simple solution. There are others.

We the people don’t trust much of state government to be good stewards of the public purse. Since the current crop of politicians prefer to use ballot initiatives (relieving them from being responsible for the decisions) to actually leading, the people have much more input on these kinds of projects. Wanna know how to get some things done in Georgia? Simple, the state needs real leadership rather than partisan bickering.