Other solutions for transportation

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

Despite last year’s failed transportation sales tax referendum and, more recently, a Georgia General Assembly session short on new ideas for congestion relief, there is some never-say-die optimism percolating in the private sector. Innovators and self-taxing business organizations are plowing ahead to find ways around our gridlocked geography. Two pieces today highlight, respectively, some concrete action in north metro Atlanta and a blueprint that shows the region how to break the mold and move forward.

Commenting is open below.

Perimeter business and its own Plan B

By Yvonne Williams

As part of comprehensive transportation solutions for metro Atlanta, the Perimeter business community has zeroed in on a “Plan B” to accelerate improvements to the I-285 and Ga. 400 interchange. This project of regional significance will help ensure the continued success of one of Georgia’s economic generators: the Central Perimeter business district.

The current interchange has design deficiencies that reduce traffic flow and boost accident rates substantially. With an employment center larger than the downtowns of Nashville or Charlotte, Central Perimeter has a lot at stake in maintaining good access in and out of the market.

The removal of tolls on Ga. 400 is expected to increase evening peak traffic by an estimated 15 percent and reduce traffic speeds by an estimated 55 percent. Population growth will fuel traffic in the corridor as a projected 3 million more residents will call metro Atlanta home in 2040, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC).

The Perimeter Community Improvement Districts (PCIDs) have always addressed challenges with a planning and implementation strategy. Since 1999, the PCIDs have made great strides in creating a more accessible and mobile environment through transportation choice and public-private partnership improvements to market gateways — such as the diverging diamond interchange at Ashford-Dunwoody Road and I-285, and the Hammond Half-Diamond Interchange at Ga. 400.

Now we must focus on the other major need at our doorstep. In the wake of the 2012 T-SPLOST vote, many wondered how Georgia would tackle transportation challenges. One of the first projects to surface was improvements to the I-285 and Ga. 400 interchange, which Gov. Deal identified as a top priority.

The PCIDs launched our strategy to move the interchange forward by reaching across jurisdictional lines to forge the I-285 and Ga. 400 Interchange Partnership. The cities of Sandy Springs, Dunwoody, Brookhaven, Chamblee and Doraville passed resolutions naming improvements to the interchange as paramount for the economic future of the top-end I-285 corridor. We plan to expand this partnership to other areas impacted by this interchange.

In December 2012, the ARC Board approved $2 million for planning and scoping for the interchange, which keeps the project under active development and positions it for advancement when the region’s Plan 2040 for transportation is updated this fall.

A new development is the passage of legislation in the Georgia General Assembly that changes the allocation of federal and state funds by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) and the types of projects eligible for design-build.

The community improvement districts are working with GDOT to examine all options for the I-285 and Ga. 400 interchange and what the design concepts can accomplish in both the near and long term. We are partnering with GDOT to move the transportation agenda forward, and to keep Georgia competitive.

Yvonne Williams is president of the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts.

Innovation, focus help find solutions

By Benita M. Dodd

Pointing fingers, moving the target and playing the blame game: That’s about all the action on transportation seen at the state Capitol this past session, despite the rancorous discussion following the regional transportation sales tax vote that failed in nine of 12 regions across the state.

The lack of movement was as unsurprising as congestion in metro Atlanta on a weekday afternoon. Legislators seemed anxious to leave, dragging their feet on acting on taxes, transportation and tort reform. That was understandable, too. They faced the unpopular options of prioritizing a tight state budget or raising taxes.

Fortunately, beyond the Gold Dome, transportation policy has been chugging along in the direction the Georgia Public Policy Foundation’s “Plan B” sought: a HOT lane network. Reversible high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes are planned along I-75 in Henry and Clayton counties south of Atlanta and in the I-75/575 Northwest Corridor, while an expansion of the I-85 demonstration HOT lane project is planned in Gwinnett County.

These are promising steps toward a seamless, metro-wide network of HOT lanes that will allow motorists and transit to transition from one highway to the next without merging into general-purpose “free” lanes. Variably priced tolls help fund transportation, but even more important, maintain a congestion-free lane and encourage motorists to evaluate their trip timing and route. HOT lanes also provide a more attractive ride for bus riders.

Public transportation plays an important role in providing mobility in metro Atlanta. Buses provide more flexibility than rail – or streetcar boondoggles – at lower cost, and can reach more transit-dependent Georgians. Growing ridership highlights the popularity of express bus service, which takes cars off the road.

The Legislature’s partial funding of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority for express bus service was a temporary resuscitation, but local governments and transit providers must find ways to achieve greater self-sufficiency. Transit providers must be urged to embrace managed competition, outsourcing, partnerships and efficiencies to minimize the taxpayer burden and rider subsidies.

Technology also has a massive role to play in reducing congestion. Georgia’s investment in intelligent transportation systems gives motorists warning of approaching problems. Synchronizing traffic lights improves traffic flow. Now, providers must employ smartphone “apps” to help navigate public transportation. The next step is driverless cars. Georgia should boldly follow Florida, Nevada and California and legalize them.

Tolling, embracing technology and diverting superfluous traffic around metro areas are all necessary. We also need to restore private investors’ confidence in Georgia; public-private partnerships have been tripped up too often. Waiting for the federal government to send money is a wasted effort.

As the economy recovers, traffic will worsen. The state can get ahead by focusing on transportation policy solutions that work — and on needs rather than the wants and politics that doomed the regional transportation sales tax project list.

Benita M. Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

29 comments Add your comment

The Last Democrat in Georgia

April 10th, 2013
2:31 pm

Jackson

April 10th, 2013
9:54 am

You make a decent case for an expansion of I-675 northwards to I-20.

And the idea of extending I-675 northwards to I-20 is not necessarily all that bad of an idea on its face, especially logistically as it would seem to make sense to extend I-675 a few more miles to the north to connect with I-20 through what seems be mostly lightly-developed areas and open space and give South Metro commuters another legitimate limited-access option for commuting into and out of the city.

But a serious proposal to extend I-675 north to connect with I-20 would be anything and everything but that simple, straightforward and cut-and-dry.

The increasingly powerful environmental lobby, led by groups like the surprisingly super-effective Intown Atlanta-based Sierra Club, has already played a lead role in helping to take down two of the largest roadbuilding initiatives put forth by the state in the last decade or so in the Northern Arc (a roadbuilding project which helped to get an entire political party kicked out of power in the long-ruling and once ultra-powerful Georgia Democrats) and last summer’s wildly-unpopular T-SPLOST (partly out of concern that revenues from the sales tax would be used to build a resurrected Northern Arc).

Ultra-hardcore anti-roadbuilding Intown interests also played a lead role in helping to shootdown the state’s seemingly not-all-that-serious proposal to resurrect the I-485 Presidential Parkway and I-675 extension north to I-85/GA 400 as a series of tolled subterranean tunnels under a historic Intown East Atlanta that was none-too-pleased with GDOT’s massive ITP road-expansion proposal.

If those hardcore anti-road expansion Intown interests were able to take down such serious state roadbuilding proposals like the Outer Perimeter, the Northern Arc and last summer’s T-SPLOST with very-little difficulty, they would have no problem again turning public opinion against a road-expansion proposal like extending I-675 north to I-20.

With the help of a highly-sympathetic media, the hardcore Intown anti-roadbuilding interests would very-easily be able to portray to an already highly road expansion-averse public, the I-675 extension project as a racist and classist crony-enriching roadbuilding project that would destroy open space and homes in the predominantly lower-income black neighborhoods that line the proposed route.

Because the project would be running through a predominantly-black area that would likely not want it, there would also be very-public heavy opposition by a politically-powerful and predominantly-black DeKalb County government which would shortly be joined by the NAACP, the Sierra Club and even the Tea Party who would oppose the project likely because of a building public perception that the project was only proceeding forward to benefit some politically well-connected roadbuilders.

Such a serious proposal to extend I-675 north to I-20 would only serve to be the latest in a long line of public relations disasters for a Georgia Department of Transportation that is no mood anymore public relations disasters after the numerous missteps of the past decade (Outer Perimeter, Northern Arc, I-75/I-575 NW HOT Lanes, mismanage by Sonny Perdue, micromanage by an unethical state legislature, the widely publicly-derided East Atlanta tunnel proposals, extreme accounting errors, the embarrassingly poor response of the agency to Winter Storm 2011, an extremely-turbulent I-85 HOT Lanes startup, GA 400 tolls, T-SPLOST, etc) have left the agency with very-low employee morale and a black eye to a public that has very-little, if any, confidence remaining in a transportation agency that was once considered to be one of the best state transportation agencies in the nation at the end of the 20th Century.

The Republican supermajority in the state legislature would also be extremely-hesitant to back such a politically-sensitive road-expansion project out of the fear that building public opposition to the controversial project would spin completely out of control and turn into the type of public backlash against the Northern Arc that helped to cost Georgia Democrats control of state government after 140 years of nearly absolute rule over the state’s political scene.

With the state’s demographics (which are already shockingly-similar to that of the Democrat-dominated state of Maryland) quickly changing the racial makeup of Georgia’s population in favor of the Democrats, Republicans are becoming more and more hesitant to do anything on a large-scale that could set in motion a process that could end with them losing control of the state’s political scene and ending up in a minority position that is very-similar to that of where Georgia Democrats are at present.

It is because of the likely aforementioned scenarios that we are likely never to see a proposal to extend I-675 north inside of I-285 to I-20, much less ANY road-expansion proposal inside of I-285, despite the need for some type of traffic of relief for South Metro Atlanta commuters and Metro Atlanta commuters in general.

If we do see serious traffic relief for South Metro Atlanta commuters and Metro Atlanta commuters in general, it will most likely be in the form of some type of rail-anchored expansion of mass transit (regional commuter bus lines that feed into and out of regional commuter rail lines) like the type that I alluded to earlier in the rail right-of-ways that parallel both sides of I-75 between Atlanta and Macon.

Though, at this moment, it will be awhile before any type of serious traffic relief happens in this volatile political climate where both anti-roadbuilding and anti-transit extremes dominate the political climate to the detriment of traffic congestion-fatigued Georgians.

Jackson

April 10th, 2013
9:54 am

Democrat,

I appreciate your reply regarding I-675. I recently read about the 20-year Presidential Parkway debate. I think a northern extension of I-675 would be different, as it’s open land to the Constitution Road area, then takes out only part of an old apartment complex as it crosses Bouldercrest Road to follow an undeveloped creek basin to I-20. Very few displacements. This is as low as the fruit can hang, with regard to ever increasing highway capacity inside of I-285.

On the Fulton/Forsyth line

April 10th, 2013
3:36 am

How about kickstarter for interchanges? Raise X00 million dollars and we build it. Your reward is a few minutes of your life back every day from now on. At some point, employers flee to less congested areas. John’s Creek is working on its little piece of the puzzle. So is everyone else, but no one has nearly enough money.

The Last Democrat in Georgia

April 9th, 2013
8:12 pm

An observer

April 9th, 2013
5:45 pm

{{”How about making kids ride the school bus!”}}

I understand what you mean with all of the extra traffic that is generated out on the roads with parents driving their children to and from school mornings and afternoons.

An observer

April 9th, 2013
5:45 pm

How about making kids ride the school bus!

The Last Democrat in Georgia

April 9th, 2013
4:36 pm

Shamehia

April 9th, 2013
3:46 pm

{{”More often than not whenever we build or widen a roadway around metro Atlanta the first thing the mental giants at GDOT and the city/county transportation agencies do is string traffic lights every 300 feet to slow traffic to a crawl.”}}

Take it easy on GDOT and those city/county transportation agencies, they’re only taking orders from the people with the REAL power over transportation planning in Metro Atlanta…real estate developers.

Relatively recently-built new roads like the East-West Connector and Barrett Parkway in Cobb County, Sugarloaf Parkway and Satellite Boulevard in Gwinnett County and North Point Parkway in North Fulton and relatively recently-widened roads like GA Hwy 20 in Buford and the like were not built and/or widened to improve traffic flow.

Those roads were built and/or widened to GENERATE traffic flow, to benefit new commercial real estate developments like apartment complexes, industrial developments and, ESPECIALLY shopping malls.

MANGLER

April 9th, 2013
4:27 pm

I think we need more double-left turn lanes that immediately merge into single lanes as you turn that seem to dot the area. Those morning merging battles are sure to wake you up when even the stiffest of coffee won’t do it.
And I like that most left turn lanes seem to have 2 functioning lights hanging over them. This creates a humorous level of confusion for tourists or those not familiar with the area.
Let’s not forget the northern arc’s second most fun driving game to play (after survive this merge) which is lane slalom. Never being quite sure if your lane will go through, merge left, merge right, v-off into a Publix, or just sort of end into a bush. Good times.

Shamehia

April 9th, 2013
3:46 pm

More often than not whenever we build or widen a roadway around metro Atlanta the first thing the mental giants at GDOT and the city/county transportation agencies do is string traffic lights every 300 feet to slow traffic to a crawl. If they’d ever learn how to synchronize those signals that would be a huge leap forward into the 21st century.

The Last Democrat in Georgia

April 9th, 2013
3:28 pm

MANGLER

April 9th, 2013
9:15 am

Those are excellent points as one of the major problems with our transportation network in Georgia is a glaring lack of attention by the state to traffic flow on surface roads.