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.
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.
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.