Cobb’s comprehensive transportation plan

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

Cobb County government is listening, and preparing to listen some more. As part of their new comprehensive transportation plan, county officials are seeking resident feedback regarding the best options for their tax dollars. In our second column, one county leader speaks out in favor of express bus service, urging Cobb to build on a system that’s already in place and working well.

Commenting is open below.

Cobb residents need to weigh in on roads

By Tim Lee

If you want a first-hand perspective concerning a roadway, you don’t have to search. Just ask the person who drives on it every day.

Anyone with a commute — a businessperson, a technician on a service call, or simply a person taking an elderly parent to a doctor’s appointment — can tell you which lights take longer than others. They can tell which roads have more traffic, and they know when to avoid bumper-to-bumper congestion. And if you asked them to pinpoint a problem or a solution, I’ll bet they can do that as well.

This is why we are seeking the public’s input as part of our Comprehensive Transportation Plan update. The program, which will establish strategies and make recommendations to serve us through the year 2040, is also essential to our eligibility for the state and federal funding that helps pay for transportation projects.

How important is this? State and federal governments have authorized more than $43.5 million for Cobb County projects in 2013. The previous year, it was $16.4 million. The year before that, it was $47.7 million. If we didn’t meet the required public input standards, this money would have had to be raised from other sources in order to continue the work.

We also want to hear from residents about the improvements they are willing to support. Not only are we interested in specific suggestions, we also want to know how the public wants us to pay for them. Are you willing to support aggressive transportation solutions that make huge impacts, or are you willing to make do with the status quo?

It’s like going out to eat. If you don’t want to spend much, you will probably seek out fast food. If you want a high-quality dinner, you have to be prepared to pay more for it. We need to know what residents prefer, and how much they’re willing to pay for it.

Obviously, government has to be responsive to its populace. We work for you. Our decisions should be based on the best results for everyone who lives, works and travels here. Prior to our most recent special purpose local option sales tax vote, we held 24 separate public meetings in two months to get input.

Feedback consistently helps us improve transportation projects throughout the community. For instance, on Six Flags Drive, improvements called for a fence and lengthy median. Comments by those who live and work there helped point out their concerns, leading us to arrange for cut-throughs that balance safety with traffic flow.

We need residents to check our website , www.cobbcounty.org/dot, and contact us with their ideas. This is, after all, not just for them. It is crucial to shaping our community to face the future in decades to come. We are planning what our community will be like for our children. And their children.

I cannot think of a more important mission. And I cannot think of a better way to accomplish it than asking those who live here for the best way to make it happen.

Tim Lee is chairman of the Cobb County Commission.

Express bus best option for mobility

By Ron Sifen

In post-T-SPLOST Atlanta, Cobb County might lead the region to a workable, cost-effective “Plan B” that could actually reduce traffic congestion in Cobb and throughout the region.

Or, Cobb could lead the region into committing future transportation dollars to unfortunate obligations that will permanently financially obstruct us from ever solving our transportation problems.

Cobb is working on its Comprehensive Transportation Plan update. The county also is studying a $1.1 billion, Kennesaw-to-Atlanta, bus rapid transit or BRT proposal. The BRT plan would allocate a huge percentage of Cobb’s financial resources to a “fixed guideway” project whose primary purpose is to incentivize development of private property, but would do little to improve commute times in Cobb.

Sixty-three percent of the region, and 69 percent of Cobb County, voted “no” on the T-SPLOST. Ultimately, a majority of voters recognized that T-SPLOST misallocated billions of dollars to projects that would benefit special interests but do little to reduce traffic congestion.

The rejection of T-SPLOST does not mean voters want to do nothing. Most taxpayers would support a package of transportation projects that would effectively reduce commute times on our roads and use our tax dollars cost-effectively.

This criteria does not exclude transit. But it should exclude the billion-dollar BRT plan.

Cost-effective transit that meets our mobility needs should be part of a comprehensive transportation plan for Cobb and the region.

Express bus is transit best suited to meet the transportation needs of commuters in a region with very low population density and widely dispersed employment centers. Expansion of our already-successful express bus service would do more to reduce traffic congestion than the far-more-expensive BRT proposal.

When the I-75 /575 managed lanes are completed, express buses will provide commuters a time-competitive alternative to driving, which will further increase ridership.

New, local bus routes could be implemented for a few million dollars. Regular local and express buses are also less expensive to operate and maintain than BRT. BRT would consume millions of future transportation dollars annually for one transit route. Those funds would be better allocated to real mobility needs elsewhere in Cobb.

Cobb should prioritize improving bottlenecks at intersections and interchanges; making low-cost, high-impact investments in technology, and shortening response times for clearing traffic accidents.

Transit will always necessitate a taxpayer subsidy. That does not mean taxpayers should be bludgeoned with outrageous costs. We need good transit service that addresses real mobility needs at a reasonable cost to taxpayers.

Ultra-expensive BRT will financially obstruct Cobb from comprehensively addressing its transportation needs countywide.

Ron Sifen is president of the Cobb County Civic Coalition.

11 comments Add your comment

The Last Democrat in Georgia

July 23rd, 2013
2:55 pm

MANGLER

July 23rd, 2013
9:54 am

{{{”As for privatizing transportation (you sure you’re a Dem?), businesses don’t give a rat’s patooty about the needs of the lesser affluent, just the bottom line. That’s why government sets up and operates infrastructure, because it inherently does not make profit. Private enterprise never has had an interest in transportation or roads since it costs to much to implement them and maintain them. Oh sure, they’ll ride in and “manage’ MARTA or a toll highway once the government has built it, but I don’t see companies lining up to bid on building train tracks or bus lanes, just to operate them.”}}}

Private entities very much do have an interest in managing and operating roads as demonstrated by the dozens of companies and entities from all over the world that lined up to bid on both the previous and current version of the public-private partnership-financed I-75/I-575 Northwest Corridor HOT Lanes.

Private entities will have even more interest in financing the design, construction, operation and continuing maintenance of multimodal transportation infrastructure when the revenues from real estate assets are entered into the equation.

With public funding and subsidies becoming increasingly-limited due to diminishing revenues from fuel taxes and government in general, we have no choice but to turn to the private sector for funding our transportation needs which continue to grow with a growing population despite rapidly-shrinking revenues.

Combining distance-based user fees on transit lines (up to $0.30-0.40 per mile in 2013 dollars), distance-based user fees on major roads (up to roughly $0.06 per-mile off-peak hours/up to roughly $1.00 per-mile during peak hours in 2013 dollars) and private financing to make roads and transit lines SELF-FUNDED WITHOUT PUBLIC SUBSIDIES is the wave of the future.

Giving roads and transit lines the ability to fund their own existence had better be the wave of the future, otherwise roads and transit won’t have much of a future.

The money to design, build, operate and maintain roads and transit lines has to come from somewhere, it might as well come directly from the people who use those crucial modes of transportation with much-needed help from the private sector.

MANGLER

July 23rd, 2013
10:07 am

Eliminating congestion by eliminating stoplights and increasing the distance between stoplights on busy surface roads, improving freeway interchanges with the installation of Diverging Diamonds and SPUIs (Single-Point Urban Interchanges) and installing more bike lanes all are excellent ideas.

But those excellent ideas still have to be paid for someway, somehow…hence the switch from fuel tax funding to user fees and private financing on major roads.

Just one inflation-indexed distance-based user fee-funded roadway in the Illinois Tollway system, the I-294/I-94 Tri-State Tollway, brings in nearly $300 million each year (the I-294/I-94 Tri-State Tollway brought in $297 million in revenues in 2012 alone) which is almost as much as the road construction and road maintenance budget for the entire State of Georgia (approximately $301 million a year for the next few years).

The I-294/I-94 Tri-State Tollway pays for itself WITHOUT the use of federal or state fuel tax funding.

In recent years the State of Illinois has used that nearly $300 million yearly that the Tri-State Tollway brings in from user fees to:

…Widen the road to 8 lanes throughout its entire length;

…Install noise barriers through residential areas throughout the entire length of the road;

…Resurface and rehabilitate the roadway surface for the entire length of the road;

…Install urban night-lighting along the entire length of the road;

Switching from increasingly-limited fuel tax funding to distance-based user fee funding on the I-285 Perimeter would bring in over $250 million in funding each year just for the nearly 64-mile long I-285 Perimeter roadway alone.

That’s much-needed funding which would allow the state to rebuild every major interchange on I-285, install additional noise-barriers where needed and desired through residential areas, and install urban night-lighting along the entire length of the urban roadway which would increase safety by bring much-needed light to dark areas of the dangerous urban roadway.

Term-leasing a user-fee funded I-285 Perimeter roadway out to a private entity would bring in up to $3 BILLION in much-needed revenues to state coffers, much-needed revenues that could be used for transportation construction projects elsewhere in the state while also ELIMINATING the cost to the state of maintaining the I-285 Perimeter roadway during the life of the lease.