Getting moving again on transportation fixes

By Benita Dodd

Georgia’s economy is picking up, and with it the daily traffic congestion as growing numbers of commuters travel to jobs. Inertia followed the failure of the 2012 transportation sales tax (T-SPLOST) in nine of 12 regions, but it’s time to move forward on transportation.
Georgia still needs funding. Congress’ stalemate and growing national infrastructure demands are shrinking the federal pot. At home, even if Georgia legislators possessed the political will to increase it, the state fuel tax remains a source of diminishing funds. It’s tougher to fund infrastructure maintenance and repairs, let alone enhancements, amid erosion by greater fuel efficiency, more alternative-fuel vehicles and money going to programs that do little to ease congestion.
Clearly, Georgia must wean itself off the feds and work to implement state-based transportation priorities for its growing transportation needs. Funding projects such as fixed guideways, road diets, streetcars and streetscapes take away taxpayer dollars needed for mobility improvement and congestion relief. The strings and environmental overregulation tied to federal funds delay projects, increase costs and reduce Georgia’s flexibility and ability to prioritize.
There are existing funding sources. One penny of every four from the state gas sales tax goes to Georgia’s general fund. That’s 25 percent! Voters will be far more receptive when the state dedicates existing taxes. Then, enable a fractional sales tax for Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes (SPLOST). Local governments would have the flexibility to divvy up an existing penny tax instead of adding a penny.
It’s also time to prioritize user fees through tolling and, ultimately, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) charges once policymakers can allay privacy concerns. All motorists pay when a road is tolled. Electronic tolling eliminates booth delays, and interstate reciprocity agreements facilitate payment.
Tolling is not just a funding mechanism. Dynamic (time-of-day) tolling is also “congestion insurance,” guaranteeing a trip time while motorists consider the value of their route and timing of their trip. A network of express toll lanes along interstates will provide seamless transition across metro Atlanta, not only for automobiles but for buses (whose users are now stuck in the same congestion), increasing the attractiveness of mass transit.
As for public transportation: Private options such as Uber, Lyft and Megabus should be encouraged, not handicapped. It’s way past time for Atlanta to increase the number of taxi medallions. And efficiency, cost-effectiveness and need should govern transit decisions.
For Georgia, the benefits of technology in transportation and safety are enormous: improving traffic light timing and synchronization; embracing GPS-based, real-time smartphone apps for transportation — including public transportation; working to accommodate the arrival of autonomous (“driverless”) automobiles; and making the NaviGAtor intelligent transportation system more responsive to incidents and not just informational.
Finally, adding capacity is not simply a matter of adding lanes but of removing vehicles. To that end, enabling through traffic — passenger and freight — to bypass metro Atlanta will free space within Atlanta. Completing and enhancing developmental highways, including U.S. 27 and the Fall Line Freeway, will free Atlanta of gridlock and open Georgia’s roads.

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

3 comments Add your comment

Mike

April 28th, 2014
11:42 am

What’s next? “Bank robberies should be encouraged” ? Because ride-sharing business model
is THEFT in daylight. It’s as simple as that.
Don’t be fooled, dear reader. It’s not about “choices” or “fair competition”. It’s about all that CASH that your local municipality was taking IN from issuance / transfer of transportation business permits and their subsequent regulation. Ride-sharing private California corporations want that. They could care less about anything else. City revenue LOST is literally ride-sharing law-breakers PROFIT. How, you ask? Simple, ride-sharing private corporations aggressively refuse regulation and refuse paying for business permits claiming a “new” business model (well, because “GPS”). Where city made MILLIONS – city will now get PENNIES. There is nothing else but a THEFT from municipal coffers. Ride-sharing private corporations will flood local markets – and minimum wage drivers will wait for hours for 1 single smartphone dispatch. Who benefits from all this madness? Ride-sharing California-based oligarchy. That’s who. If THEY truly wanted a FAIR competition – they would pay SAME EXACT expenses that all your local transportation businesses are paying daily. That would be FAIR. But that would mean a FAIR competition. And ride-sharing corporations would lose that in A DAY – so they perpetuate a myth of them being special and different…. “well, because GPS”. Ride-sharing is a FRAUD on a mass-scale. Shame to all local politicians and all those who knowingly or unknowingly sell out their local economies and their local law-abiding small businesses for the sake of 2-3 California ride-sharing oligarchies.

Gerald

April 27th, 2014
8:28 pm

@Chip:

So you are saying that Atlanta’s roads are not congested? Or that they are congested but nothing should be done about it?

@Benita Dodd:

1. “One penny of every four from the state gas sales tax goes to Georgia’s general fund. That’s 25 percent! Voters will be far more receptive when the state dedicates existing taxes.”

I wish people would give up this fantasy. Ending the 25% of the gas tax going to the general fund would reduce the general fund by tens of millions – well past $100 million – dollars. While cutting spending is a goal of conservatives and libertarians in general, in Georgia, which is a low-spending state already, it is impossible to reduce spending by that amount without negatively impacting constituencies that the GOP needs. And as the state population becomes more nonwhite, that means that the GOP needs moderate, independent and even somewhat liberal white voters even more. That is why the GOP raced to spend more on public education this session, and also why they acted to keep rural hospitals from closing: every white vote counts. Reducing the general fund without making it up will mean cuts to education, health care and other programs that lots of white voters – especially those outside the metro Atlanta area – rely on. And as “making it up” means finding another revenue source (which means another tax), it is much more politically expedient to leave things well enough alone than make cuts that will be unpopular with white people or raise taxes to offend their conservative base.

2. Your list in general is a suburban-heavy list. It almost totally ignores that 950,000 million people live in Fulton County and 700,000 more people live in DeKalb County. Toll roads with distance-based fares are great for suburban areas like Cobb, Gwinnett, Cherokee etc. but are useless for urban areas where the distances are much shorter and people can avoid them for side streets. The only thing that would help the urban areas is the proposal to allow freight traffic to bypass the metro area. The other stuff is nonsense. Increasing taxi medallions won’t accomplish anything because the main issue is commuter traffic. Few people are going to take the taxi to work every day because it is expensive, and even if they do it is the same number of cars on the road; merely replacing a personal car with a taxicab. Uber, Lyft and Megabus will do no good if their vehicles get stuck in the same traffic jams as everybody else, and again if the cost is prohibitive (if it is not cheaper than driving your car) no one will take advantage of it. Also, I would like to know exactly what regulations exist that allegedly hamper those private options anyway. Folks who oppose actual transportation always vaguely mention them without specifying them. I say that no such regulations exist. If they did, the many GOPers in the state legislature would have repealed them long ago. As for “embracing GPS-based, real-time smartphone apps for transportation” … excuse me, but why even list this? The government has nothing to do with whether private citizens and companies use these or not. As far as “working to accommodate the arrival of autonomous (“driverless”) automobile” … the technology is not there yet. Are you claiming that government should fund research in that area? If so, what other things do you want the government to spend money on? But the promise of driverless automobiles that is 10 years away from being adopted on a wide scale at minimum should not influence transportation policy TODAY (and incidentally wide-scale adoption of such technology would require costly changes to our existing transportation infrastructure … how do you propose to pay for that)? And enough with the “improving traffic light timing and synchronization” canard. This has been stated by local governments many times … traffic light timing and synchronization is only possible in well-planned areas where city streets, blocks, etc. are of uniform lengths and size. The area needs to have a gridlike pattern based on geographic shapes (preferably squares and rectangles). Otherwise, timing and synchronizing street lights in a way that would move traffic is practically impossible. Albert Einstein would not be able to come up with an algorithm for traffic light timing and synchronization in metro Atlanta because of the haphazard way that this city – central core and outward – was designed, planned and implemented. The only reason why this canard keeps getting put out there is the same reason that the “regulation hamstringing taxis and private bus systems” nonsense is: to make people believe that there is something simple and easy that could be done that the BLACK leadership of Atlanta is either too incompetent to do, or refuses to do because letting the problem lingers gives them a pretense to chase WHITE tax dollars from the suburbs and the rest of Georgia. It makes for good Nixonian southern strategy politics that keeps policy at a logjam, but it is not the truth.

As long as the suburban and urban areas keep talking past each other like this, ignoring and opposing each other’s legitimate needs and worthy projects for ideological and racial reasons, nothing is going to get done. Face it: the suburban areas need their highways. And yes, the urban areas need MARTA to be expanded into North Fulton and south DeKalb (and almost certainly Clayton County depending on how the November vote goes). The state has a compelling interest in both (economic development plus meeting federal air quality regulations imposed by the Nixon and George H.W. Bush administration – that is right, Republicans!) so it has to take the lead in PLANNING AND FUNDING both.

Chip

April 27th, 2014
7:23 am

My goodness, the Boondoggle People are like Terminators… they just keep coming and keep coming… ignoring the will of the people who utterly crushed the TSPLOT…

” Inertia followed the failure of the 2012 transportation sales tax (T-SPLOST) in nine of 12 regions, but it’s time to move forward on transportation.”

No, Ms. Dodd, it is NOT time to “move forward” on more corruption and more waste. It’s time for people like you to find better things to do with yourselves than fantasize about spending Other People’s Money.