Transportation proposals need to take us somewhere

What does a proposal for an interstate from Savannah to Knoxville have in common with a plan for a streetcar connecting the Georgia Aquarium to the King Historic District?

Both have more to do with trying to move money than with moving people or freight.

Neither proposal is new. But both resurfaced this week — the interstate because a feasibility study for the project is now under way, the streetcar because its supporters applied for a second round of federal grants for transit projects.

Let’s look at each one.

The highway, dubbed I-3 in honor of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, based at Fort Stewart near Savannah, was pushed in the mid-2000s by two then-members of Congress from Georgia: Reps. Max Burns and Charlie Norwood.

We certainly need to route traffic, particularly cargo, around Atlanta to reduce congestion here. But a new interstate from Savannah to Knoxville promises little improvement.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a route that’s significantly shorter than just going through South Carolina on the existing I-95, I-26 and I-40.

Georgia has already spent more than $250 million four-laning a path between Augusta and Savannah, perhaps the most justifiable segment of I-3. But the highway’s proponents have hardly bothered to try to justify it on what you might call transportation grounds.

Instead, they speak mostly of the economic development the freeway might bring to the eastern part of the state. I hope they don’t mean the kind of economic development that has so far eluded I-16 between Macon and Savannah, and I-185 on the way to Columbus.

Transportation dollars will remain scarce, even if regions pass the new one-penny sales tax that the Legislature approved this spring. They must go toward the projects that will improve mobility the most.

That happens to be the best way to attract investment, too, a lesson that also seems lost on those Atlantans pushing the streetcar project.

Tourists would be the biggest beneficiaries of the streetcar, which would run from the aquarium, alongside Centennial Olympic Park, through Fairlie-Poplar, and finally down Auburn Avenue to historic sites from the civil rights era.

Nothing against tourists, but Atlanta’s biggest congestion headaches come from commuting, not tourism, and generally are on highways, not downtown surface streets.

And never mind that MARTA already runs a subway line that comes within a couple of blocks of most of the major destinations, is canceling a little-used bus route that’s very similar to the proposed streetcar’s path, and discontinued a previous tourist trolley in the same area due to poor ridership.

The broader plan also calls for a trolley line along Peachtree Street, north to Brookhaven and south toward Fort McPherson. It’s central to an attempt to create Atlanta’s version of the Champs-Élysées in Paris or Michigan Avenue in Chicago.

Both streets are wonderful, famous — and lack streetcars. Which is inconvenient for the argument that Peachtree needs a streetcar to emulate them.

The Peachtree Streetcar is a prestige project that developers, of course, love. To the degree that it addresses commuting, our biggest transportation need, it casts an eye toward the problems of future residents who might opt to live in a more dense urban setting. Or might not; we don’t know yet.

What we do know is that the “last mile” for real congestion relief lies not on Peachtree, but probably somewhere in Cobb, Gwinnett or north Fulton.

Both I-3 and the streetcar would be swell ideas if we had transportation cash to burn. We don’t. The money we do have needs to chase travelers, not developers.

40 comments Add your comment


August 26th, 2010
10:12 am

I like the ideas of street cars……good article Kyle…….holly cow did I just write that ?


August 26th, 2010
10:28 am

If you look at an existing interstate map, I-3 would not save much mileage off the four lane Sav to Augusta then to I-20, then to I-26 then to I-40 to knoxville (as you mentioned) so it is a waste of money. The streetcars may add some charm to ATL, but again, not needed. What is needed is cutting unnecessary spending and govt waste and paying down our national debt. Projects like these are sickening considering our hinds are at risk with the amount of debt we owe.


August 26th, 2010
10:29 am

Not necessarily, roads do not have to take us any place, that is the psychiatrists favorite ploy, that when we get in our car the destitnation should be defined, a hyperbole for our lives taking us some place. If the government had a plan to take us some place would you take that road. Fortunately, we do not have to worry about it, it is not going any place but deeper in debt.

Ga Driver

August 26th, 2010
10:29 am

Just what we need, a streetcar jamming up surface streets and an interstate to nowhere.

As noted there are already interstate corridors that service those lanes. If there was a demand for trolley’s running around downtown it would be filled. As noted there have been multiple permeatations of trolleys, buses, etc that were not used.

But it’s Federal money so it’s “free”.

Kyle Wingfield

August 26th, 2010
10:30 am

Peter: I have nothing against streetcars per se…I took one to work nearly every day in Brussels. But I don’t think the ones currently proposed rank very high on our list of transportation priorities.

tar and feathers party

August 26th, 2010
10:34 am

There is no limit to the thieves who want to spend other people’s money on their own pet projects. Streetcars on Peachtree Street will just add to the congestion experienced by daily commuters on that street. As for I-3, the congestion problem is here in the Atlanta metro area, not hundreds of miles to the East. Tax dollars collected here in the metro area have repeatedly been stolen by State politicians and diverted to rural Georgia. I have been amazed by the number and quality of empty 4 lane highways in rural Georgia. I urge all corporate leaders here in metro Atlanta to close all their rural plants and offices, as punishment for the diversion of our tax dollars to rural Georgia. Make it known why you are firing the rural thieves.


August 26th, 2010
10:40 am

KW, let’s cut to the chase here. ALL POLITICS IS ABOUT MOVING MONEY. the war on terrorism is about moving money from American taxpayers to defense contractors, and not “removing terrorists”, the war on poverty is not about “removing poverty”, etc.. The war on drugs, the war on climate change. ALL POLITICIANS ARE PIMPS (and pimping isn’t about moving sex, it’s about moving money from Johns to pimps).


August 26th, 2010
11:09 am


August 26th, 2010
11:24 am

The I-3 proposal is just downright hilarious! How could a new freeway across the eastern continental divide not be a financial and environmental disaster?! At least the Downtown trolley (on actual rails, not a fake trolley on rubber) would add a little much needed charm to one of the worst downtowns of any major city. Though even I agree, it’s probably not a great use of transportation funds….


August 26th, 2010
11:37 am

Kyle: “The money we do have needs to chase travelers, not developers.

Hear, hear! I’m happy to take this rare opportunity to agree with Kyle completely

I’m rarely on the roads or highways during rush hour, but last Friday, I was stuck on I-75 North for one hour trying to get from the Cumberland interchange to the I-575 split. One hour to travel about 12 miles. Unbelievable.

Do Atlantans really do that every day? If so, why do they put up with it? Why aren’t tens of thousands of commuters continually writing letters, making phone calls, attending town hall meetings, and generally raising hell? I’m mystified by the complacency.


August 26th, 2010
11:52 am

No outer loop, no I-3. Simple matter of obvious transportation priorities. Of course, when politicians and opportunity to spend money meet the taxpayers and the public will inevitably get taken for a ride.

CJ: Yes, we do put up with it daily (that’s the route I travel to work), though your one-hour ride is on the long end of the spectrum.

The reason we don’t scream louder is clammoring for more roads and lanes inevitably leads to proposals certain to waste millions of dollars and achieve sub-standard results: all the expansion proposals are for HOV lanes, pay lanes, mass transit (which is virtually burning money for no measurable end-result). When we get some politicians concerned about solving people’s problems the people will be more than happy to sit down and work with them. I’m not holding my breath.


August 26th, 2010
11:53 am

If Ga wants a stimulus from roadbuilding and wants to bypass ATL, build it from SAV to AUG, to ATH to Cartersville and tie in with I75.


August 26th, 2010
11:56 am

bo: Great idea. Run for office.


August 26th, 2010
11:58 am

Sounds like I-3 is another version of US 27 from Columbus through Southwest Ga. They spent millions and it took years to 4-lane and there is never any traffic on it. Seriously, you can drive for miles and be the only car in sight. And it bypasses the small towns that could use the traffic. Huge boondoggle that benefits only the politicians and paving companies.


August 26th, 2010
12:14 pm

…for every transportation project, just show me a cost-benefit analysis, even a preliminary one before spending any money. That would help separate the wheat from the chaff. Haven’t seen a thing for either one of these project. At first glance, I would agree they both seem to be really poor choices.

I like streetcars just fine, too, but there are a dozen other routes I can think of that would be better than the one proposed. How about getting the west side of the connector (Atlantic Station/GA Tech/CocaCola) connected to MARTA and the Xpress (GCC and CCT) suburban buses, just for starters?

As for I-3. The next cost benefit analysis I see on a highway project will be the first! I-16’s main economic development benefit is the coffers of Treutlen County’s Sheriff’s Dept. I can’t imagine I-3 doing any better.

barking frog

August 26th, 2010
12:52 pm

High speed rail will make freeways obsolete, or
rather High speed rail studies will make freeway
studies obsolete.


August 26th, 2010
12:59 pm

Road and paving company owners ALWAYS have the nicest homes.

Port O'John

August 26th, 2010
1:10 pm

Barnes proposed a west-side streetcar when he was guv — it was going to connect downtown, Atlantic Station, Tech and neighborhoods west of I-75 and then into downtown Marietta. Cobb County hated the idea (so did the Buckhead neighborhoods – transit a mile a way is just too close for some folks). CCT and GRTA buses already connect with MARTA stations — just look at the MARTA stations (5 Points, North Avenue, etc.)

I think Kyle’s being unfair about the streetcar line. A lot more people live in these areas than suburbanites realize and it would get commuter traffic. Kyle also conveniently ignores that the streecar would run right through the Georgia State campus and connect it with the high-density construction being bult in the old Grady Homes area. Then Kyle switched his criticism to the Peachtree Street line — which was dumped for lack of fiscal support and made less sense than this one. The AJC deserted downtown for the suburbs so his comments about the MLK to Centennial Park route need to be taken in context that Kyle is coming from an anti-transit bias and he neither lives or works in the area. I’ve lived in Atlanta 20 years and always worked downtwon while commuting from nearby in-town neighborhoods on MARTA. But I guess I don’t know what I’m talking about.

What Kyle and other transit opponents will not factor in is that streetcars, unlike buses, foster commercial development and growth. Even in places like Houston, Phoenix and Dallas streetcar lines have met ridership goals and promoted growth. You would think that pro-growth conservatives would give streetcars at least a fair look – but since streetcars don’t play into automobile dependency and related industries, they won’t get political support in Georgia from the legislature, GDOT or Governor. Seems that red-state places like Phoenix, Dallas and Houston have figured that out, but not Georgia where the focus is on suburban growth. But there you have it.

Its about time that Atlanta taxes were used to support transit in Atlanta instead of building roads in South Georgia and the mountains. Atlanta has transit riders and density to support modest streetcar projects and the only way they will get built is by by-passing GDOT, the Governor and Georgia Legislature. If it was up to those three nothing would change inside 285. Actually putting money into the proposal instead of asking for 100% federal funds will give thus project a chance with the feds — which will give it a much fairer hearing than Perdue, GDOT or the Legislature (or conservative opinion writers for the AJC).

As for wanting to spend money on addressing commuting from the suburbs to the city — the suburbs have had their chance to do that for 30 years and failed. Its called building infrastructure through financial support (yes, taxes). The suburbs don’t support them, while Fulton and DeKalb have. Its that simple.

The conservative solution in Georgia? Turn HOV lanes into toll roads (coming your way on I-85 in Gwinnett). That way we can pay for the same road several times and folks in the burbs can continue to commute alone in their cars. You won’t see Kyle discussing that turkey of a project: $110 million to convert an existing lane into a toll lane — but no changes to exit ramps, lane separation or toll booths, just cameras to read the permit sticker on your window; now that is a bone-headed boondoggle courtesy of Sonny Perdue and GDOT. I wonder who got that contract? But since it doesn’t involve the City of Atlanta or airport there is no need for Kyle to look into this waste of taxpayer money.

But the I-85 toll lane will allow Gwinnettians who can afford it to continue solo driving to work and that’s the Georgia version of the American Dream.

Enjoy your car.

Junior Samples

August 26th, 2010
1:28 pm

I-3 would be a great way to generate revenue, for the local police departments…


August 26th, 2010
1:46 pm

“You would think that pro-growth conservatives would give streetcars at least a fair look – but since streetcars don’t play into automobile dependency and related industries, they won’t get political support in Georgia from the legislature, GDOT or Governor. ”

Always looking for someone else’s money to fund your pet projects. Typical Lib.

If streetcars are such a great idea why doesn’t the city invest in them, or find local private investors? Answer: Most likely, they aren’t going to produce the touted benefits.


August 26th, 2010
1:53 pm

We had streetcars in downtown Atlanta. Why did we get rid of them?

Why are we building more interstates when our green cars only go 50 miles?


August 26th, 2010
1:58 pm

“The conservative solution in Georgia? Turn HOV lanes into toll roads ”

I don’t in any way consider that a “conservative solution” and I CERTAINLY do not consider Sonny Perdue to be “conservative”. Strike the word “conservative” from that paragraph and I would generally accept your viewpoint; the term is misused in this context.

Rafe Hollister

August 26th, 2010
2:00 pm

I like Bo’s idea. We definetely need a way to get from Cartersville to Gainesville without adding to the traffic on 285. A streetcar down PTree would be nice if some private firm would build it and operate it. We do not need anymore government supplemented and operated boondoogles. The trouble with a private company is that the true cost of operation would make the fares so high the local wouldn’t use it.


August 26th, 2010
2:06 pm

“Why are we building more interstates when our green cars only go 50 miles?”

I have a gold car. It goes far more than 50 miles, and you can find a similar vehicle on most new or used car lots.

I had no reservations about selecting a car that would travel more than 50 miles, and I would not buy one that would not.

Road Scholar

August 26th, 2010
2:12 pm

If you had read the Interstate Strategic plan conducted by GDOT, you would have found that most of the Interstate pavement from Atlanta to Savannah, and elswhere, has become worn out. A major investment in pavement and bridge replacement will be needed in the near future along our Interstates since all these routes had a 20 year design life, and are well older than 20 years.
The 4 lane widening north of Savannah does not include limited access. It has at grade intersections, like most of the GRIP system has (not interchanges). For trucks to be efficient and effective over the long haul, they cannot be making several stops at traffic lights. They need the limited access (interchanges) that an Interstate type facility has so the traffic never stops for cross/turning traffic.

Finally, most of the constructed GRIP system doesn’t have traffic that supports the need for 4 lanes. You can go for miles before you see anaother motorist…in either direction. I’m convinced that the stated purpose (to have all/majority of cities within an hour of a 4 lane) was a scam to get short term construction jobs in rural Ga at the expense of Atlanta.

markie mark

August 26th, 2010
3:00 pm

@ Dawgdad…..

I think Linda was sarcastically being tongue-in-cheek…… least I hope she was….Linda?


August 26th, 2010
3:04 pm

I think you may be right.


August 26th, 2010
3:21 pm

Markie Mark @ 3:00, I’m still trying to figure out what a gold car is. There’s one in a bank in Texas, a 24 karat gold DeLorean. It’s one of 2 left. I guess Dawg Dad has the other one.

I would not buy a hybrid under any circumstances. I’ve owned a couple of Mercedes & they are the greatest (& safest) cars in the world, except in the winter. They come with their own umbilical cords. If you don’t park them in the garage or forget to plug them in at night, you will be sorry the next morning. If you forget to unplug them in the morning, you will be twice as sorry.


August 26th, 2010
3:26 pm

I never did get the streetcar idea. It would be better if MARTA went more places and if the BeltLine was accelerated. North Fulton/Cobb/Gwinnett can go screw themselves. They made their own mess by blocking MARTA expansion and City of Atlanta annexation. They need to move intown.

Hillbilly Deluxe

August 26th, 2010
3:45 pm

My guess is there is some large company or companies that run a lot of trucks between Knoxville and Savannah (think previously proposed highways from Dalton to Gainesville) and/or there are some people with a lot of land inbetween the two cities who need to sell some land in a depressed real estate market. They’d make lovely interchanges I bet. All these people are of course, well connected.


August 26th, 2010
3:49 pm

More openness to telecommute may be a good option to ease traffic congestion. Yes there are plenty of establishments that do offer it, but not at the extent that is helps traffic suggestion. I travel a lot to Maryland and Virginia and I’m amazed at how those two states and the District of Columbia have created a network between their business districts that eases their traffic congestion. Their workforce can start the work day without losing an hour and a half or more stuck in traffic.

Here in the Atlanta Metro area, I still haven’t seen telecommute take off full-steam. Even where I work some employees and departments can telecommute, but it is not open to all of the employees even though duties and tasks are similar. The large corporations and medium organizations should give telecommute a chance to mature here.

Question Authority

August 26th, 2010
4:19 pm

The Free Market can take us wherever we need to go. Government central planning, zoning regulations, destruction of private property rights, and every other government created mess is the reason why the market has not been allowed to solve this important problem.


August 26th, 2010
4:25 pm

There’s only 22 Tenn. compared to 564 GA alumni living in Savannah. It’s unfair for the Vols to have their own road. Knoxville is another 100 miles further from Savannah than Athens. Besides, we have a dog that must be on time.

Question Authority

August 26th, 2010
5:47 pm

Hillbilly Deluxe – Your assessment is right on. Highway construction and “public transportation” are probably the most corrupt area of government market intervention you can find. These folks can turn asphalt into gold (for themselves of course).

As an example, Lincoln is praised as the champion of the transcontinental railroad. Of course it was the oppressive tarrifs on southern and imported goods that were funnelled into the railroad construction that made it possible. Lincoln as well purchased huge tracts of land and then routed the railroad line right by his own property so that he would make out like a bandit. Lincoln, Nebraska I believe. The name is no coincidence.

Not just a mass murderer, but a blatantly corrupt politician (that’s redundant) too.

Rafe Hollister

August 26th, 2010
6:13 pm

Oh no, not Honest Abe, thanks for the info, QA. I will read up on that.


August 26th, 2010
7:35 pm

Kyle, It’s time for a new thread. These people are too serious.


August 27th, 2010
8:20 am

Port O’John
August 26th, 2010
1:10 pm

I think you misunderstand. You won’t find a more pro-transit guy than me. It’s just that, of all the things that could and should be done, this streetcar project doesn’t make it very high on my list. Forget about it going thru GSU. It doesn’t connect GSU to anything GSU students would regularly go to. It doesn’t even open up good remote parking for GSU commuters or evening students.

The best transit project for downtown Atlanta would be for MARTA to hurry up and get some zoned fare structure in place so that riding a couple stops and back wouldn’t cost $4!

A west side streetcar line would be a good idea, but not running all way out to Cobb. Just connect a loop to get it connected to MARTA.

I think the HOT lanes are a lousy idea, but the existing HOV lanes are only marginal the way they are right now.

I’ll continue to enjoy my Xpress bus commute and be glad I don’t work at Coca Cola or GA Tech, because it’s a LOOOONG walk from the Xpress routes and MARTA.


August 27th, 2010
8:20 am

I should be working

August 27th, 2010
4:12 pm

The problem with our transportation is that it always becomes a political solution rather than one engineered by people who understand how to fix the problem. Politics is why the downtown connector does not goe straight down Courtland as it should have and why MARTA runs along so many next to useless routes.

Port O'John

August 31st, 2010
10:02 am

DawgDad — if the best you can do is name calling, then I guess you don’t have anything constructive to add.

Glad I’m not you.