Quiet plan to extend Ga. 400 tolls sends loud message (Updated)

Update on Friday: The toll plan passed, as expected. The AJC’s news story is available here. And here are a few comments of my own about what went down today:

1. From the news story: “In order to satisfy the original promise that the tolls would come down in 2011, [Gov. Sonny] Perdue said, SRTA will see if it can suspend the tolls briefly in 2011. When they went back online, he said, they would be a ‘new’ toll. That was suggested by one former Atlanta city councilman, he said, Robb Pitts.”

My comment: That’s just insulting. It may make even more of a mockery of the original promise to take down the toll, and it seems legally questionable since that’s not what the SRTA board voted on. But it also makes a mockery of SRTA’s alleged concern, voiced by a lawyer for the authority at this morning’s DOT board meeting, that it would be unsafe to have “cars trying to speed through there at full speed” if the toll-plaza structure were still in place but the toll was not being collected. So, that’s considered dangerous — but it would be safe enough to only do it for a brief period of time, if that counted as throwing a bone to barking citizens? Please.

2. The Political Insider, Jim Galloway, quoted the governor as saying today that “it’s easy to be a political populist and say ‘broken promises, no trust.’ ”

My comment: If demanding that government stick to its promises and respect the public’s trust now count as “political populism,” the pitchforks may be here sooner than we thought. If the governor truly thinks his plan is what’s best for Georgians, he ought to have the confidence to make his case to the people who pay the tolls — and not join other officials in hiding behind a time crunch that they created themselves in waiting until now to bring the issue up for a vote.

There was nothing stopping them from bringing this issue before the DOT, and then SRTA, a month or two ago. It’s not as if the end of the tolling period has sneaked up on anyone; we’ve known that the date was June 2011 since Perdue was still a Democrat.

3. I attended the DOT board meeting this morning. Now, I have covered any number of governmental meetings and hearings in my career, but this was by far the most embarrassing display I’ve ever seen.

The chairman of the DOT board was so obviously intent on arriving at the predetermined outcome (passage of the resolution to extend the lease of Ga. 400 to SRTA) that he was in constant danger of skipping procedural votes altogether, and didn’t even allow debate on the final motion to extend the lease. It was a spectacle to hear board members participating by teleconference, because they’d received such short notice of the special called meeting, complaining that they couldn’t even hear what was going on. Then, some of them tried to deny the board a quorum by hanging up their phones en masse (it didn’t work).

It was like watching the Keystone Cops conduct a Kabuki enactment of a kangaroo court. It was pathetic, even from a confirmed skeptic’s perspective.

In any case, here’s what I originally wrote Wednesday:

Politicians aren’t renowned for long-term thinking. In the quiet plan to extend the Georgia 400 toll, we’re witnessing a short-term mistake that may have lasting consequences.

As toll booths went up on Ga. 400 between I-285 and Lenox Road in Buckhead, they came with a promise that the levy would end in 20 years, when the bonds to pay for the highway’s southward extension were paid off. Next June marks the blessed anniversary.

Yet Friday, the boards of the Department of Transportation and the State Roads and Tollway Authority will review a plan to keep charging the toll for perhaps eight more years. Actually, it’s worse than that: For motorists without a prepaid “Cruise Card,” the standard toll could be doubled to $1.

If the AJC had not reported the arrangement last Friday, you may not have heard about it until after the votes were counted.

The plan apparently was to keep citizens in the dark about the toll extension. Details have been hard to come by. Before citizens can vet the proposals, the DOT board may vote to prolong its lease of Ga. 400 to SRTA, which in turn may vote to approve new bonds for construction on the highway and an extended period of tolling to pay for it.

It’s suspicious, not least because there’s a good chance that the public might actually favor some of the dozen projects on the list.

Here’s guessing that, for instance, those who pay the toll would favor a ramp to connect Ga. 400 with the northbound lanes of I-85. Improvements to other exits along the highway would also be welcome.

Commuters might even consider such projects worth a few more years of paying tolls. Eight years? Probably not, given that the toll booths collect some $20 million a year, and the projects are expected to cost far less than $160 million. Not to mention that toll revenues through June 2011 already were projected to exceed what is needed to pay off the bonds by tens of millions of dollars.

But state officials didn’t want to ask us. Why?

Maybe they think they know what’s best for us. Maybe they didn’t think they could win the argument. Maybe they think that, as long as they have the votes on the two agencies’ boards of directors, they don’t need the public’s input. Maybe there’s something within the plan that they wanted to keep out of sight as long as possible.

None of these are charitable explanations. But it’s hard to give state officials the benefit of the doubt here, given their reticence.

In any case, it’s a curious situation in which to find Gov. Sonny Perdue, who chairs the SRTA board.

One of the biggest knocks on Perdue’s tenure has been his failure, until his last legislative session, to produce a comprehensive plan to alleviate traffic gridlock in Atlanta and beyond. Now he’s leading a bum rush to fix up Ga. 400?

Even now, the next governor’s first term will be halfway over before we see any fruits from Perdue’s plan, a series of regional referendums in 2012 on a one-cent sales tax to fund transportation. And that’s assuming voters in at least one region approve the tax.

Speaking of the tax:

Every supporter of the sales tax for transportation with whom I’ve spoken emphasizes that the key issue is public trust: Which projects will be done? How can we be sure that the information we’re given about costs, benefits and so on is accurate? Do we trust our elected officials to keep the promises they make?

Atlantans might like the projects that end up in the sales-tax proposal, just as they might like the ones slated for an extended 400 toll. But the case for simply trusting our transportation planners may die in two board meetings Friday.

177 comments Add your comment

Mr. D

September 22nd, 2010
7:50 pm

Just another example of tax and spend conservatives hiding the details until it is all a done DEAL(ha!)

Dave

September 22nd, 2010
8:36 pm

When I read the original piece, I was struck by the odd secrecy coupled with the need for especially the I-85 exchange. It makes sense to build it, so what else is planned for the continued money stream that doesn’t make sense that’s being hidden? Or, am I just used to expecting the worst from Georgia government?

Linda

September 22nd, 2010
9:00 pm

History will be made just forty-something days from now. Why are you zeroing in on a Ga. road?

Roy-Is-A-Crook

September 22nd, 2010
9:00 pm

Do ya remember a former crooked guv who stole millions from the ga 400 toll road fund to benefit his developer cronies building that pos atlantic-station? When caught, the fat crook said, “well, nobody told me ah couldn’t” — that money was never repaid. How about a story by kyle about that deal?

Independent

September 22nd, 2010
9:05 pm

I remember when 400 was first proposed and the State swore that the toll would only apply until it was paid off. There were people then that said it was all a lie, and now it looks like they were correct. So the next time the DOT want the public to give approval to a new project, the public should just say “Heck NO! We know you are lying to us because you lied o us before.”

Sonny

September 22nd, 2010
9:09 pm

What a sorry state. Toll here…toll here…What’s the next tax they are going to throw at us….That’s right another $10 tax to fund hospitals…Can’t wait to find a job to get out of this state!

buck@gon

September 22nd, 2010
9:09 pm

Kudos Kyle!

You honor your readers with intelligent commentary and perspicacious awareness.

Because I don’t ride that road much, I’m flummoxed by some of what I’ve heard. On one hand, do some people actually think that having a toll is good because it would cut down on traffic? On the other hand, is this propaganda from government sources to justify a toll and grab more money?

I’m all in favor of tolls if there is indeed some benefit. In fact, I think we ought to have more–we will need more–if we are going to meet our driving needs, given that EPA or the feds won’t let us build roads on their terms (or because they don’t have money).

The secrecy does make one suspicious.

barking frog

September 22nd, 2010
9:31 pm

No one is forced to use a toll road. If you do
not gain by the use, go elsewhere.

Karl Marx

September 22nd, 2010
9:34 pm

If you think the Republican legislature is listening and will not renege on the promise to remove the toll booth once the road is paid I remind you they all sign a pledge not to raise taxes. The Hospital bed tax, and massive fee increases I guess don’t count. Not only will the toll booths remain they are going to stick it to people who pay in cash by doubling their toll to a dollar. How do you know a Republican State Legislator is lying. Cause they said they believe in smaller government and lower taxes… HA ha Ha ha hA HA ha Ha ha……. That’s funny…….

Fed Up

September 22nd, 2010
9:42 pm

Perdue you are pathetic. And a classic example of why we no longer trust government. But why would you care, now that you’re leaving. But a promise is a promise except when you are dealing with a revenue stream. Take the toll down. Use the extra $40.0 mil you overbilled us and build your 400/85 interchange and leave us alone. Maybe this will keep Sam (who has now become as crooked as Perdue) happy. Why do the few that use this 6 mile stretch of road (and personally paid for) now responsible for ALL improvements on 400 Corridor???? But any improvements on 75/85/20 are paid with taxpayer money. Agian, just PATHETIC. Congrats all you REPUBLICANS. I am not voting for a single one this election.

Robert

September 22nd, 2010
9:53 pm

Personally I think this is another failure for elected officals to honor agreements made to the public, and they have been saying for years the tolls would end. Even if some of these projects were to be completed with additional tolls, I don’t see everyone using some of the new projects even making it as far as the toll boths so I’m now going to pay for them to use the roadway in areas that I will never use myself. Then raising the toll to $1 for cash makes me even angrier! I stopped using the pass because I was always being charged on my account without statements etc. I used the toll the same number of times but one month I was charged after a few weeks only to be charged again a few weeks later. There was never a statement letting me know my balance etc. I went to cash also saving the fee I was charged for the window device. Making you use a window pass is another way they are making even more money that they aren’t telling folks! What another sad example of idiots running this state, in my opinion. No wonder Georgia has become the laughing stock of the country!

MiltonMan

September 22nd, 2010
10:10 pm

Let’s hope that the dope Rat Roy doesn’t get elected. He will make sure that he raids the GA 400 toll monies again to probably build some crappy project in South Cobb.

MiltonMan

September 22nd, 2010
10:12 pm

Fed Up – bitching about paying more but probably votes for every bond & SPLOST.

David

September 23rd, 2010
12:24 am

I will just not pay any toll after the deadline. Sue me.

arnold

September 23rd, 2010
5:02 am

Has any toll project been allowed to expire on the promised due date? Has any promise by a politician ever been kept?

Jimmy62

September 23rd, 2010
6:05 am

Lying scum, that’s all they are. I will never again believe a word coming from any politician’s mouth. Have they ever been honest? Is there a promise they will ever keep?

I hope Sam Massell is now remembered as a corrupt liar rather than the great man he used to be. Shame on him for supporting this travesty!

If everyone just ignored the toll and went through the Cruise Card lanes… Well all I know is I was promised something, that the toll would go away. It’s paid off, so there is no more toll, whatever the politicians may think. We need to hold them to their words.

I’m so used to be lied to by politicians, but this one just really gets under my skin. Maybe because it hits so close to home and because there’s no wiggle room here. They lied, it can’t be hid from or rationalized, they are liars and not to be trusted or respected.

Independent

September 23rd, 2010
6:23 am

It reminds me of Cherokee county in the early 90’s. The county commissioners had all property re-appraised at much higher appraisals. When it came time for notices to go out and people could contest their new appraisals, the commissioners said “don’t worry, yes, your appraisal went up, but we are going to roll back the millage rate, so your net taxes won’t increase.” After the deadline for contesting the appraisals had passed, the commisioners said ” we are sorry, after review of the county’s financial books, we decided we need to leave the millage rate where it is.” This resulted in a de facto tax increase. But when the county commissioner came up for re-election, that’s right, they campaigned on the slogan that “they had never supported or enacted a tax increase.” And these were REPUBLICANS!

Ayn Rant

September 23rd, 2010
6:24 am

Everybody’s fed up with everything in Georgia and America! The politicians just don’t understand what we want. We demand lower taxes, more services, better planning, eliminating the federal deficit, and paying off the national debt! Why is that so hard to understand?

I’ve got a great idea: let’s just keep re-electing the politicians who’ve created the present mess! Perdue can’t run again, but Deal is his clone. Isakson is running unopposed; he hasn’t done anything at all the last 6 years, so he can be trusted to give us what we want in the next six. Certainly, the incumbent congressmen from the party of NO can be counted on to give us the legislation of our dreams in the next two years.

Electing the full slate of Republican politicians will maintain the status quo, and eliminate any possibility of planning or doing anything for the common good. Shucks, after November the elected politicians will be fully occupied planning their 2012 campaigns!

Poor dumb Georgia! Poor dumb America!

Road Scholar

September 23rd, 2010
6:29 am

Kyle:”One of the biggest knocks on Perdue’s tenure has been his failure, until his last legislative session, to produce a comprehensive plan to alleviate traffic gridlock in Atlanta and beyond. ”

Kyle where is that plan, with specifics? Allowing locals to tax themselves is NOT a plan. It’s a possible revenue source.

You are right that any new “tax” should be tied to a specific project list with specific deliverables and schedules. ARC in Atlanta will, along with GDOT, GRTA, and probably the Chamber of commerce, “partner” rolling out the list of projects and getting feedback on which ones should be included in the “package”. This list should include an assessment of what the benefits will be.

Now back to my original comment: Are you refer to Fast Forward which was initiated in 2002? Those projects have been completed with NOTHING since then. When Perdue came into office he pledge new funding for transportation. Where is it? GDOT geared up design activities, w/o any resulting monies. Also remember he bonded most projects which took future monies away from additional projects and also had an interest cost.

Road Scholar

September 23rd, 2010
6:33 am

With all the demand for lower taxes, what services do you want cut? What is our effective tax rates for the different income levels; this means including All the deductions people take. And how do they compare to past years? This recurring mantra has not been explained as to the effects besides it “puts more money into the taxpayers hands”. Duh! What does the analysis show?

Tyler Durden

September 23rd, 2010
6:51 am

Will anyone who’s surprised by this please send me your email address; I have some great beachfront real estate opportunities in Kansas that you simply cannot pass up…

Filster

September 23rd, 2010
6:56 am

Dear GA politicians:
I will be paying attention to everyone who votes to keep the 40 toll, and if you are in any position I can vote against in November or any other time, count on the fact that I will.

Rawmilkdrinker

September 23rd, 2010
7:11 am

Surprise, Surprise! Ask Jacksonville FL residents about the temporary toll to pay for the bridge over St Johns river or New Jersey residents about the “temporary” tolls on the New Jersey turnpike. As the old fella in Jacksonville told me, “the lying SoBs said when the bridge was paid for, the toll would cease.”

Willie

September 23rd, 2010
7:12 am

If we renew the toll, let’s move the plaza south of Leonx.

Jack

September 23rd, 2010
7:34 am

So…..there you have it, the perfect example why I find myself more closely alligned with the Tea Party than the Republican Party.

The republicans, in their “plan” for the future, pledge to roll back spending to the 2008 level. The 2008 level. They have pledged to spend money at a level that was continuing to increase the federal deficit, just not as much as they think the deficit is increasing now!!!

Wow!! Makes you want to run out and get busy putting these fiscal “hawks” in office doesn’t it??
Let’s make sure and reward these fellows in November for their pledge to spend recklessly, just not as recklessly as the democrats!!

Rap Star

September 23rd, 2010
7:51 am

Someone on an AJC blog the other day described this perfectly – politcal herpes. Once you have the tax there is no getting rid of it. Vote for the RIGHT PERSON, not the party!

Seriously

September 23rd, 2010
7:53 am

Typical political crap…the best way to get back at them is to vote their asses out of office.

GEORGIA97

September 23rd, 2010
7:55 am

When it comes to the golden dome downtown, if a$sholes could fly that would be the airport.

carlosgvv

September 23rd, 2010
8:00 am

Setting up a toll road is like installing a Communist dictator. Once it’s done it’s next to impossible to undo.

Zig Zag Zell

September 23rd, 2010
8:10 am

Seems like a good idea to extend the toll. Although, I just did 5 lines of coke, a handful of Xanax and a jug of Maker’s Mark.

Obama Bin Lyin

September 23rd, 2010
8:12 am

Before I’d trust a politician I would rather let a serial killer poke out my eyes with an ice pick, scoop out my brains, drop in a candle, and make me into a Jack-O-Lantern.

Michael D

September 23rd, 2010
8:26 am

Public trust? Give me a break. They said trust us 20 years ago when they promised that the toll booths would come down after the bond were paid off. The public officials involved with this are just plain lying. The toll plaza should come down as promised and not a second later. Something happens to otherwise good people when they get elected they just lose there integrity somehow. No wonder that people do not have faith in public officials when they cannot even keep a simple promise like this. Shame on Sam Massell as well who was a well spoken advocate for the toll booths 20 years ago and one of the reasons I supported it back then. Now he seems to have forgotten all the things he said back then and the promise that was made. As one of the last “moderate” republicans in the country, I am more willing than some in my party to back a projects that will benefit the public good even if we have to pay a little extra for awhile but when a promise is broken and the people in power cannot live up to there word then what incentive do I have to back any future projects when the rules get changed? The Republicans control everything in this state and they need to flex there political muscle and take down the toll booths for good. If they cannot stop this prime example of big government when they have all the power then what chance is there that any of the promises they are making about smaller government this election season come true? the answer is none…..
I wish candidates Deal and Barnes would take a stand on this either way so we could see how much integrity they have..

Bill Campbell

September 23rd, 2010
8:33 am

Enter your comments here

Bill Campbell

September 23rd, 2010
8:35 am

You can bet a politician is lying if his lips are moving.

Peter

September 23rd, 2010
8:38 am

Yes Republican’s lie Kyle…..Also the un-employment is going up in the state, so how can anyone say the Republican’s can solve un-employment.

Bush and the Republican party of thieves ave put the screws to American’s, and then they won’t work with the Democrat’s unless Big Pork is involved.

The Republican candidate for Governor has lied to Georgia with his omitting important financial information, and this is a guy running his own personal life in the RED….and Republican’s think he can run the state ?

The only thing Sonny has done in 8 years is double his net worth.

What did Bush do……involve the US in two wars that he never did win.

Roswell Rosie

September 23rd, 2010
8:40 am

Why is it that the state has plenty of money to put into widening I-75 in spots like Tifton and Cordele, where relatively few people live, but when it comes to something like improvements on Georgia 400, why, that’s diffo? How come when a major population center needs transportation improvements, the cry is always “let them pay for it if they want it,” but other areas of the state get their improvements from the general fund? Why aren’t other areas of the state and the metro Atlanta area forking over toll money every day? Why is it that after we paid for major interstate highways, the solution to traffic density is to convert portions of those highways to toll lanes? Aren’t they our highways already? And why are some portions of those interstate highways being converted to HOV lanes, so that the rest of us can encounter even greater traffic jams?

How come? Huh? Huh? Huh?

As for the continuation of the GA 400 toll, most of us knew that the promoters of the toll were lying through their tobacco-stained teeth way back there when the comfortably afflicted big shots in Buckhead were being bought out of their dumpy houses after years of lawsuits to jack up the price. And our knowledge was confirmed when toll money that was supposed to pay off the bonds was diverted to the crime-ridden Atlantic Station project.

This is Roswell Rosie signing off after blowing off some steam.

Left wing management

September 23rd, 2010
8:42 am

Mr. D: “Just another example of tax and spend conservatives hiding the details until it is all a done DEAL(ha!)”

“Tax and spend conservatives.”

I like that. That’s very good!

Left wing management

September 23rd, 2010
8:44 am

Michael D. 8:26: “The Republicans control everything in this state and they need to flex there political muscle and take down the toll booths for good. If they cannot stop this prime example of big government when they have all the power then what chance is there that any of the promises they are making about smaller government this election season come true?”

It’s a really good question.

Answers, anyone?

Anyone?

Peter

September 23rd, 2010
8:44 am

By the way Kyle…….since it has not rained in awhile……isn’t it time to have a prayer meeting on the lawn of the capitol building ?

Do you think a new reservoir may be in order ?

Gotta love Republican’s……let the education go to heck in a hand basket…..so the dumb folks will keep voting them in no matter what they say or lie about !

Tychus Findlay

September 23rd, 2010
8:47 am

Politicians make claims and promises to get elected. If you believe that they’ll follow through, then YOU’RE the idiot.

rdh

September 23rd, 2010
8:50 am

the boards of the Department of Transportation and the State Roads and Tollway Authority will review a plan to keep charging the toll for perhaps eight more years.

They are following up a broken promise with another promise? If they can’t keep their promise this time, then the toll booth stays FOREVER with tolls increasing at unexplained levels and with accountability to no one.

They SHOULD do the right thing. End the tolls, publish new proposed projects, and create a referendum reauthorize for the length of time to complete the projects. EVERYONE who uses the toll booth would agree to fix the 85 interchange. Why shaft those that , in good faith, agreed to this project in the first place when you can get what you want through good planning and a commitment to your promises?

I am FOR several of the proposed new projects. I am AGAINST government not keeping its word. I am AGAINST unelected bureaucracies that go behind the backs of the people who pay this toll to attempt to maintain their bureaucracy. Is there any question whatsoever how the SRTA is going to vote on this? They are not voting what is in the best interest of the people. They are voting to increase their power, budget and prestige, and to keep their jobs.

I would bet a weeks salary that if they ASK, they will be given permission to extend the tolls and complete new projects. If they pass this without public input,they will have destroyed the trust of the people and created a lot of animosity towards the SRTA.

Question Authority

September 23rd, 2010
8:52 am

There is no public trust left. Or at least there shouldn’t be. The sooner the citizens of this city, this state, and this country wake up and realize that it has never been left versus right, or Dem versus Rep but rather the State versus YOU, the sooner we can get our rights and our liberties back. This toll thing is just yet another example of what is wrong with this country and the direction the political process has taken.

Left wing management

September 23rd, 2010
8:52 am

Peter 8:44: “By the way Kyle…….since it has not rained in awhile……isn’t it time to have a prayer meeting on the lawn of the capitol building ?”

Right now they’re too busy huddling with their pollsters studying numbers in Alaska and Delaware with their propaganda-meisters on the ready to let loose with the next TV spot to peddle their badly tattered, sham vision of fiscal probity and Reaganesque American optimism (leave it all up to the markets, they call it). Never mind the collapsing bridges. Guess the market will figure that one out, too.

Yep, he’s still that tired old man that we elected king – a good 30 years later.

TruthBe

September 23rd, 2010
8:56 am

Again the government lies to us. The toll road was suppost to be remove after the road was paid for with a 20 year dead line. Look now the State dot and Atlanta not only want to break their bond but also charge you double to do so. People wake up and don’t let anymore taxes be approved anymore period for ANY reason.

Curious Observer

September 23rd, 2010
8:58 am

They are following up a broken promise with another promise? If they can’t keep their promise this time, then the toll booth stays FOREVER with tolls increasing at unexplained levels and with accountability to no one.

Welcome to the real world. I grew up in southern West Virginia, where for two decades politicians argued for the West Virginia Turnpike (I-77) and promised fervently that the tolls would be removed once the bonds were paid off. Well, guess what. Not only have those tolls been collected for forty-five years, with the bonds long since paid off, but they recently doubled. Those tolls will be there long after I’m dead. Politicians have a terrible time of letting go of a revenue source once it’s discovered. There’s no reason to think that Georgia 400 will be any different.

JF McNamara

September 23rd, 2010
9:09 am

Peter

September 23rd, 2010
9:11 am

Kyle what is it with Georgia Republican’s anyway……is there a singe one who tells the truth ?

commoncents

September 23rd, 2010
9:12 am

Peter,

Don’t you mean “Georgia Politicians”?

Hmmmmmmm

September 23rd, 2010
9:22 am

If in fact the toll is extended…… My bet is that it will be. As a protest, EVERYBODY should by pass the boothes and go through the cruise lane. Let the state sue everybody for non payment of fines! This is a JOKE! But then you have MORONS like barking frog who wants to be screwed…..

retiredds

September 23rd, 2010
9:28 am

Kyle, thanks for the fodder. There are many, including me, who have been saying all along that the Republicans in GA, and nationwide, have been duping the people. They have a knack for great slogans, and it looks like a new one will appear today, something called a “Contract for the people”. This chicanery that Perdue and his hand-picked cronies and Mr. Deal’s keeping his finances under wraps until his Republican base nominated him is nothing new. If anyone thinks that the Republican party has any answers to any program, think back to the Bush/Cheney years and the destruction they left behind when they left office.

No, folks, your Republican leaders can make all the promises they want about lowering taxes and cutting spending but the same outcome will result … you are being lied to.