If there’s one thing I’m sick of hearing, it’s that metro Atlanta and Georgia have no “plan B” for transportation. That’s because, increasingly, there’s no “plan A,” either.
The latest example is the Department of Transportation’s decision this past week to abort the optional toll lanes on I-75 and I-575 in Cobb and Cherokee.
Some 200,000 commuters travel that corridor daily. The stretch of 75 between the 575 split and the top-end perimeter is one of the most congested highways in metro Atlanta. Yet, here’s what those commuters will have to show for years of DOT planning for toll lanes and the politicized exercise of drafting a project list for next year’s transportation tax referendum:
Jack. And squat.
A real plan for the corridor — and most of what I’m about to say also applies to other parts of the metro area — would:
a) Recognize there is neither the land nor the money available for building highway lanes ad infinitum, and that new general-purpose lanes quickly become as full as the older lanes;
b) Acknowledge the final piece of the Interstate portion of the corridor comprises high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes that may or may not relieve congestion in older lanes, but which will guarantee someone who needs to travel rapidly at a given time can do so (for a price);
c) Devote more resources to nearby arterial roads to add parallel capacity for motorists, particularly those traveling relatively shorter distances;
d) Ensure any funds for mass transit are dedicated to uses such as commuter rail, which can provide high capacity at peak travel times without attempting to change lifestyles or prioritize developers’ dreams over commuters’ frustrations.
As of today, Cobb and Cherokee residents stand to get no additional general-purpose lanes, no HOT lanes, no enhanced arterials. Just some projects designed to encourage a certain kind of economic development — somewhere else. Oh, and, in about 10 years, a glorified streetcar that travels one mile outside Fulton.
It’s particularly galling that DOT has now spent eight years and tens of millions of dollars clearing its throat regarding public-private partnerships. Now it’s thrown all that away, without betraying the faintest clue as to what comes next.
The coup de grace came from DOT board member Brandon Beach, who told the AJC’s Ariel Hart that a turning point was the realization the state might have to pay up to 45 percent of the project’s $1 billion cost.
“There gets a point where if you’re going to do that much public participation, you may want to look at doing the project yourself,” Beach said, right before admitting DOT doesn’t have that kind of money.
Let’s get this straight: $450 million is too much money, so it’s better to spend $1 billion? A billion dollars we don’t have? So that we can recoup money from tolls instead of … not spending it in the first place?
For, if the private firms felt they couldn’t recoup more than $550 million in costs from tolls, why should we believe the state would recoup more? As it stands, fat chance of enticing them or other firms to invest in our infrastructure in the future.
We often hear politicians and experts say voters must approve the T-SPLOST so that metro Atlanta isn’t seen as backward and indecisive. After these follies, on the heels of the broken promise to remove the Ga. 400 toll last summer, maybe voters need to reject it — to get the attention of those politicians and experts. Their decisiveness and vision leave a lot to be desired, too.
– By Kyle Wingfield