Yes, Georgia, there is a Plan B for transportation

I told you there would be a Plan B.

During the run-up to this summer’s T-SPLOST debacle — er, referendum — supporters of the $7.2 billion transportation tax implored voters to approve the measure, lest we remain mired in ever-worsening gridlock without end. In their telling, there was no Plan B.

They were technically correct: There was no alternative then sitting on the shelf. But such a pressing problem was never going to be ignored if Plan A failed.

Sure enough, a Plan B — or, more accurately, the first candidate for Plan B — was unveiled recently. It has much to recommend it.

The plan comes from the free-market thinkers at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, and it includes $3.5 billion in new projects across the state. Here are some highlights:

  • The list includes completing the Fall Line Freeway from Columbus to Macon to Augusta, and enhancing U.S. 27 in the western part of the state, to create a new freight network. This, according to a previous study by McKinsey and Co., would allow between 30 percent and 60 percent of large trucks now on metro Atlanta roads — the equivalent of some 100,000 cars a day — to bypass the region entirely.
  • It includes almost $2.2 billion of projects from T-SPLOST lists around the state, selected purely on a cost-benefit basis. In metro Atlanta, that means hundreds of millions of dollars for about a dozen projects, such as building a new interchange at I-285 and Ga. 400 and upgrading Tara Boulevard in Clayton County into a super-arterial road.
  • It even includes $65 million a year to enhance mass transit around the state. In metro Atlanta, that means creating a true, region-wide network of rapid commuter-bus service and adding $10 million a year in state funds to maintain MARTA’s existing rail system.

Of particular note, the folks at GPPF think we can build these projects without creating a new tax or raising the taxes we already have.

Trust was a major issue in the T-SPLOST’s defeat, at least in metro Atlanta, and elected officials could begin to rebuild it by enhancing transportation with existing funding. The plan calls for tolls, but only on roads where there is new capacity (unlike the converted HOT lanes on I-85 in Gwinnett County).

It calls for converting the current gas tax, which includes a fixed-price excise tax and a sales tax whose proceeds rise and fall with fuel prices, into a pure excise tax that provides more predictability. At the same time, it would devote all gas-tax revenues to transportation; today, upward of $150 million a year goes to the state’s general fund instead.

Critically, the plan calls for re-prioritizing the money we spend on infrastructure. Local education sales taxes, known as E-SPLOSTs, have funded hundreds of new schools and renovations. In 2009, the latest year for which data are available, Georgia ranked eighth nationally in k-12 infrastructure spending and 22nd for all infrastructure. But we were just 41st in transportation infrastructure.

GPPF argues for allowing local jurisdictions to split those 1 percent taxes into fractional ones for education and transportation. It conservatively estimates this change could raise $190 million a year for new transportation projects.

In short, the plan calls for elected officials to make different choices when it comes to infrastructure and existing revenues. Sounds like a good start.

(Note: This column originally ran in the print edition of the AJC on Sunday, Sept. 30. I did not post it online at the time because I was out of the country and commenting was in moderation; I thought it would be better to wait until I returned and a discussion could take place on the comment thread.)

– By Kyle Wingfield

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94 comments Add your comment

I Report (-: You Whine )-: mmm, mmmm, mmmmm! Just sayin...

October 10th, 2012
3:46 pm

The bypass Atlanta one should be like an automatic approval.

Hillbilly D

October 10th, 2012
3:49 pm

So they were telling lies all along, just as most of us said.

@@

October 10th, 2012
3:50 pm

Tara Boulevard in Clayton County into a super-arterial road.

Oh crap!!!

Looking on the bright side, maybe it’ll rid us of some of the eyesores that sit along one of the three main thoroughfares running north/south.

Eyesores-R-Us.

Road Scholar

October 10th, 2012
3:58 pm

Is the state gas tax adjusted for inflation? If not it’s short on addressing needs statewide!

If I read it correctly, the e-tax and the local t-splost tax could be combined.Tthe local T-splost would be a major county/city source for local transportation…non state routes?

Road Scholar

October 10th, 2012
4:00 pm

As to the western bypass…the infrastructure (gas stations, restaurants, etc) will have to come to support the truckers. Also, any at grade intersection will need to be considered for an interchange…or to be cut off. Truckers don’t like stopping…

Seth

October 10th, 2012
4:00 pm

“$65 million a year to enhance mass transit around the state”, that is almost comically low

The state North Carolina currently spends $185M a year on mass transit, or as they call it “Other Modes” http://www.ncdot.gov/about/finance/

I wont even bother looking up any other states that contain cities similar in size to Atlanta.

Btw…can you define the benefit in the cost benefit analysis?

This plan is unfortunate and will continue to set Atlanta back from its peer cities here in the South and elsewhere, a truly balance transportation approach is the only way out of Atlanta’s long term traffic issues.

Dude McGuy

October 10th, 2012
4:02 pm

So doing very little that will barely affect anything.

Sweet.

We will have to raise taxes taxes or continue or huge deficits. Consider us the libertarian experiment’s proof of failure.

Dusty

October 10th, 2012
4:07 pm

Ohhh Kyle,

Just the mention of T-SPLOST is enough to make me break out in hives. Soon as I get over that, I’ll study PLAN B.

I’ll guess. that every municipality gets a piece of the pie to perpetuate peace.

Kyle Wingfield

October 10th, 2012
4:10 pm

Dude McGuy: You don’t think taking 100K cars off metro Atlanta roads would be important?

This is not intended to be the end-all, be-all of future transportation planning. But it’s pretty darn good as far as ideas to get some things happening rather than sitting around and waiting for something big.

Oh, and btw: The state can’t run deficits. Our budget has to be balanced every year.

Kyle Wingfield

October 10th, 2012
4:11 pm

Seth: It’s more than is being spent now. And that would be a $65M increase, not the sum of all transit spending in the state.

The benefit would be things such as the projected decreases in congestion.

carlosgvv

October 10th, 2012
4:12 pm

“trust was a major issue”

When it comes to politicians in general and Georgia’s in particular, it always will be.

@@

October 10th, 2012
4:20 pm

I’m looking into this “super arterial” concept. Essentially, it’ll will be almost like an interstate with side roads that connect to all the local streets.

Tara Blvd is already six lanes most, if not all of the way to Griffin.

The businesses sit close to the road. Don’t know where they’re gonna put the side roads without relocating the business.

HEY…………

real john

October 10th, 2012
4:22 pm

Good article Kyle…sounds like a promising start.

Also, I’m so sick of the protransit people talking about Atlanta falling behind other cities (mainly Charlotte). In the last decade Atlanta has grown signficantly more (in actual net new people to the region) than Charlotte. The only cities that are even comparable are Dallas, Houston, and D.C.

Also, Charlotte has gotten hammered just as bad (f not worse) than Atlanta by the recession.

Don

October 10th, 2012
4:24 pm

Nothing should be done with a cost benefit analysis. Period.

Kyle Wingfield

October 10th, 2012
4:24 pm

@@: In this case, I don’t think they’re talking about doing the side roads. But I could be thinking about a different proposed project.

Ex-ATLien

October 10th, 2012
4:24 pm

Every day on the way to work in my new city, I celebrate not having to deal with Atlanta traffic. Unfortunately, there’s never going to be a long term solution to the problem. The main solution has been and always will be “Build more roads.” One issue with Metro Atlanta is that it’s collection of selfish counties that fail to work with each other on these difficult issues. Couple that with the problem of unending outward sprawl and you get hour commutes. How about an elected regional government? How about requiring cities and counties provide 50 year growth plans? The free-market solution to traffic and sprawl is failing in Atlanta and I laugh about it every day…

Kyle Wingfield

October 10th, 2012
4:24 pm

Don: “With” or “without”?

Rafe Hollister, suffering through Oblamer's ineptocracy

October 10th, 2012
4:30 pm

As Hillybilly said, so they lied, big surprise! And, next time we are supposed to forget the lies and believe them.

Plan B sounds like it is better thought out and will have a better chance at succeeding. The old saying, good things come to those who wait!

Remember that, all you TSplost proponents, don’t be so trusting next time.

LawDawg

October 10th, 2012
4:30 pm

I still want to see more transportation initiatives that focus on non-Atlanta parts of the state. It takes forever to get around this state East-West. The fact that we cannot do anything to help South Georgia and North Georgia (significantly north of Atlanta) is nonsensical.

@@

October 10th, 2012
4:35 pm

Kyle:

There’s only one “arterial road” concept that I can find.

Anyhoo…road design is only as smart at the people who use it.

Traffic lights galore on Tara. I was pulling out of a business one day into a right-turn lane. My plan was to turn right at the next street. Traffic was slowing down for a red light. A carload of guys called me out…”Hey %^&*% what the #$%&% are you doing?”

“I’m gettin’ in the turn lane. Wachoo doin’? Did you wanna turn right?”

“NO.”

“Then SHADDUP and don’t ever use that language when addressing a female!”

Maybe I should move to NYC?

@@

October 10th, 2012
4:37 pm

And about that Plan B that was never meant to….be.

Never let ‘em see you sweat. That’s when they know you’re desperate and will let ‘em get away with anything.

yuzeyurbrane

October 10th, 2012
4:37 pm

Worth considering.

One perspective....

October 10th, 2012
4:45 pm

The bypass Atlanta one should be like an automatic approval.

Bingo
Rerouting the thru-interstate traffic has to be an option. If we can’t widen existing roads, then getting traffic off of those roads is a must… and I don’t mean mass transit.

Any legitimate plan would attempt to reroute north/south and east/west traffic that has no business in atlanta. 285 was supposed to do that, but became part of the problem due to Atlanta’s spoke design. So commuters from Doraville to Marietta get mixed up with traffic going from Ohio to Florida, and commuters going from Six flags to the Airport get mixed up with traffic going to Birmingham. Rerouting the thru-interstate traffic has to be an option.

At one time, an outer perimeter meant “developer free-for-all”. Those days are done. The “if you build it they will come” rule no longer applies. So now we can build something for thru-travelers and keep them off our commuting roads.

Bruno

October 10th, 2012
4:48 pm

The list includes completing the Fall Line Freeway from Columbus to Macon to Augusta

Definitely needed. Currently there is no easy way to get from Columbus from Macon. Highway 80 turns into a 2 lane road for most of the way. Very scary with big 18 wheelers coming at you head on late at night.

Kyle Wingfield

October 10th, 2012
4:53 pm

LawDawg: Note that this includes finishing the Fall Line Freeway, which would be a big help in that regard. It also helps people go N-S without going through Atlanta. There are also other projects from the other 11 regions’ TSPLOST lists.

Kyle Wingfield

October 10th, 2012
4:54 pm

@@: Not sure about the NYC part, but the idea of the superarterial includes reducing the number of traffic lights. One reason traffic is so slow is that every business wants its own left-turn lane into its driveway…

JDW

October 10th, 2012
5:12 pm

@Kyle…”It conservatively estimates this change could raise $190 million a year for new transportation projects”

Which of course means exactly $190 million a year less for education projects. :roll:

Li'l Aynie

October 10th, 2012
5:15 pm

That Plan B is better than nothing. Probably it has less chance of enactment by the Georgia government than T-SPLOST had being approved by voters!

@@

October 10th, 2012
5:18 pm

Alright, Kyle, this is from a July 2012 article in the News Daily.

What’s a ‘super arterial’?

Think of it this way: If a human artery moves blood rapidly from the heart, Tara Boulevard as a “super arterial” road would move cars rapidly from the I-75 to points south. Traffic lights would be gone, and access to the businesses currently along Tara will be via a few ramps that lead to frontage roads on both sides of the “super arterial.” Drivers going to or from I-75 would get where they’re going much faster.

Conceptually, Tara Boulevard would be “very, very similar” to Peachtree Industrial Boulevard just north of I-285 in DeKalb County, said Keith Rohling, assistant director of transportation and development for Clayton County. That segment is an elevated highway with two-lane roads running parallel to it so area businesses can still be reached via access ramp.

Me no yike it.

Old timer

October 10th, 2012
5:25 pm

@@ maybe starting over with Tara BLVD would be an improvement. As a former ClYton resident it isan eyesore….

@@

October 10th, 2012
5:28 pm

Old timer:

@@ maybe starting over with Tara BLVD would be an improvement.

If only…

(ISH)

Kyle Wingfield

October 10th, 2012
5:29 pm

JDW: And as I wrote in the OP, we’ve been on quite the school-building binge in this state. It wouldn’t hurt to slow that down a bit and reprioritize that money for transportation.

@@

October 10th, 2012
5:59 pm

Oh lawdy!

Heads up for incoming.

Fred’s been temporarily banished next door.

The angel Moroni

October 10th, 2012
6:05 pm

Too bad there wasn’t a Plan B for Congressman Scott DesJarlais ’s (R- Tennessee) mistress.

MarkV

October 10th, 2012
6:11 pm

Dusty @4:07 pm

Ohhh Dusty,
It is so much easier for Kyle to discuss T-SPLOST than to defend Romney!

Seth

October 10th, 2012
6:23 pm

@Kyle
“State gas tax revenues can only be spent on roads and bridges as required by the Georgia Constitution, any State transit expenditures must come out of the State General Fund. The FY 2012 State Budget allocates approximately $6.2 million to the Department of Transportation for transit, all out of the State General Fund.”
http://www.atlantaregional.com/transportation/financing-transportation

I stand corrected Kyle this would increase the State spending on transit to $71.2M, still a marginal budgetary allotment considering the transit needs of the State and less that half of what North Carolina spends. I would be less worried about me finding these numbers than the numerous CEOs looking to decide whether to locate their operations in Georgia and the greater Atlanta area.

@Real John
The comparison of transit spending to North Carolina is from our friends at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation…not I

JDW

October 10th, 2012
6:43 pm

@Kyle…”It wouldn’t hurt to slow that down a bit and reprioritize that money for transportation.”

Why yes, yes it would. If there is extra money there…which there isn’t, it should be repurposed for other capital expenditures related to education…say for instance technology in the classroom…

This is just the sort of Republican shortsightedness that has lead to the dismal last 10 years for Georgia in most any area you care to choose and would keep us mired in bottom in education.

You too cheap to fund transportation…live with it…don’t steal it from children.

iggy

October 10th, 2012
6:47 pm

We still have Marta wasting millions of dollars. Shortly after the TSplat debacle we learn of Beltline officials padding and wasting more money.

T Splost Plan B…I think not!

Linda

October 10th, 2012
6:52 pm

The Obama Adm. is lying about the lie they first told about the Libyan massacre.

JamVet

October 10th, 2012
7:05 pm

Like a raft of other problems, including corruption, child obesity, high unemployment and education, transportation in Georgia is hopeless.

Our do-nothings neocon leaders are some of the worst ever elected in the history of the state.

There is only one way to resolve the myriad of issues here.

What is needed is a modern day General Sherman to do an Georgia Renovation Project. (schnort)

Finn Mccool

October 10th, 2012
7:07 pm

Hey, glad Romney won that last debate – I am sure the defense systems at all the legal abortion clinics and federal buildings has been relaxed before O wins the whole thing and sens these nutters off.

Finn Mccool

October 10th, 2012
7:08 pm

You Cons are going to lose your shuoit after this election and Bachmann loses and Ryan loses his seat.

Finn Mccool

October 10th, 2012
7:10 pm

Transportation?

Got Cons running things? Might as well bury it.

Linda

October 10th, 2012
7:13 pm

Four more weeks! Four more weeks!

JamVet

October 10th, 2012
7:17 pm

Linda,

DEWEY WINS!

Gio

October 10th, 2012
7:17 pm

Wow… $10 million a year for MARTA! Is that kinda like a shinny new quarter, Kyle?

Linda

October 10th, 2012
7:30 pm

From a cartoon: Obama:
The people born in New Orleans , they don’t care about as much,
My mother was denied health insurance coverage as she was dying of cancer,
I will have the most transparent adm. in history,
I will cut the deficit in half by the end of my first term,
Obamacare is not a tas,
Oil production is the highest it’s been in 8 yrs because of me,
I didn’t turn down Keystone pipeline. Republicans did,
Solyndra was not our program per se,
Since I’ve been president, federal spending has risen at the slowest pace in 60 yrs.,
Fast & Furious was begun under Bush,
The Libya attack was spontaneous.

Romney is a Liar!

Vote for me! Let’s see what will happen in another 4 yrs.! Keep hoping for change! I take food stamp cards! I gave them to you! Use them to re-elect me!

Linda

October 10th, 2012
7:38 pm

The reason Obama tried to quit smoking was because his nose grew so long that he kept igniting it. His pants on fire is another ongoing problem. Lit from both ends. My goodness!

md

October 10th, 2012
7:42 pm

Kyle….that school building binge coincided with all those years if migration into the city. I do think that has slowed or stopped, and your point would be valid.

Now that I’ve finally broken the bonds that tied me to the Atl for all those years it’s like a whole new world out here. Atl has it’s pluses, but plenty of minuses too…..traffic being the biggie. And I’m now finding alternatives when flying and it’s great when I don’t have to sit on the tarmac of atl because we got in early and there is no gate for 45 mins……..flying through these smaller airports is such a treat……..

Rafe Hollister, suffering through Oblamer's ineptocracy

October 10th, 2012
7:46 pm

Has anyone seen DannyX, he was on just about every blog in Sep, posting some useless poll or another. How about another poll Danny?