Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

Tough choices loom as Georgia maps its road(s) ahead

Few people expected Georgia’s legislators to pursue any big new transportation initiatives this year. So far, legislators are meeting that expectation.

The rejection of the T-SPLOST in nine of Georgia’s 12 regions is still fresh, and most state agencies face budget cuts amid stagnant tax revenues. Yet, this is a critical moment for our state to figure out how to pay for transportation infrastructure.

But not only our state. All signs indicate the so-called budget sequester will force Congress to cut spending by tens of billions of dollars a year. And that will be just “the first of many large cutbacks” affecting transportation, predicts Robert Poole.

Robert Poole

Robert Poole

“There will be no more ‘nice to have’ things,” says Poole, co-founder and head of transportation policy at the libertarian Reason Foundation. “If we’re going to continue … to invest in transportation, the states are going to have to pick up the ball.”

But, Poole added during a Thursday speech at …

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Transportation funding: Should Georgia follow another GOP governor’s lead?

After last year’s resounding T-SPLOST flop, Georgia legislators are not expected to make any big moves regarding new transportation funding. But forget new transportation funding: Given the long-term decline in the purchasing power of the motor fuel tax, which will only accelerate as vehicles become more fuel-efficient, Georgia will have to consider alternate means of funding for building and maintaining roads and bridges. Increasing the motor fuel tax rate even just to maintain parity might work in the short term, but it’s probably not a solution in the long run.

Few of the most-discussed alternatives have obvious appeal. Tolls almost certainly will become a more important source of revenue, particularly on the interstates, but that’s a limited option. You’re extremely unlikely to face a toll booth between your house and the grocery store, and there are vast swaths of the state where tolls probably aren’t viable. Another option, tracking the number of miles traveled by a …

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A new year’s note to MARTA’s new chief

“I’m a skeptic, and I want to protect taxpayers.”

Keith Parker spoke those words toward the end of his first visit to the AJC’s offices as MARTA’s new general manager, earlier this month. He was voicing his understanding of Georgia Republicans who view the transit agency with skepticism and the interests of taxpayers in mind.

Much of Parker’s broader message of working to find efficiencies and earn the trust of taxpayers, customers and skeptical state leaders could have been spoken by anyone. That’s no knock on Parker; he’d been on the job just one week when he met with us.

In fact, after listening to Parker, I found two reasons to think he just might have a fighting chance of doing at MARTA what hasn’t been done there before.

The first is that he has done it in politically similar states before. He has worked in Charlotte and, most recently, as head of the transit agency in San Antonio.

In the latter, he said, he persuaded Texas’ GOP-dominated state …

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For Legislature, all roads lead to ethics reform (and vice versa)

The story of the year in metro Atlanta almost certainly was voters’ rejection of the $7.2 billion transportation sales tax. That’s true not only because the result was so lopsided in a region famous for its traffic congestion and desperate for relief, but because the clear message was that voters torched the T-SPLOST due to a lack of trust in government.

But what does “lack of trust” mean in practice?

Happily, an opinion poll commissioned for, and reported last Sunday by, the AJC translated the public’s lack of trust into numbers. It suggests ethics reform is key if the Legislature is to shore up the trust deficit.

Sixty percent of those polled last month, in the same 10 metro Atlanta counties that voted down the T-SPLOST in July, said they believe “people in the government waste a lot of money we pay in taxes.” The same percentage said “not many” or “hardly any” of the folks in government are honest.

That’s 60 percent who think government wastes money …

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And you wonder why voters rejected the T-SPLOST

If you want to see a microcosm of the reason metro Atlanta voters didn’t trust our transportation planners enough to approve the $7.2 billion T-SPLOST tax, I recommend this news from the AJC:

The state Transportation Board is poised to declare the Downtown Connector a gateway to the state, and to help fund a makeover to pretty up some of the high-profile bridges that pass over it.

The first two are the Peachtree Street bridges that pass over the Connector and back, in Downtown and Midtown.

“This lets the traveling public know the city of Atlanta is the capital city,” said DOT board president Johnny Floyd. “We want to showcase it and make sure it looks good.”

The makeover, according to the Midtown Alliance, will include colored under-lighting for night time and the words “Peachtree Street” in lights, as well as sculptured fences and sidewalks on the surface level over the I-85/I-75 interchange.

The Department of Transportation’s board approved the expense on Thursday. DOT will …

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Charter schools amendment points the way for Georgia GOP

Republicans are doing some soul-searching after losing the presidential election and some winnable U.S. Senate contests. The Georgia GOP should be similarly self-reflective after delivering the second-smallest margin among states won by Mitt Romney.

The same demographic trends Romney failed to overcome are increasingly apparent in Georgia. Republicans here must learn to win over voters they typically haven’t attracted. Fortunately for them, Tuesday also offered a template for doing so: the successful charter schools amendment.

The referendum to affirm a state role in creating these public schools was passed in a Republican-dominated Legislature with crucial, but limited, Democratic support; was endorsed by our Republican governor; was opposed by the state Democratic Party; drew much-scrutinized financial support from wealthy Republicans outside Georgia; and was slammed in a radio ad by a civil-rights icon, the Rev. Joseph Lowery, as a precursor to resegregation.

Yet in …

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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 …

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Well, well: What’s this about a $50 million problem at MARTA?

This morning’s big AJC headline — in the print edition, it read “Audit: MARTA spends $50 million too much” — was one of the least surprising things I’ve ever read in our paper.

Not because of some anti-MARTA bias on my part. Rather, it’s because MARTA officials told me as much, almost 2.5 years ago.

In the first part of my special series on MARTA back in May 2010, I wrote:

As you may have heard, MARTA now faces a $120 million budget hole. Believe it or not, the agency projected as early as in 2006 that it would be short $60 million by now, even though revenues were forecast to rise for a decade. Problem was, expenses piled up even faster.

One might summarize the financial history of MARTA (and most public entities) this way:

The economy takes a turn for the worse; MARTA’s budget, which already assumed some operating losses, goes from tenuous to disastrous. Officials warn of (take your pick) drastic, draconian, devastating service cuts unless someone, anyone, finds $50 million …

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GDOT tries low-cost innovation as alternative to adding lanes

A few months ago, I wrote about the way Washington state has used variable speed limit signs on certain stretches of its highways to slow down traffic ahead of congested areas — thereby avoiding accidents, delaying the onset of gridlock and keeping traffic flowing freely for longer.

Now, it appears we’re going to try a similar tactic along I-285. From the AJC:

The state Department of Transportation on Thursday voted to install variable electronic speed limit signs on the northern half of I-285, where the speed limit will change depending on congestion.

On the southern half, where there is less traffic, the speed limit will simply be raised to 65 mph. DOT officials cautioned the speed limit is still 55 mph all the way around until the project is complete.

The roadway was designed to accommodate higher speeds.

“It’s the principle that it will help to reduce accidents,” said DOT’s chief engineer, Gerald Ross. “And in high speed times — off-peak — you won’t have people …

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Taxpayers lose in gas-tax ‘match’ game

One word I could go the rest of my life without hearing again, in relation to transportation spending, is “match.”

“Federal match” — as in the money we won’t get if we don’t increase state and local spending. “Local match” — as in the additional local funds required in regions that didn’t approve the T-SPLOST.

I’d like to strike a match and make this entire concept go up in smoke. It’s nothing but a symptom of our broken division of labor among levels of government.

After all, it’s all our money. Most of it is raised by the same levy on the same purchase. But it’s been divided among different agencies, leading us to believe some of it’s “free money” we can have — if we agree to someone else’s priorities.

Take the federal gas tax. That tax is commonly thought to have begun during Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency to pay for the interstate highway system. That’s not true, according to a history of the tax on the federal Department of …

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