Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

A head-scratching debate between rail options for T-SPLOST

It seems like a no-brainer. But those cases often make brains hurt the most.

Commuters along I-75 northwest of Atlanta want relief from traffic congestion. The state owns a railroad line that runs from Atlanta through the downtowns of Vinings, Smyrna, Marietta, Kennesaw and Acworth. It’s double-tracked most of the way, meaning there’s room for freight and passenger rail alike.

Make a few modifications, buy some train cars, and a commuter rail service for Cobb could be up and running within a few years — for a tiny fraction of the money that a 1 percent sales tax for transportation, or T-SPLOST, is forecast to provide if voters approve it next year.

Instead, transit planners want to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more to build a lower-capacity light rail line. Which wouldn’t be completed for more than a decade. And which, even when finished, wouldn’t go beyond Cumberland Mall. To reach Acworth would take another decade and nearly $2 billion more, from a source …

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T-SPLOST: Is traffic just not as bad for Republicans?

The AJC ran a couple of stories recently reporting the results of an opinion poll regarding the T-SPLOST referendum. My colleague Jim Galloway posted the cross tabs for the poll Monday, and a lot of the findings are predictable — e.g., self-identified Republicans are less likely to support a tax increase.

The most interesting finding in my view, however, was on a question that would seem to have nothing to do with partisanship or ideology: How often are you inconvenienced by traffic congestion?

Here are the results:

Democrats:

Daily — 28%; A Few Days a Week — 34%; Rarely — 27%; Never — 11%

Republicans:

Daily — 17%; A Few Days a Week — 26%; Rarely — 42%; Never — 15%

Independents:

Daily — 21%; A Few Days a Week — 49%; Rarely — 27%; Never — 2%

I was shocked by the difference between traffic problems for Democrats and Independents and those for Republicans. There are as many GOPers who say they rarely are inconvenienced by traffic as there are who say it happens daily or a few …

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T-SPLOST limits tax options for far more than 10 years

In name, the proposed 1 percent sales tax to fund transportation projects would sunset within 10 years. In reality, the list of these projects for metro Atlanta makes one thing clear: This is no 10-year tax.

On the contrary, voters should consider it the beginning of an approach to infrastructure financing on which the sun never sets — one that is fraught with implications for our entire revenue structure.

The draft list of projects, due for final approval by 21 local officials next month, features several items that would receive less than state experts say they’ll cost. That includes four transit projects that come up a total of $900 million short:

  • A rail line from the Lindbergh MARTA station to Emory University, pegged at $1 billion for capital costs and about $27 million more for a decade of operating costs, was pledged $700 million.
  • A light rail line from the Arts Center MARTA station to the vicinity of Cumberland Mall would be allocated $856.5 million, even though …

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Tea partyers ask for consistency on timing of sales-tax votes (Updated)

The Legislature’s special redistricting session kicked off today. But with little business to conduct on the first day — first drafts of new statehouse maps have been released, but no bills yet — the show was stolen by some tea partyers complaining about another item on the session’s agenda.

Gov. Nathan Deal’s call to legislators included moving the date of a 2012 referendum on regional transportation sales taxes from the primaries next July to the November general election. This is a cynical move by Georgia Republicans, who are effectively enlisting Obama Democrats — expected to turn out in much higher numbers in November than in July — to pass a tax their own base doesn’t want.

The tea partyers’ response? Turnout turnabout is fair play.

“Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and the Democrats in Washington during the Obamacare debate kept constantly changing the rules in the middle of the game to achieve the outcome they wanted,” Debbie Dooley, a national coordinator with Tea Party …

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Why GOP’s redistricting won’t lead to a hard right turn

Now come the Democrats, cartographers of their own power for 130 years, to question the GOP’s intentions as it takes its first crack at drawing Georgia’s political maps.

A special session of the Legislature convenes Monday to redraw the districts of federal and state lawmakers. Conducted once a decade, it’s the most nakedly political exercise our state legislators undertake.

But the GOP is baring too much political ambition for Democrats to bear, claims House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams. She accuses Republicans of following the 1965 Voting Rights Act too eagerly, to “purge” the state of white Democrats and hand the GOP a super-majority of two-thirds of the seats in each chamber.

The landmark civil rights law is not as negotiable as Abrams lets on. Were Republicans not to err on the side of compliance, by creating as many “majority-minority” districts as possible, a thornier fight would await them.

So, two questions: Why are white Democrats so vulnerable? And …

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To get Georgians moving, get Washington out of the way

Tens of millions of dollars generated from Georgia’s roads wind up in other states’ coffers. And a whole lot more is spent at the whim of Washington bureaucrats.

No wonder our transportation funding seems so bad.

As Georgians next year face a referendum on a 1 percent sales tax to fund new roads and mass transit, they could be forgiven for wondering why roughly $2 billion a year of gasoline tax revenues don’t suffice.

The answer is all too familiar:

We are taxed here. The money goes up to Washington. Not all of it comes back.

And we aren’t even allowed to decide how to spend most of the money we do get back.

There are a number of reasons this situation is no longer tolerable, if it ever was (it was hatched in the 1950s to create our interstate highway system). But first, let’s get specific, with some figures from the Georgia Department of Transportation:

  • Each year, Georgia levies about $2 billion of gas taxes.
  • About two-thirds of the money, some $1.3 billion, is …

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For transportation tax, keep projects doable and affordable

We’re beginning to get an idea of how metro Atlanta’s transportation network might change — and how it won’t — if voters next year approve a 1 percent sales tax to pay for new infrastructure.

First, how it won’t change. The $6.1 billion in projected revenues from the tax would not contribute to a bypass to divert freight traffic around Atlanta as it moves between Savannah’s port and the rest of the country. Nor would the money expedite a regional network of variable-toll lanes so motorists can move from A to B quickly if they’re willing to pay a premium.

And, as my more transit-oriented friends note, the money would contribute little to (relatively) low-cost bus rapid transit and nothing to (potentially) high-use commuter rail.

In other words, there are few things on the lists that advocates of either roads or rails would consider game-changers.

Instead, we might fulfill some basic needs: e.g., new interchanges at such bottlenecks as I-285 and Ga. 400 and the …

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One conservative’s approach to mass transit: Control costs

A conservative mass-transit advocate — your eyes deceive you not; such creatures exist — came to Atlanta recently to tell liberals how to sell public transportation to tea partyers.

Briefly: It’s about the money.

Money already was on the minds of those in William Lind’s audiences: They want transit to get a big chunk of the $8 billion that a new 1-cent sales tax could generate in 10 years. And they know that, to get any money, they’ll need a lot of conservatives to vote “yes” in a referendum next year to establish the tax in 10 metro Atlanta counties.

If they listened closely to Lind, director of the American Conservative Center for Public Transportation, they won’t get stuck on tactics, such as using words like “conservation” or “stewardship” — instead of “environmentalism” — to talk up transit. Changing up the vocabulary won’t Jedi-mind-trick conservatives into voting yea.

Instead, they’ll have taken to heart this message, as Lind put it to me in …

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Alternative fuel for Georgia’s transportation needs

Higher gas prices are with us to stay, so the gas tax is headed for extinction.

That’s the counterintuitive message from Samuel Staley, a leading expert on free-market transportation policy.

Gas prices are destined to remain high, said Staley, director of urban and land use policy for the libertarian Reason Foundation, because of greater demand for oil from China, India and Africa.

“We’re not going to give up our cars” and the controlled environment and customized mobility they provide us, Staley said Tuesday at a luncheon held by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, and in an interview with me beforehand. “What we’re going to do is find different ways to power our cars.” That means less gas used, and declining gas-tax revenues.

(Click here to see Staley’s PowerPoint presentation from Tuesday and here to watch video of his speech.)

Samuel Staley

Samuel Staley

Staley sees China’s rising demand first-hand. He spends much of his time there, counseling local governments on …

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Can T-SPLOST supporters overcome infighting, unrealistic expectations?

If you think the transportation sales tax is a good idea, you can’t be happy about this report in the AJC today:

On Monday, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed presented 20 transportation projects and city council members balked, claiming the list does not address key issues for the city and they had no input.

Creating more friction, Reed was expected to whittle the 20 projects, which would cost an estimated $6.9 billion obtained from 2012 referendum tax money set aside for transportation needs, to a workable number himself by Wednesday to submit to the state.

“Whoever had the bright idea to circumvent the council may have doomed the council’s support for this; it is just a matter of good form that you would want to have the buy-in of the council,” council president Ceasar C. Mitchell said. “The political risk here is members of the council being more aloof on this project. There has to be a strong push to get people to vote on this. This doesn’t help me in wanting to support …

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