Welcome to Georkansas: Suddenly, we have a rail gap

Did you go to work this morning feeling, well, slightly different? As if you lived in Arkansas?

There’s a reason. This is the day that Georgia became something less than it’s been – a place where flocks and flocks of chickens have come home to roost. Like that playground scene from Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” only not so funny.

This was on the front page of the AJC this morning:

North Carolina has spent more than $300 million since 1992 to bolster its passenger rail service. On Thursday, it saw a return on that investment: a $545 million slice of President Barack Obama’s $8 billion high-speed rail stimulus.

Florida got an even bigger piece of that pie — $1.25 billion. The Sunshine State may have helped its case by boosting funding for mass transit after U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood warned that it needed to get its act together to compete for high-speed rail funds.

Georgia got a similar warning but didn’t jump to action. It got a $750,000 sliver.

Welcome to Georkansas.

This is how Birmingham felt in the 1960s, when it realized that airlines were indeed serious about big jets and big airports. Rail is the next big thing, and we have dug ourselves a large philosophic hole. Sam Williams, head of the Metro Chamber of Commerce and a longtime advocate of rail, said this morning that it will be years before we can crawl out:

“The first criteria that we’ve heard form the feds is that you have to have a state rail plan thoroughly written and presented. And you have to also have congressional support, and you have to have state government support. We’re so underfunded on infrastructure that, at this stage of the game, I don’t see them diverting any other funds to do the upfront work that North Carolina and Florida have done.

“Those states have spent hundreds and millions of dollars of their own money in the last decade. There may be specific projects – certainly there’s a lot of hope right now over the Peachtree-Auburn trolley project coming out of stimulus money. But stimulus money? We’ve gotten all the money we’re going to get.”

Renay Blumenthal, senior vice president at the Chamber, added this:

“We’ve got to put skin in the game. Which really comes back to why this regional T-SPLOST is so important. The only entity that’s got money to put into transportation right now is the federal government. We need to align our state transportation priorities with the federal transportation authorities to get access to that money. “

Which means that Gov. Sonny Perdue’s proposal for regional transportation districts will have to include language that permits expenditures on rail, or there isn’t likely to be a deal.

On that same topic, Denis O’Hayer at WABE (90.1FM) has picked on a slight split in pro-transportation ranks on the matter of timing, between Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Williams of the Metro Chamber.

Listen to O’Hayer’s full report here.

Perdue has put off a statewide referendum on the issue until 2012. At the Atlanta Press Club on Thursday, Reed said he’d rather have the issue on this year’s November ballot:

“A 2012 vote means 2014 funding. And it’ll be 2014 before you can bond debt and begin significant road projects,” the mayor said.

But Williams told O’Hayer he was content with a 2012 vote:

“We’ve looked at other cities around the nation – Phoenix, Salt Lake [City], Seattle, San Diego. Each of those metropolitan areas took a year to two years to publicly educate people about what is going to be on the ballot — what projects will be picked…..Plus this economy that we’re in now, I wouldn’t want to have a referendum in this day and time.”

One last note on the transportation front: My AJC colleague Ariel Hart has also written about yet another – very complicated — dust-up between Perdue and the state transportation board. Dick Pettys over at InsiderAdvantage posits this:

Our sources say the following steps are now being considered at the highest legislative levels:

– Revisiting last year’s transportation governance reform bill, SB 200, to further restrict the power of the DOT board.

– Drastically cutting the operational budget of DOT.

It is as if the federal government insisted on more proof of the dysfunctional state of transportation in Georgia, and we were happy to oblige.

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58 comments Add your comment

Terrence

January 29th, 2010
11:41 am

A long time ago, I really thought Atlanta and Georgia was going to be a progressive city and state. I always wondered why rail (commuter, high-speed & local) has taken back seat. Atlanta stopped being progressive after the Olympics. The region is going to start losing some of its high-profile companies and head to North Carolina & Florida because of the different transportation modes these states and their respective cities offer. This region is becoming a choke-hold with only funding for roads.

Jon

January 29th, 2010
11:43 am

You mean that everybody else can see that this administration has been a total failure? What’s stopping the rest of you holdouts from coming to this conclusion?

TP4U

January 29th, 2010
11:45 am

@Terrence – Ditto

Good Government

January 29th, 2010
11:49 am

We’re still talking roads and Florida and the Carolinas are talking rail… We’re going to lose the competitive advantage in terms of job growth. It will not matter how deep our port is if business can’t get its goods out of Savannah…

Put freight on rail. Free up space on congested roads. Implement smart innovation to handle traffic. Balance investment in rail and new roads moving forward.

It will take GA 10 years to catch up – AT LEAST – but we’ve got to start somewhere.

The Late Maynord Jackson

January 29th, 2010
11:54 am

“There may be specific projects – certainly there’s a lot of hope right now over the Peachtree-Auburn trolley project coming out of stimulus money” The Maynard Jackson machine is all for the trolley project, lots of good money to be skimmed from a joke like this, not Jackson Airport money but a buck is a buck. Our boy Kasim is sure taking care of us.

professional skeptic

January 29th, 2010
11:59 am

Excuse me if I sound like a broken record:

This is exactly what Georgia can expect, when year after year its voters choose to elect a bunch of gutless, visionless, bumpkin do-nothings to run our state.

wagnert

January 29th, 2010
12:01 pm

I don’t see jealousy here because North Carolina and Florida are getting rail (what did North Carolina get for the $300 million they spent on rail, anyway?) I see jealousy because they’re getting “free” Federal money. Florida got $1.25 billion, Georgia only $750,000. If this bothers you so much, take the $750K and plan some rational, useful, economical rail links. Or, use the money to buy some Congressmen — word is they come cheap this year.

Shawn

January 29th, 2010
12:01 pm

Will someone please show me the surge in actual demand for trains? Why is it that governments are mesmerized by the thought of trains running everywhere? Does anyone reading this *really* know someone who wants to ride a train from Atlanta to, say, Miami? Don’t we have trains already? Amtrak has never turned a profit, never will, and only shows up on the news when it has a derailment or when another subsidy is discussed. STOP TRYING TO MAKE US EUROPE! THERE IS NO DEMAND FOR THIS, else high-speed trains would already be built and running. The only demand is of bureacrats wanting more Federal government money to spend on *something*.

ProgressiveVoice

January 29th, 2010
12:01 pm

Terrance:
Atlanta and Georgia stopped being progressive in 2002; though it is difficult to use the term progressive to describe the years prior. The state stopped looking toward the future and started counting its pennies. If you need an explanation…..Sonny did it.

tc

January 29th, 2010
12:02 pm

we don’t need not stinkin’ rail……to go fishing

Jon

January 29th, 2010
12:03 pm

Hey, if Sonny can throw millions in tax breaks at corporations to move here without studying whether the state will ever see a ROI…why not rail?

iRun

January 29th, 2010
12:08 pm

Look no further than Shawn as Exhibit A for this mess.

Sally

January 29th, 2010
12:12 pm

I’d love to have the option of train travel. Amtrak doesn’t show a profit because it’s a joke. I had nephews who rode the train from Charlottesville to Bham for the fun of it a few years ago. It took them 2 days to do the trip. That’s why people don’t chose Amtrak. A system that runs the way Europe’s rail system runs would get lots of ridership. Especially now that air travel is such a pain.

I generally vote Republican but I have to say that the Republicans in Georgia have set us back decades. Roy Barnes actually had a transportation plan that included rail. Just imagine how much more of those dollars we might have gotten had the red necks of Georgia not voted him out,

LF

January 29th, 2010
12:26 pm

Gov. Perdue is just SORRY!!!!!!
That’s why GA can’t do anything right.

Doh!

January 29th, 2010
12:26 pm

Shawn- Highways and roads don’t turn a profit either. And the only time we hear about them is…… wel everyday when they’re clogged with traffic. As long as they don’t make me pay to check my bag, I’d ride it from Atl to Miami next weekend if it was available. But its not, so I’d have to sit through a traffic jam down in Henry County @ 2 in the morning.

Henry

January 29th, 2010
12:27 pm

I agree with Sally, but it wasn’t just the red necks, it was the school teachers too. Now look at the shape they are in. Bring back Roy and good sense in state government.

Art Vandalay

January 29th, 2010
12:31 pm

Well Shawn what exactly is your solution to transportation problems? More lanes, i guess we can go ahead and make I 75 in Cobb county 20 lanes across. Believe it or not there are people who live in the suburbs because of family, kids, cost of living etc that don’t work at a bait and tackle store or the mall so they have to commute into town for work and would prefer to not sit in 2 hours worth of traffic to do it. There is plenty of demand to be able to live some place like Alpharetta for example and drive 10 minutes to a train station in your neighborhood get on a train sit back read the news paper start working on you blackberry or laptop and in 20 minutes be at Peachtree center…the demand is there don’t be ignorant

John E. Crash

January 29th, 2010
12:42 pm

I hear the train a comin’ it’s rollin’ round the bend but it hadn’t been to Georgia in I don’t know when…..

Perdue's last stand

January 29th, 2010
12:42 pm

anyone notice both NC and Florida voted Obama, Georgia voted McCain…??? Political payback part of the equation too….

Gomer Pyle

January 29th, 2010
12:49 pm

Well Golleee, at least we got us some boat ramps.

David

January 29th, 2010
12:51 pm

Sally, I totally agree with you – I think a lot more people would take a train if you could get to where you wanted to go. Out of curiosity, I once called Amtrak about going from Atlanta to Savannah. You would have to go to Washington DC first and then travel back South, taking two days.
I too am a Republican and threw away my vote on that empty suit Sonny Perdue. If we had a tiny bit of leadership from the Governor, or from the Georgia Legislature, we might be getting more the 1/2 percent of the rail stimulus money. At least Roy Barnes had the guts to try to show some leadership and create some solutions on transportation. Georgia and Atlanta have lacked any real leadership on transportation for the last 25 years or more. The people with any vision don’t have the clout to do anything, and the people with clout have no vision and don’t do anything at all. It’s very frustrating.
The prospect of having someone with the balls to do something, heck, anything, (ie: Roy Barnes) is looking pretty good right now.

Daedalus

January 29th, 2010
12:54 pm

Political payback has nothing to do with it.

Georgia DOT is simply unprepared and our state leaders are simply clueless. They only want more asphalt.

Read the story — Georgia asked for $$ for an Atlanta to Macon rail line — the feds pointed out that we have $80 million in federal funds for that line that have not been spent in 12 years.

Florida’s rail initiative was strongly supported by Gov. Jeb Bush and the GOP legislature and the Obama’s USDOT gave them a pile of money. Why? Because they are prepared, they have a plan, they’ve done the studies and the state will pay its share. Now check your beloved GOP leaders in Georgia — we got what we deserved.

Nice try — but this one is not Obama’s fault.

anonymous coward

January 29th, 2010
12:59 pm

What is it about the different European countries’ rail systems that you find objectionable and not want to emulate? Could it be the well designed tier system that Germany has of local/metro/inter-city/Eurail, all tied together and so completely reliable that I can take the metro from my hotel in Munich, transfer to the high speed InterCity ICE train to Stuttgart and catch a Delta flight to Atlanta, all in a span of 2 hours and completely on time? Or maybe it’s the French high speed rail that takes only 3 hours to get from Paris to Nice on the southern coast at 300kph? (To be fair, the French train people want to go on strike at inconvenient times, so maybe that’s not a good example). Or maybe Spain’s metro and ferrocarrile system that allows me to go from Madrid to Barcelona completely reliably, cheaper than with a car and with no hassles?
When Eisenhower rammed the interstate system through Congress it was because of the cold war and the idea that the interstates could be used as vast landing/take off fields for fleets of bombers. And yet there were some people that understood that such an infrastructure was crucial to building commerce in a country where Route 66 was the only way to get from Chicago to Los Angeles over many days.
I would love to be able to take a reliable, on-time, expanded rail system from one point in Atlanta to another, or mixed-mode, without the hassle of cars, but I can’t and I doubt I ever will be. It doesn’t really matter because I’m moving to a city that has an extensive network of local light rail, heavier commuter rail, and extensive Amtrak rail. My new place is an 8 minute walk to the office, and when I need to go downtown I take the shuttle to the commuter rail station and hop on the next train (for which I can plan because they run on time most of the time and there are apps on my iPhone that tell me when the next train is). The trip to the downtown office is all of 20 minutes, including walking. I doubt that would ever happen in my life time here, and that’s really unfortunate.

Aquagirl

January 29th, 2010
1:01 pm

Count me as another vote for 1.Amtrak, and 2. Shawn to quit talking only to his pavement-happy ‘burb neighbors. Go chat up some folks in the airport who have just been through a TSA body cavity search. You’ll find a high level of interest in cutting bloated air travel subsidies in favor of rail.

I love how people slam Amtrak as “subsidized.” Like roads are naturally occurring features.

about time

January 29th, 2010
1:03 pm

here’s an idea. Let’s focus on putting a gun in the hands of every georgia citizen. let’s make sure the 10 commandments are displayed in every public building. let’s make sure those gays can’t get married. FORGET ABOUT TRANSPORTATION. WELCOME TO GEORGIA POLITICS!!!!!

Trains are for conservatives

January 29th, 2010
1:04 pm

I’ve ridden amtrack from Detroit to Chicago, its great not having to park a car there and it takes you strait into town in about the amount of time it would take to drive. So it does work in some places!

I wish there was a train from Atlanta to Savannah/Charleston. That would be great.

I am conservative which is why i like light rail over bus (CHEAPER in long run), the FREEDOM of choice that would be provided with trains, and the MONEY SAVED on wear and tear on my car plus gas (plus, as a car guy, I like to keep the miles off my car!)

HB

January 29th, 2010
1:04 pm

Shawn, rail from Atlanta to Miami doesn’t require passengers that want to travel from Atlanta to Miami. Amtrak is great through the Northeast corridor, and I doubt that many people ride from DC to Boston on a regular basis — they get on and off along the way in NYC, Philly, Baltimore, New Haven, etc. With stops in Macon, Savannah, Jacksonville, maybe Orlando (or may be better to stay on the coast), West Palm, Fort Lauderdale, you’ll have plenty of people regularly riding segments of the route. Connections to cities closer to Atlanta — Nashville, Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, Birmingham — would be fantastic too. Those tracks could be shared with commuter rail too. Maryland’s MARC line between Baltimore and DC, hitting 6 or 7 suburb stops, shares tracks with Amtrak, and I’m pretty sure VRE in Virginia does too. And no, Amtrak doesn’t show a profit, but neither do subways (at least none I know of) nor as someone else said roads.

Edgewood

January 29th, 2010
1:18 pm

Creating a high speed rail system throughout the state’s metropolitan areas will expand access to education and job prospects for many of the state’s residents. It will spur local economies throughout the state and allow for a more comprehensive and inclusive statewide economic development policy linked with a statewide transportation policy. Maybe it will mean an end to metro-Atlanta versus “Rest of Georgia” politics at the state capital. I guess we can only dream at this point. And as for the criticism of Amtrak, once the Acela high speed train extends its reach into North Carolina, we will all be amazed at how at statewide strategy for educational research, economic development, and transportation infrastructure will lead to that states continuing prosperity while our politicians will continue to waste time and tax dollars at the Gold Dome.

Art Vandalay

January 29th, 2010
1:21 pm

The state would be a much more cohesive place if someone who got laid off in Augusta could work in Atlanta and not move because he can be to downtown atlanta from downtown augusta in about an hour

Too Much

January 29th, 2010
1:25 pm

We got exactly what we deserve – nothing

DJ Sniper

January 29th, 2010
1:30 pm

About Time, you pretty much summed up Georgia politics in your post. It’s amazing what issues our elected officials will throw their weight around. To them, it doesn’t matter that this state is becoming more and more backwards ever day(transportation issues, sorry education system, no Sunday alcohol sales) but hey, as long as we can carry a gun wherever we go, we will be alright!

Clean out the capital and start over from scratch.

lmno

January 29th, 2010
1:34 pm

“Does anyone reading this *really* know someone who wants to ride a train from Atlanta to, say, Miami? ”

Yeah, that would be great actually.

Base

January 29th, 2010
1:34 pm

Sorry Sonny and the legislature refuse to fund rail,as a result it is dead.But Georgia is open for business.

Aaron Burr V. Mexico

January 29th, 2010
1:37 pm

I laugh at the pathetic morons that live in this state. I’d move in a heart beat if my wife wasn’t so attached to her damn job.

Art Vandalay

January 29th, 2010
1:44 pm

http://www.ajc.com/news/poverty-moves-fast-to-286703.html
Here you go suburbanites, think any of this comes from the fact that you can’t easily get into the city where the jobs are????

John

January 29th, 2010
2:12 pm

What a Lump for governor.
I too thought that Atlanta was progressive.
I guess that the voters got what they wanted, nothing.
Just wait until people start moving out.

Big Papa

January 29th, 2010
2:25 pm

If the state continues to treat its most important region like a step-child, in about 10 years Atlanta will resemble Detroit and the state of Georgia will resemble Michigan. I will never vote Republican again!

Mark C.

January 29th, 2010
2:45 pm

Maybe Sonny should pray for rail.

PoliticOracle

January 29th, 2010
2:56 pm

I would love a high-speed rail line to Miami, imagine the wonders that would do for the cruisline industry and travel agencies in Atlanta. This is why the ineptitude of the past 8 years of Sonny and his ilk must end this year. I know ROY isn’t perfect, but is certainly not a do-nothing and he definitely had a feasible transportation plan for this state.

Yes, PoliticOracle is back. It would good to see some of the loony posters that were during the mayoral elections or were y’all taken off the payroll…LOL

PoliticOracle

January 29th, 2010
3:01 pm

Atlanta is progressive, its just the backwards folks around Atlanta aren’t. Boy, if they’d only come into the 21st century.

Cutty

January 29th, 2010
3:24 pm

Some people think that EVERYTHING has to turn a profit. Some things, like rail, may not turn a profit financially, but allow local economies to grow. You can catch an hourly train from South Bend, Indiana to downtown Chicago, but have to hop in the car to get from Douglasville to Five Points. SMH.

Jim Nichols

January 29th, 2010
3:40 pm

@PoliticOracle I’m not sure if its the backwards folks or just backward Rep’s? I’m running against one of the most backwards representatives on transportation policy the state of Georgia has. Steve Davis down in the 109 is a perfect example of why we have Gridlock–in the Gold Dome itself, and as you try to go home from it at the end of the day. Davis has personally done all that he can to help stop progress on the transit front…

And we all pay the consequences….

– Jim
http://www.JimN2010.com

Zeb

January 29th, 2010
4:14 pm

This country used to run on rails. My parents and grandparents went everywhere on trains until the ’50’s. Then Congress fell into the pockets of big oil and big auto and the passenger rail system was allowed to dry up and blow away. Billions for roads and road builders via the paid-off politicians, nada for passenger rail. And trillions of our money over decades to the oil kingdoms–who want to destroy us– to build palaces and indoor ski slopes and –probably– the finest WMD’s money can buy. We are so dumb we deserve to be a third world state, which we are becoming rapidly. And our Neanderthal legislature is still back in the 50’s, where road money was the ticket to power.

john

January 29th, 2010
4:36 pm

The name Georgia is now synomous with Backward. I’m planning to leave.

RoswellHOG

January 29th, 2010
4:43 pm

I find your Arkansas line amusing. I’ve lived in both places and there is not a “hill of beans” difference in the average guy on the street. But if it makes you feel better about yourself……….

tc

January 29th, 2010
4:55 pm

it must be a joke, but after the supreme court ruling….a new llc is being formed to run for congress

could george w have screwed up this country any worse? and we have a bunch of george w’s in our elected officials in ga, but they probably aren’t as bright

Ferg

January 30th, 2010
1:11 am

I blame Perdue and the GOP leadership, the party of NO.
Add current DOT head, Vance Smith.

John

January 30th, 2010
7:14 am

Yeah, with ALL that HORRIBLE traffic on I-16 between Macon and Savannah…we need a high-speed rail line between the two cities.

Look folks….if rail was such a great idea, why won’t some corporation come out and fund such an idea?? Its simple: There is NO money to be made on passenger rail. Those days ended years ago. Since there is no demand for passenger rail, why should the taxpayers fund a money-losing operation??

Passenger rail should be commuter rail service around Atlanta and not between cities like Atlanta/Macon/Savannah.

If there were a lot more traffic on I-16, then yes, maybe we can think there is a demand for it. But back in December, we drove down there for the weekend. I-16 is a deserted Interstate with very little traffic with the exception of redneck sheriffs running radar.

Da Bard

January 30th, 2010
9:28 am

Uh, John. No commuter rail service or high-speed rail service anywhere makes a profit. Its considered infrastructure. Something you conservatives consider a dirty word.

How much money does I-85 or I-75 make? Nothing.

However your beloved Sonny Perdue wants to turn our interstates — which we have already paid for into toll roads so we can pay for them all over again and again.

If all your gonna do is repeat the right-wing mantra that transit has to turn a profit while ignoring the fact that highways do not, you will always be stuck in gridlock.

But maybe that’s a good place for you. You can do less harm that way.

Shar

January 30th, 2010
10:00 am

Cities like New York, San Francisco and Chicago could not grow without their rail lines. The land around those cities is too expensive and full of people who would fight any attempt to take it, and congestion makes it just about impossible to park a car in the urban centers. Instead, they have systems of various degrees of modernity that will take passengers into hubs that are serviced by other forms of transit – or (gasp!) people can WALK – to deliver them to jobs and shopping. Those cities have vibrant downtowns, while Atlanta has sidewalk vendors and empty storefronts.

After Christmas, I took a train from my parents’ home in Connecticut, 2 hours north of NYC, into Grand Central Station, crossed the street and took a bus directly to La Guardia. The time it took was only slightly more than a traffic-free drive to the airport, but the liklihood of a traffic-free drive is almost nil and, had we tried it, my folks would have had to turn around and drive back. I just got back from visiting my mother-in-law in northwest Alabama, and would have much preferred a train or a bus to five hours of interstate driving.

Yes, Shawn, I have taken Amtrak, by choice, to New York, Philly, New Orleans, Washington and Los Angeles. The schedules can easily be thrown off by someone’s cow being on the track at the wrong moment, but in the last six months I have not taken a flight that was not at least an hour late, and you have to arrive two hours ahead. Amtrak takes you into the heart of the cities it serves, serves pretty good food, and does not require baggage fees or security lines. I’d take it to Miami in a heartbeat. Georgia’s politicians like to drive, usually too fast and drunk. They think public transportation is for, well, ALL of the public, particularly the part of the public they don’t want to ever sit next to. Therefore, they put our money into roads. They will consign us all to a never-ending race to keep up instead of a chance to grow.