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.
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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