What are the Real Cost of Roads vs. Transit?

This discussion yesterday on the proposed commuter rail line in Georgia raised a lot of points used by both sides in the debate about more roads vs. transit.  Much of the debate entailed the usual misconceptions about transit being too costly, inconvenient, or Senator John Douglas’ argument could be summarized as being I fear black people in downtown Atlanta at night. 

However, with regard to the cost, this report shows that transit is actually quite inexpensive compared to many of the road building projects proposed by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. 

Attention Republicans (particularly that suburban and exurban Atlanta sort):  If you do not support giving your constituents viable transit options, your traffic weary constituents will eventually throw you out of office!


  1. Mojo says:

    Or, in terms of Senator Douglas, “if it doesn’t help Henry County I don’t give a damn.” Healthcare for cancer stricken children? Are they in Henry County? No? F*** ’em!

  2. Erick says:

    Senator John Douglas’ argument could be summarized as being I fear black people in downtown Atlanta at night.

    That’s a very low blow and is absolutely not an accurate statement.

  3. Decaturguy says:

    Visit the MARTA Five Points station after dark some time when you are in Atlanta. Tell me whats wrong with that picture.

    Now tell me, what is Douglas trying to appeal to with that statement?

  4. John Konop says:

    I graduated from the University Of Cincinnati School Of Planning. BTW, at the time it was considered one of the top programs in the Country. I never actually worked in City planning after graduation, due to business being more lucrative.

    Yet anyone will tell you in city planning you cannot build you way out of traffic problems with roads. In fact the more roads you build, development follows and traffic tends to get worse.

    I do think rail does make sense, if we can make it pay for itself against the cost of roads. If not the rail business plan is flawed as to how, where or price to ride the rail system.

    I will say I lived in Dallas when they had the same debate. I have no idea, of the financial impact, but the rail lines where full every time I have been on it.

  5. Mad Dog says:


    What do you expect a white male who favors no gun control and works in a building with metal detectors to say?

    “I feel safe after dark in a city with 60% African American demographics because I have my police escort, battle armor, and claymores deployed?”

    What he is saying: “Every black male out after dark is a drug dealer, pimp, rapist, mugger, gang member, or OMG … a rapper!”

  6. DougieFresh says:


    Hey, I was born and lived half my life around Cincinnati, are you from Ohio originally?

    Now, on to the topic. I have a degree in engineering (chemical) so I am definitiely not an expert on city planning, but I had friends who have studied it, and I have had numerous discussion about traffic and how to eliviate it.

    From my understanding the statement that building new roads does not eliviate traffic congestion is not totally accurate.

    The issue is with the bottlenecks. You can build 100 lanes on I-75/I-85, but the traffic congestion would be the same because the bottleneck is not the interstate, it is the exits onto the “surface streets”.

    Atlanta has such a traffic problem because the only way to get to and from certain parts of the area is to take the interstate, or some 2 lane road with 200 traffic signals. (Try going from Lawrenceville to Marietta).

    If additional roads were built that were alternate routes, or if the capacity of the existing bottlenecks was increased, this would stop a lot of the headaches.

    You also stated that if new roads are built, it just breeds development, causing more traffic. How would this occur when an existing 2-lane is turned into a 3, 4, or 5 lane. The development would already be there.

    The problem with public transportation is that it is not something that works well in pedestrian unfriendly areas with low population density (all of America except NYC, Chicago and a few other Metro areas). For example, Atlanta has a pop density of 3,126/mi^2. NYC has a pop density of 26,348 with over 66,000 in Mahattan, Chicago 12,603, San Fran 16,443. In these places public transportation can work. When Atlanta gets 5 times as dense, maybe it will work here.

    People are not going to walk a mile and a half to get grociers on a grassy sloped shoulder of a 45 mph road. They are not going to brave a thunderstorm in a suit to go a half mile to catch a train, and they are not going wait an hour to catch a transfer bus to go to church.

    Public transportation is nice in theory, but it does not match the culture or geography of most of America, and thus will be a very hard sell.

  7. buzzbrockway says:

    Getting back to the actual point of Decaturguy’s post, action must be taken to deal with Atlanta’s traffic. The idea that rail and other public transportation will solve all the problems is as flawed as the idea that building more roads will.

    I think the idea of rail has some merit (as the results of this study I posted some time ago attest), but what about people like me who live 5 miles from work and sit in traffic for 20 minutes to get home?

    There is no public transportation system that will get me out of my car, not because I’m a greedy, polluting Republican but because I live so close to work. So guess what, for people like me, we need more roads.

    Tunnels and HOT lanes have merit as well, and I hope they enter the debate. Fresh ideas can help bring about solutions.

    Some other ideas I’ve posted about include:
    Continuous Flow Intersections
    Public/Private partnerships

  8. John Konop says:



    I am from Toledo Ohio.

    You are right that the design has an impact, but usually development fellows and it is a short term solution. The arguments you made about rail not working due to lay out of city was said about Dallas.

    My father in-law was the Assistant City manager of Dallas and he was skeptical as I was about rail working in Dallas. My Father in-law still lives in the area and now he is a big supporter of rail.

    I do not know any details on the cost benefit side at all in Dallas. But I did live their off and on for years and I would suggest we study what they did. Dallas has similar issues to Atlanta in terms of layout and traffic issues.

  9. DougieFresh says:


    In the interest of typing as fast as I could, I really did butcher spelling in my post.

    Anyway, Buzz is right. No single solution is going to work. A good first step is to fix those bottlenecks, like 2 lane roads that allow left turns and have no room to pass on the right.

    Just like a water in a pipe, traffic can only flow as fast as the slowest portion of the road will allow. Building capacity in places that aren’t backed up will not help those that are.

  10. DougieFresh says:


    You posted while I was composing my last post, so I get two in a row.

    Dallas is a good city to compare as it has an almost identical density and the Metro area is roughly the same size.

    The skeptic in me always distrusts data that I have not had a chance to look at myself, and since I have not ever visited Dallas, or looked at the costs/revenue, user satisfaction figures I really cannot comment either way.

    Do you have any info that you could post about it, such as if it is self sufficient, percent of utilization, fairs, what portion of the city is within a reasonable distance to a station, commute times of train passengers versus identical commutes by drivers, crime statistics in and around stations, or general sentiments toward the system by users and non-users.

    I am not suggesting you post it here neccessarily, but providing a link could be good.

  11. StevePerkins says:

    Sen. Douglas posted

    John Konop says:


    I have no idea if this is a PR stuff or not. But, I do know most people I know in Dallas area like rail.


    Dallas’ light-rail system is so successful today, it’s hard to imagine how close it came to foundering. DART recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of the opening of its first rail line. It’s good to look back on those difficult early years because they show other regions how vision and tenacity can overcome cynicism and self-doubt.

    First, though, how successful is DART? As the Dallas Morning News recounted recently, the 45-mile rail system has begun reshaping its region, not just by offering another way to work but by changing the way land is used along its path. According to studies, developers have announced or built more than $3 billion in projects in DART rail corridors in the past decade.


  12. DougieFresh says:

    I would actually like to live in an area where trains work. I have visited Paris for a total of about 6 weeks in my life, and the convienance of their trains makes them a pleasure. Sure they aren’t always the best sensory experience, but you are never really more than a block or two from a station.

    The current Marta model, in comparison, seems to be a complete waste. From what is proposed, I see the rail line as more of a poor extension of MARTA than something useful.

    If I had a dream train, I think I would pick a high speed train that went from Detroit to Miami (through Atlanta and Cincinnati). At 200 mph, you could get from Atlanta to anywhere in the SE in less than 2 hours (except extreme South Florida).

    With the nightmare that air travel has become, maybe it can work now.

  13. MediaGuyAtl says:

    Racism has nothing to do with this debate.. It did 25 years ago when shop lifting at Lenox went up something like 75% when Lenox marta station opened up. However it’s time for change.

    If there were enough marta stations with parking lots people could drive to the station in their suits and ties and transfer onto a train. Atlanta is not dense enough for people to walk to train stations. Also, if you look at most stations on the northside of Atlanta, there are NO sidewalks leading up to the stations, so driving a couple of miles to a station is not out of the question. A lot of people in the suburbs of New York City drive to stations and head to town. We can do that here very easily..

    We should have rail along every interstate highway and reach outside the periemeter at the minimum of 15 to 20 miles. Stations should exist at least every 3 to 5 miles. We should have an inner ring rail line (Beltline sound familiar Shirley Franklin?) An outer Beltline 15 to 20 miles outside 285 and a line around 285.

    Every major municipality, Roswell, Lawrenceville, Stone Mountain, Hampton, Fayetteville, Peachtree City, Carrollton, Marietta, Kennesaw, Acworth, Duluth, Suwanee should all have rail stations. Emory/CDC has to be a rail stop as well as Buckhead, Sandy Springs, Cumberland, Six Flags, East Atlanta (EastLake) should all have stops. Also, we need a stop AT Turner Field, not a mile away. Who cares about parking there, are we not trying to get people out of their cars?

    Currently I drive to Chamblee station or I am dropped off there and head to town but if I want to go to Buckhead I have to take the bus, no one will do that. I know there is a Buckhead stop, but it missed Central Buckhead by a mile.

    Sonny and Company are going to have to insist on Public Transportation throughout our 20+ county Metro area. The one way he can succeed with that proposal is make it a rail option. Like Washington DC we can pro rate the costs of the ride to coincide with the length you are riding.

    Enough with these band aid approaches to transportation and enough with double decking ideas and huge interchanges that we do not need.. and seem to be obsolete the very day they open them. Let’s lay that rail down today!

  14. Dorabill says:

    We’ve got people commuting from the far reaches of the galaxy these days. Should Atlanta be viewed like an organism around 285 or do we keep accomidating the sprawl with more concrete and asphalt, and possibly foreign-owned toll roads that just slow people down? Why become like L.A. which doesn’t have a real center? Roads at this point are a limiting factor. If we build more roads it will be something else–sewage, co2 emissions, deforestation/flooding, black bears in swimming pools, dogs and cats sleeping together…

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