No surprise in new study: Transit a low priority in Georgia

Nate Berg recently wrote at The Atlantic Cities: “Trying to define exactly where every transportation dollar in the U.S. goes is probably more effort than it’s worth. Understanding generally where that money goes, however, is both doable and informative.”

His post links to the new report Tracking State Transportation Dollars by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, which has broadened its emphasis beyond NY, NJ, and CT to look at transportation priorities in each of the 50 states.

The focus is on how states use federal money:

This project examines each state’s use of federal transportation dollars as reported to the federal government through the state’s statewide transportation improvement program [STIP]. State and local contributions to the federal funds are included in the state analysis if the state included this information in its statewide transportation improvement program.

And a bit more on the methodology:

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign conducted a line-by-line analysis of each state’s statewide transportation improvement program [STIP] for the most recent years available at the time of the analysis. TSTC categorized each project listed in the statewide transportation improvement program in one of the following nine categories: new road capacity, bridge capacity expansion, road minor widening/maintenance, bridge maintenance/replacement, bicycle/pedestrian, safety, road/bridge projects with bicycle/pedestrian components, transit, and other.

The following are included in the analysis:

  • GARVEE-funded projects
  • ARRA-funded projects
  • State and local spending on projects not receiving federal funds (if included in document)
  • Advance Construction
  • Advance Construction Conversion

The following are not included:

  • Debt service payments
  • Indian Reservation Roads and Bridges
  • Federal Lands Highways
  • Aviation
  • Ports

So this is an inexact science, but it seems that the data gives a valid snapshot of that state’s priorities.

The landing page for the study provides a variety of filters that can be applied to a map of the U.S. You can also choose individual states from the menu.

Here’s the breakdown in spending in Georgia for those nine categories:
Bridge Maintenance/Replacement: 10%
Road/Bridge Project with Bike/Ped Components: 1%
Bicycle/Pedestrian: 5%
Bridge Capacity Expansion: 1%
Road Maintenance/Minor Widening: 30%
New Road Capacity: 28%
Transit: 6%
Safety: 13%
Other: 8%

But what’s the ideal breakdown? What should we compare Georgia to?

Since so much of the T-SPLOST debate has dealt with transit, I took a quick look at the percentage being spent on transit projects in a handful of relatively big states with populations largely concentrated in a single metro area.

Transit spending as reported in each state’s STIP:
Georgia: 6%
Minnesota: 21%
Illinois: 42%
Arizona: 16%
Nevada: 13%
Utah: 42%

It seems clear that Georgia should make transit a higher priority.


  1. Bob Loblaw says:

    Right now, “Other” outpaces Transit in Georgia. Yeah. We have the largest state east of the Mississippi, the world’s busiest airport, are the Capitol City of the Southern U.S.A. and we think “Other” is vastly more important than transit.

    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      I can vouch for the miniscule amount of money spent on transit in Indiana as I have had to spend a lot of time there due to family matters.

      Heck, you ask somebody about transit in Indiana and you’ll get a blank stare as they struggle to figure out the meaning of the word “transit”.

      Needless to say, transit investment is not a big part of the conversation there, nor is it in Kentucky or South Carolina, two other states that I have spent time in.

    • Bob Loblaw says:

      No state on this list has a city like Atlanta. Even Salt Lake City isn’t close. Failure to lead on so many levels.

      • bgsmallz says:

        The lack of transit in Indianapolis is always confusing to me. I’ve been there several times and really don’t understand it. The town car business from the airport certainly isn’t hurting because of it.

        I have had the pleasure of riding the South Shore line from downtown Chicago to South Bend (for something happening in the fall…hmmm….). I assume that is the only transit in the state.

        There is a really great graphic that shows Atlanta’s transit map compared to other cities in animation. The fact that we started out ahead of so many other cities and then abandoned it is so disheartening.

        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

          Indianapolis is probably much less in need of a comprehensive transit system than most other cities because almost everything that is tourist or convention-related in a relatively very-small walkable downtown like an oversized railroad town.

          The fact that almost everything is within walking distance Downtown is why the Super Bowl liked the town so exceptionally well and wants to apply the Indianapolis concept of virtually everything being within a small compact walkable area in the very center of town to other host cities moving forward.

          Besides that, like many other places throughout the interior of the country, Indianapolis is an example of an ultimate car culture identity that is steeped heavily in the town’s auto-racing and automobile manufacturing heritage, so transit is something that will likely never really catch on as an issue there as Indianapolis’ transit system is ranked so ridiculous low that it fell completely out of the rankings of America’s largest 100 metro areas…It is virtually a metro area of two million people (about the size of Charlotte) without even the most remote semblance of a viable transit system.

          • bgsmallz says:

            Thanks for the geography lesson. As you may have noticed from my earlier comment, I have been to Indianapolis and understand that the convention area is very small and walkable, much like our own convention area in Downtown Atlanta.

            What seems to be the answer is that much like Atlanta, Indy ditched a rich transit/rail history for cars (probably for similar reasons…cheap and unending land in all directions into the suburbs…)

            Unlike Atlanta…Indy seems to have a plan going forward.

            Funny…maybe we should be at least happy enough that our legislature let us vote?


            • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

              Indy may have a plan, but as you point out, much like Georgia it needs the Indiana State Legislative approval of either a tax increase or a tax increase referendum to move forward, something is not likely to come anytime soon in a state dominated by conservative politics in which support of a tax increase of any kind is like putting a big target on a politicians forehand and where it is not uncommon for Democrats to take to the airwaves to brag about their conservative bonafides much like their Republican counterparts.

              • bgsmallz says:

                The massive transportation plan and support of Atlanta’s infrastructure came grinding to a halt as soon as these tax hating ‘conservative’ folks got in to power.


                We have similar issues in that we have groups of people that are self interested (which is normal) and fail to recognize the symbiotic relationship between the two ‘Georgias’. (which is also normal, but dangerous)

                The danger to Georgia’s prosperity isn’t solely in the TEA Party or Grover’s beard or the NAACP or the Sierra Club or even rural GA vs. metro Atlanta….the danger is that reasonable public policy will be forgone because there aren’t enough folks that are willing to make a compromise to forge a reasonable public policy.

                And that isn’t a Georgia problem…that’s been the tenuous nature of our republic since the 18th century…we are a nation whose public policy is built on compromise and self-sacrifice for the common good…the common good being those inalienable rights.

                We tend to lose our way when we forget that and instead cling to political ideology.

  2. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    Much of that 28% that is going towards new road capacity must be getting spent largely on four and five lanes in South Georgia, that and disappearing into the black hole that is the “accounting” department at the Georgia Department of Transportation because I sure as heck don’t see an inordinate amount of road expansion going on here in Metro Atlanta.

    • Dave Bearse says:

      I seem to recall you expressing an interest in SR133. P.I.s 0000543, 0000545, and 0000546 that widen SR133 to a four lane with median from Moultrie to Valdosta are in GDOT Construction Work Program, which means the schedule is to break ground in the next few years.

      • griftdrift says:

        Yep aware of that one. It’s a combo deal, traditional GDOT funds and TSPLOST. And here’s the interesting thing about it and how it connects to Atlanta’s TSPLOST. Local leaders have been trying to get that stretch of 133 four laned for decades only to be ignored.

        What do you think is going to happen if they pass TSPLOST, Atlanta doesn’t, then Atlanta gets all stampy feet to “fix the mess”? Think the south Georgia legislators are going to have some resent because they played the game as proposed, Atlanta doesn’t, yet still wants to get its way?

      • Engineer says:

        Well there is also, Project Number: RC10-000035, SR 133 widening for Dougherty County (from Albany to the Worth County Line) and Project Number: RC10-000018 which goes from Moultrie to the Worth County Line (Leaves about a roughly 10 mile gap of 2-3 lane SR 133that cuts across the southwest corner of Worth County). Although I suspect that leftover part is likely being covered by the state since they already have the flags, in some areas, marking out where the road will go along there.

        • griftdrift says:

          I forget exactly how it breaks down but parts are DOT which they are already in the process of planning and parts are dependent on TSPLOST. I’ll be down there this weekend and will brush up on the facts.

          But anyway, “all those four and five lane highways in south Georgia” are Hwy 133 and Sonny’s little boondoggle? And that’s what’s really sucking up transportation funds? Really?

          • Engineer says:

            I was just point out a couple other projects that pertained to the SR 133 widening project. Didn’t mean it as any commentary on any boondoggles or anything. 😡

                • bgsmallz says:

                  They need a lightning bolt emoticon…. like the kind thrown by Zeus from Mt. Olympus. That would really liven up the comments…

                  Other emoticons I would like to see:

                  -One that takes every Debbie Dooley comment and turns it into a little picture of a book with the title “Fiction.”
                  -One that takes my comments that are too pithy and converts it into little z’s like snoring…

                  I’ll go away now.

  3. wicker says:

    Even though I am not against transit, we have to look at the types of transit projects per state. How many of them actually meet the needs of people who can’t or don’t want to drive (as in the case of the northeast, basically from Baltimore to Massachusetts), how many of them are generally successful attempts to spur economic development (Charlotte, Tampa/Saint Pete, Dallas), and how many of them are expensive, failed attempts at urban planning/environmentalism/forcing people to give up their automobiles.

    I guess it can be said that “good” transit involves putting it in where driving is impractical, which is the case in the northeast because of the population density, and also in places where people might have a want/need to travel regularly but the distance is too long (i.e. the proposed “brain train” to link Athens to Atlanta, or more accurately UGA to Georgia Tech/Emory, and I would go ahead and throw the folks in Macon a bone and extend it to include Mercer, and we can’t forget about Medical College of Georgia in Augusta either).

    On the other hand, “bad” transit involves putting it in because the anti-automobile/anti-suburban crowd hates badly needed highways. Trying to get the government to coerce economic and lifestyle choices is bad. Or even if it were good, it doesn’t work, as people are going to either refuse to go along with it or move. And why should government pick one lifestyle as “good” over another? For example, instead of promoting that everyone else have the same population density as the northeast – as if Boston, New York, Philadelphia etc. represent some ideal – why not try to reduce the population density up there? Wouldn’t moving people from Manhattan to Kansas or Idaho have environmental, economic and social benefits also?

    If Georgia is spending less money on bad transit, then that is a good thing and should continue. But if Georgia is missing out on worthwhile transit projects that could improve quality of life and help (not drive, mind you, but help) economic development, then that is something that needs to be remedied. I say that at this point, for metro Atlanta more highways should take priority over MARTA expansion (with the caveat that the suburban counties pay for it all, including the portions of it that are in or run through Fulton and DeKalb) and all rail projects should focus on linking our universities together so Georgia can better compete with the research corridors in North Carolina, Texas and central Florida.

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