Transportation Now A Quiet Topic In Georgia

January 10, 2013 13:00 pm

by Charlie · 57 comments

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

6 Months can be a lifetime in politics.  At the end of July, the most talked about political topic was transportation, and how Georgia would pay for it.  Many state legislators, feeling the heat for the Frankenstein-like transportation funding mechanism that they put before the people, ran away from their own “solution”, insisting they would be back before the legislature this session with a better plan.

Actual solutions, however, tend to cost money.  They also require an investment of time, political capital, and some sense of vision where the state needs to go.  With transportation planning, all of the above seem to be in short supply.

Virginia’s Governor, Bob McDonnell, has proposed a significant revision to the funding formula for his state’s transportation network.  He plans to scrap his state’s tax on gasoline altogether and replace it with a .8% increase in the state’s sales tax.  Taxes on diesel fuel – mostly used by large trucks which are the cause for a majority of the ongoing required road maintenance – will remain in place.  And a bit more curiously, he plans on initiating a new $100 annual fee for alternative fuel vehicles citing the fact that they don’t contribute to the federal gas taxes which will remain and thus aren’t paying their fair share towards transportation projects.

McDonnell’s plan may carry some political risks, but it at least attempts to articulate how to deal with transportation needs of a rapidly growing state in the face of projected declines in motor fuel taxes due to significantly increased fuel efficiency.  As manufacturers are making cars with significantly higher fuel economy ratings then they were just 10 years ago, consumers have also changed the mix of vehicles we purchase favoring smaller vehicles and less large truck and SUV models.  The less gas that is purchased, the fewer dollars will be collected by the state and federal government via gas taxes to fund transportation.

McDonnell’s vision offers much more than bigger and wider roads.  Virginians are now well accustomed to various forms of transit. Those that live in the northern part of the state routinely use subway, commuter rail, or intercity rail on a regular basis.  Passenger rail is not limited just to the D.C. area, however, as it connects Lynchburg, Richmond, and Norfolk.  The D.C. Metro subway system is being expanded yet again, and Virginia Beach is also adding light rail.

McDonnell – a Republican – notes that this increased dependence on passenger rail “requires greater financial support from the commonwealth”.  He proposes a new $15 fee for each annual vehicle renewal to be devoted to passenger rail and transit.

Six months ago, a proposal like this from another Southeastern Republican Governor would likely have involved serious discussion from Georgia’s leaders who always like to use the word “competitiveness” when searching for reasons to justify their agenda.  Today, T-SPLOST is better forgotten in the minds of state leaders as they do not want to remind voters how angry they were just two seasons ago.  They would prefer we not notice that little is being done to provide a framework and vision to solve problems that we were told by those same leaders were critical to our economic future during the last campaign.

True, Georgia and Virginia are not similar in their attitudes or acceptance toward rail.  They do, however, share the same long term problem with the current funding structure for transportation.  Whether the state continues to travel down a policy path directed to roads or opens it up to state support of some form of rail, the relative dollars available to fund any initiatives will dwindle due to continued increases in fuel efficiency.

As such, Georgia is now not just challenged with creating and projecting a vision of what needs to be done to keep our transportation infrastructure current.  We must now begin to seriously consider what must be done in order to keep funding even on its current inadequate pace, if not be so bold as to try and figure out a politically acceptable way to increase it.

atlanta_advocate January 10, 2013 at 1:50 pm

What is one of the papers that carries your column via syndication Charlie?

And incidentally, that there would be no Plan B was predicted by the supporters of the T-SPLOST. No political upside to taking leadership on the issue and plenty of political downside.

Charlie January 10, 2013 at 3:28 pm

The Dublin Courier Herald is the Daily and they have about 9 weekly papers. The Albany Journal picks it up daily. Savannah Morning News and Columbus Ledger-Enquirer have options on them. Others occasionally grab them by request.

atlanta_advocate January 10, 2013 at 3:37 pm

Thank you.

Rambler14 January 10, 2013 at 2:26 pm

I’d really like to hear the opinions from the vocal opponents of TSPLOST on this one.

Whaddya think? Would you like to pay 5o cents less per gallon at the pump in return for an additional 1/2 penny sales tax increase for roads and 1/2 penny sales tax increase for transit? (hypothetical numbers)

atlanta_advocate January 10, 2013 at 3:40 pm

The opponents of the TSPLOST will say that the real reason for the TSPLOST wasn’t eliminating traffic congestion but rather economic development, wealth transfer and social engineering. (It is kind of hard to say that they were totally wrong, I admit.) But every time I see an article in the AJC about an employer relocating here or adding jobs, multiple “see, I thought they said this would never happen without TSPLOST!!!” comments are inevitable. So basically, the folks who opposed TSPLOST aren’t very concerned about the lack of a Plan B. Which means that their representatives under the gold dome won’t be either.

IndyInjun January 10, 2013 at 9:45 pm

I went against my own interests to oppose TSPLOST in a region that passed it – so what’s not to like from benefiting 3 ways from financially illiterate people we tried to warn? This is a pretty generous gift horse and I won’t give him any more dental exams to prove he is a deception. The commissioners in the donor counties – one in particular – got about as snookered as anything I have seen in politics.

Giddy up!

Jackster January 10, 2013 at 4:56 pm

To atlanta_advocate’s point, the TSPLOST project list was loaded with what in a federal bill would be called Pork.

There’s also the paradigm shift from thinking as counties and suburbs to thinking as a “region”. That didn’t really fly to high, given that the residents of Cherokee, Gwinnett, and others still have a rural Georgia mentality.

I liked the provision where dollars could not be diverted for other pet projects, and I liked the focus on mass transit and 75/85 and 85/400 projects.

I did not like, however, that my representative and senator did not put forth their vision for our community. I don’t think they’re particularly interested in my opinions, since I’m not funding their campaigns. Oh, and I don’t attend the Gwinnett GOP breakfasts, so there’s also that influence disparity .

Dave Bearse January 10, 2013 at 6:44 pm

The 18.4 cent per gallon federal gasoline tax isn’t being rescinded.

Georgia has a 7.5 cent per gallon excise tax, and 3% of the 4% sales tax on motor fuel is used for transporation. At $3,50 per gallon, that works out to 18 cents per gallon in Georgia for transporation, not 50 cents per gallon, less than a penny per mile for all but gas guzzlers.

Rambler14 January 14, 2013 at 7:14 am

You’re correct, sir. Must’ve made a mistake in my math.
State gas tax in GA is the neighborhood of 15-20 cents per gallon.

The Last Democrat in Georgia January 10, 2013 at 8:41 pm

Rambler14, January 10, 2013 at 2:26 pm-

“I’d really like to hear the opinions from the vocal opponents of TSPLOST on this one….Whaddya think? Would you like to pay 5o cents less per gallon at the pump in return for an additional 1/2 penny sales tax increase for roads and 1/2 penny sales tax increase for transit? (hypothetical numbers)”

I’m glad that you posed the question. As a VERY vocal opponent of the highly-flawed and inadequate T-SPLOST, I would LOVE nothing more than to see the state’s gas taxes eliminated.

Though, instead of seeing a one-percent increase in sales taxes to fund piecemeal improvements to our roads and rails, it would be much better if the state instituted user fees of roughly $0.01-$0.03 per mile on each major road and up to roughly $1.00 per mile on each transit line so that each of those pieces of infrastructure became capable of supporting their own critically-necessary existence by funding their own routine maintenance, improvements and expansions as needed.

User fees on each major road and transit line are the preferred way to fund transportation needs over an increase in the sales tax because user fees can be priced to be capable of paying for all of the needs of a particular piece of infrastructure…Needs like security, routine and emergency maintenance, the needed frequency of trains and buses and expansion as needed on individual transit lines and needs like separated-grade truck/bus lanes on the busiest stretches of OTP Interstates (as opposed to the state’s misguided HOT-lane program), landscaping of the right-of-ways, routine and emergency maintenance and improvements and upgrades as needed of busy surface roads and freeways.

Charlie January 10, 2013 at 11:04 pm

OK, I’ll bite. How are you going to collect these user fees?

Are you going to set up toll booths on every mile of every pigpath in GA to capture the same cost per mile driven,

Or are you going to charge people based on odometer readings, missing all the folks that drive through our fair state but title their car elsewhere and thus would have no collection mechanism?

The Last Democrat in Georgia January 11, 2013 at 3:19 am

That’s an excellent question, Charlie. Though I am not a big fan of the current Peach Pass program or the way that it is currently administered by the state, the preferred method of collection of user fees would be all electronically with Open Road Tolling using the technology that is currently used to collect tolls on I-85 and Georgia 400 with Peach Passes.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_road_tolling

Under a system where the state’s road network is no longer funded with state gas taxes and is instead funded with distance-based user fees, the user fees would be collected through Open Road Tolling with Peach Pass-type technology (the little white transponder strips that are affixed to users’ front windshields). Those little white transponder strips would be issued to each in-state motorist when their license plate tags are issued and renewed annually. The electronic transponder program would have “reprocity” with other states toll pass programs in that the Georgia user fee system would be setup to assess user fees to vehicles with transponders from out-of-state while driving on Georgia roads.

Each in-state motorist would be accessed a user-fee by way of their transponder strips every time they drove through a bank of electronic sensors, which would be located at mainly at major intersections on surface roads and at and near major junctions and at key points where the most vehicles pass through on expressways. On rural routes, user fees would be assessed by way of electronic sensors located at key intervals either on stand-alone posts or on sensors affixed to existing road signposts.

Those banks of electronic sensors would also have cameras that would take pictures of the tags of vehicles without transponder strips (mostly out-of-state vehicles) and mail them weekly invoices that would have to paid within 30 days after being mailed. All outstanding user fees on in-state vehicles with transponder strips would have to be paid-in-full before their tags could be renewed annually, though motorists would be strongly-encouraged to pay weekly or monthly either by way of mail or electronically.

The new Triangle Parkway/NC Hwy 540 outside of Raleigh in North Carolina, which opened to traffic in late 2011, utilizes only electronic toll collection as it was one of the first toll roads in the U.S. to use all-electronic tolling with license plate recognition that allow fees to be accessed to vehicles traveling at full speeds instead of traditional toll booths.
http://www.wral.com/traffic/story/10476022/

Other roads that utilize all-electronic tolling and fee collection include Maryland’s Route 200/InterCounty Connector north of Washington D.C., the Texas 183A Toll Road outside of Austin, the Westpark Tollway in Houston and the Highway 407 Toll Road outside of Toronto.

Traditional toll booths would also be setup just inside the Georgia State Line and at various key points on Interstates 20, 59, 75, 85, 95, 285 and 475 to capture user fees in cash form from vehicles traveling into and through Georgia without transponder strips (primarily out-of-state vehicles). Those traditional toll booths would have express lanes that allow for assessment of user fees at full speed through electronic tolling for in-state and out-of-state vehicles with transponder strips and through license plate recognition for motorists without transponders who choose to billed by mail by simply driving through the express lane.

Distance-based user fees would be slightly higher for vehicles without transponder strips (roughly $0.03 per mile). Since all vehicles registered in Georgia would be issued transponder strips annually, that means primarily only out-of-state vehicles (which would most likely be the vehicles to be without transponders) would pay the higher user fees, meaning that the out-of-state motorists who are responsible for a fair amount of the wear-and-tear and incidents on our roads would be insured to pay their fair share of the transportation costs that they help to incur on Georgia roads.

Dave Bearse January 11, 2013 at 10:13 am

The I-85 HOT lane system cost over $3M per mile to install, and that was for a single lane. Tolls will need to be higher than $0.01 – $0.03 per mile to cover the billions in capital costs to install the systems.

Then there’s the hundreds of millions required annually to operate and maintain the systems. Granted there’s economy of scale and other considerations affecting the O&M cost (and capital cost too) of the proposed system, but I-85 tolls averaging over a nickel per mile on thousands of vehicles daily don’t even cover operating costs, let alone recover the capital costs of the toll operating system, and beyond that the capital cost of the lane itself (pavement etc).

Jackster January 11, 2013 at 10:40 am

but it created Jobs!

I must say, I’d rather just have legislation that forces gas tax revenue to actually go to where it’s supposed to go, and not to debt service or the general fund.

The Last Democrat in Georgia January 11, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Dave Bearse, January 11, 2013 at 10:13 am-

Though the fees per mile levied under a user fee-only system are rough estimates, with user fees of $0.03 per mile, a vehicle traveling the entire distance of roughly 350 miles on Interstate 75 through Georgia from the Tennessee state line to the Florida state line would pay $10.50 to drive through the state.

Each day, roughly 34,450 vehicles drive that entire distance of roughly 350 miles from the Tennessee state line to the Florida state line on Interstate 75. If $10.50 is collected from each of those vehicles traveling the entire distance through the state from state line to state line on I-75, the state collects at-least $132 million from just 34,450 vehicles using I-75.

That $132 million each year that would be taken in from just the 34,450 vehicles alone traveling from the TN state line to the FL state line is a figure that does not even take into account the amounts in user fees that would be collected from the roughly 266,000 additional vehicles on average that use I-75 in the Atlanta Metro area each day, particularly on the I-75/85 Downtown Connector and Interstate 285 NW-Delk Road sections of the roadway that average roughly 300,000 vehicles per day.

There’s also talk that the I-85 HOT lane system that you mention also is not really a way to boost carpooling or take in revenue (obviously) but is really a demo or a run-through for a much-larger system of congestion pricing of ALL LANES along Metro Atlanta-area interstates and expressways in the not-too-distant future.

The I-85 HOT lanes are basically a small demo for a system of congestion pricing of all lanes Metro Atlanta freeways that would pretty much “encourage” (force) local 1 and 2-occupant vehicle motorists off of the freeway system and onto a future expanded mass transit system.

mpierce January 11, 2013 at 3:54 pm

Seems to me that the gas tax is a simpler, doesn’t have the massive implementation cost, doesn’t have high maintenance costs, doesn’t have the big brother tracking issues, and doesn’t slow traffic. Yet it still taxes people based on how far they drive and captures taxes from out-of-state vehicles (without the need from any reciprocity agreements).

Granted more fuel efficient vehicles would pay less. But don’t we want to encourage conservation? If not you could charge a yearly transportation fee (can’t call it a tax) when renewing tags [mileage X (EPA Hwy MPG + EPA City MPG) / 10000].

The Last Democrat in Georgia January 11, 2013 at 4:35 pm

I agree that an increase in the gas tax would most likely be the simplest way to increase road funding.

But in our current political climate, anything that even remotely resembles a tax increase is a highly-unpopular and politically proposition, especially in the highly tax-adverse and government expansion-adverse conservative circles that dominate Georgia politics by way of the Republican Primaries and especially when added to an equation in which government at all levels is not really trusted or liked all that much at present.

We should also keep in mind that any increase of the gas tax would likely have to be somewhat substantial in nature to be able adequately fund just the improvements that are needed to the road network alone. Funding transit would be an entirely different story.

There just is not much of a political appetite to increase the gas tax to increase transportation funding. But say that you want to ELIMINATE THE STATE GAS TAX and you’ll likely get a heckuva lot more support in this increasingly tax-adverse and government-adverse climate. Rhetorically, saying that you want to eliminate the gas tax and make taxes much more of an optional proposition is the best starting point for conversation about increasing transportation funding in a political climate where at least the concept, if not the actual practice, of limited government and low taxes has much appeal.

Talk of increasing road funding by eliminating the state’s increasingly ineffective gas tax is already gathering steam amongst some key members of the state legislature.
http://www.gainesvilletimes.com/archives/77163/

“State Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, said the gas tax currently used to fund projects “is not the answer.”……..“It’s a short-term fix, at best, as our economy changes, as technology changes, automobiles are getting better gas mileage and you’ve got alternative (energy sources), like electricity.””

mpierce January 11, 2013 at 5:38 pm

And a per mile tax on driving doesn’t resemble a tax? And the tracking of everyones driving habits isn’t government expansion?

Any needed gas tax increase would be FAR less than the tax increase needed in the system you describe as the cost to implement and maintain the system would eat up much of the money collected.

Did you miss this quote from your linked article: “We need to restore faith in government and competency of our agencies. We need to do simple things first” What you are proposing will increase government, increase taxes, reduce faith in government and is extremely complicated and expensive.

The Last Democrat in Georgia January 11, 2013 at 7:19 pm

It’s wouldn’t be a tax, it would be an optional fee as each individual driver would only pay for what they use, likewise each individual road would only be funded by those who use the road.

And it is actually a ridiculously simple concept in that having each driver pay directly for how much of the road network that they use is the fairest way to fund our pressing transportation needs. It is also the most effective way to fund our transportation needs as each road has a uniquely different set of logistical needs.

An I-75 which carries 300,000 vehicles per day through parts of Metro Atlanta has a vastly different set of logistical needs than a two-lane or even four-lane highway in South Georgia that may only carry a few thousand vehicles per day.

An I-75 may need frequent resurfacing, reconstruction of multiple junctions and multiple sections of roadway to better accommodate an increasingly crushingly-heavy traffic flow, the addition of elevated auxiliary lanes to accommodate bus traffic and increasingly ridiculously heavy amounts of truck traffic, frequent clearance of accidents and large and small chunks of debris, particularly through Metro Atlanta, while a lightly-traveled 2 or 4-lane road in rural South Georgia may only need the occasional (and much less-frequent) resurfacing and debris clearance.

It makes no sense to continue to attempt to (increasingly unsuccessfully) fund our transportation network with an increasingly ineffective gas tax that must be evenly-distributed between less densely-populated parts of the state where the needs of the transportation network are much more developmental in nature and much more densely and heavily-populated parts of the state where the needs of the transportation network consist of moving often exceptionally-large volumes of people, freight, goods and service.

Scrapping the increasingly ineffective state gas tax and letting each individual road pay for its own unique set of logistical needs is the way to proceed.

At a rate of roughly $0.01 per mile on surface roads, someone who drives sparingly (roughly up to between 10,000-15,000 miles annually) would pay only $100-$150 per year compared to the roughly $200-$300 they would pay in gas taxes each year for a savings of between $100-$150 per year under a distance-based user fee system.

The only difference is that the higher cost of the gas tax is “hidden” in the cost of a tank of gas causing some drivers to think that the roads are “free”, while the lower cost of user fees for would not be hidden in the cost of gas…Though, drivers would have the option of paying the fees weekly or monthly, meaning, as an example, the person that only drives 10,000-15,000 miles annually would only pay $8-$13 a month to use the roads compared to the $20-30 a month that they might pay under the current gas tax system.

mpierce January 11, 2013 at 8:13 pm

“It’s wouldn’t be a tax, it would be an optional fee as each individual driver would only pay for what they use”

So the gas tax is not a tax, but an optional fee?

“And it is actually a ridiculously simple concept”

Yes, the concept is simple. It’s the implementation which is complicated.

” each driver pay directly for how much of the road network that they use is the fairest way to fund our pressing transportation needs.”

Maybe, but gas tax is also a pay for what you use system. Does it make sense to replace an 80% accurate solution at cost X with a 90% accurate solution at cost 1000X?

mpierce January 11, 2013 at 8:34 pm

“At a rate of roughly $0.01 per mile on surface roads, someone who drives sparingly (roughly up to between 10,000-15,000 miles annually) would pay only $100-$150 per year compared to the roughly $200-$300 they would pay in gas taxes each year for a savings of between $100-$150 per year under a distance-based user fee system.”

Average miles driven per year: 13476
average MPG: 20 (estimated)

At .01 per mile = $134.76
Gas tax at 0.18 (Bearse, above) per gal = $121.28

The additional $13.48 isn’t going to cover the O&M costs of the system much less pay to build it.

You are claiming people will pay less at the same time as claiming it will bring in more revenue (especially for a system that costs far more to run)?

The Last Democrat in Georgia January 11, 2013 at 9:46 pm

mpierce, January 11, 2013 at 8:34 pm-

My numbers were based on an $0.21 per gallon gas tax estimate. But actually, that total state gas tax is closer to $0.29 per gallon when all Georgia taxes and fees are added up (county gas taxes, 3% motor use fuel tax, 1% general fund, etc).
http://www.politifact.com/georgia/statements/2012/may/22/colleen-kiernan/does-georgia-have-lowest-gas-taxes-country/

You’ve also got to keep in mind that the user fees collected on each road would stay with that road and only be applied towards the costs of operations and maintenance (and reconstruction and expansion as needed) of that particular road.

That means that the roughly $150-200 million in user fees collected on I-75 each year could only be used to fund the operations and maintenance on I-75, NOT on any other federal, state, county or local road. The whole point of a user fee-based funding system is that each road pulls its own weight according to its own unique set of logistical needs as just like the people that use them, all roads are not created equal.

Some roads (I-75, I-85, I-20, I-285, etc) are unquestionably more important than others (lightly-used two-lane roads in rural Georgia). The problem with the current gas tax collection-based funding method is that it treats most roads as being created much more equally when they are obviously most clearly not. A funding system in which revenues come from distance-based user fees and each individual road retains the fees that it collects from each vehicle that uses it corrects that funding imbalance.

mpierce January 11, 2013 at 11:54 pm

But actually, that total state gas tax is closer to $0.29 per gallon when all Georgia taxes and fees are added up (county gas taxes, 3% motor use fuel tax, 1% general fund, etc).

So you are looking to replace state AND COUNTY gas tax?

Again:
You are claiming people will pay less at the same time as claiming it will bring in more revenue (especially for a system that costs far more to run)?

I understand funding would be tied to where funds are collected, but that doesn’t increase overall funding much less cover the cost of the tolling system.

The Last Democrat in Georgia January 12, 2013 at 3:18 am

mpierce, January 11, 2013 at 11:54 pm-

“So you are looking to replace state AND COUNTY gas tax?”

I actually am looking to replace both state and county gas tax, especially in regards to certain selected very-busy county-maintained major roads (like, for example, Sugarloaf Parkway, Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, Pleasant Hill Road and Ronald Reagan Parkway in Gwinnett and East-West Connector, Barrett Parkway and Windy Hill Road in Cobb, McFarland Parkway in Forsyth, etc).

Also, much of the emphasis of switching from a gas tax revenue-generated funding system to a user fee revenue-generated funding system on busy surface roads will be generating enough funding to reconfigure gridlocked at-grade intersections into tightly-configured separated-grade intersections (East-West Connector at Austell Road in Cobb, Windy Hill Road at Hwy 41/Cobb Parkway in Smyrna, Cobb Parkway at South Marietta Parkway in Cobb, Jimmy Carter Boulevard at Buford Highway in Norcross, Highway 9 at Highway 92-140 in Roswell are crowded at-grade intersections that immediately come to mind, for starters).

“I understand funding would be tied to where funds are collected, but that doesn’t increase overall funding much less cover the cost of the tolling system.”

Under a user-fee system where an average of $0.03 per mile is collected, Interstate 85 would directly collect roughly $110 million in annual revenues and Interstate 75 would directly collect roughly close to $200 million in annual revenue…That’s compared to the $0 (ZERO DOLLARS) in annual revenue that both roads currently directly collect. Just the roughly $300 million that those two roads alone would collect is equivalent to the state’s entire current road construction budget of just over $300 million per year.

Just US Highway 41/Cobb Parkway would take in roughly $5 million annually in Cobb County alone with a $0.02 per mile fee.

…Hwy 41/Cobb Pkwy is an example of a very busy and often-gridlocked road that would warrant a higher user fee because of that particular roadway’s need for extensive reconstruction that includes widening from its current 4-5 lanes to a divided 6-lane thoroughfare with urban lighting, a landscape median, multi-purpose bike/walk path and new separated-grade intersections that include very tightly-configured three-level urban interchanges with bridges and possible short urban tunnels at Spring Rd, Windy Hill Rd, Delk Rd/Hwy 280, South Marietta Pkwy/Hwy 120, Roswell Rd/Old Hwy 120, North Marietta Pkwy/Hwy 120A, Canton Rd/Hwy 5C, Bells Ferry Rd/Old Hwy 205, Barrett Pkwy and possible conversion of US Hwy 41/North Cobb Parkway into a very tightly-configured super-artery from Barrett Pkwy up through Cedarcrest Pkwy with depressed express lanes and surface-level local lanes.

Though, the most desirable option for Hwy 41/Cobb Parkway is if the road for its entire length through Cobb County from I-75 in Northwest Atlanta to the Bartow County line is converted to a very tightly-configured urban super-artery with depressed high-speed express lanes and surface-level local lanes with some tunneled sections so that the road has the appearance of a somewhat lushly-landscaped urban boulevard…Converting Hwy 41/Cobb Pkwy into a tightly-configured urban super-artery with high-speed express lanes would help to relieve severe traffic pressure and congestion from I-75 by becoming a western controlled-access alternative to I-75 between Lake Allatoona and the I-285 NW Cobb Cloverleaf…Converting US 41 into a super-artery with depressed high-speed express lanes through continuously fast-growing Cobb County is a much-better way to handle traffic congestion in the I-75 Northwest Corridor than HOT Lanes on Interstates 75 and 575.

Dave Bearse January 11, 2013 at 9:54 pm

Ouch! I should have made it clear that the $3M per mile I-85 HOT lane capital cost was for a single lane in each direction.

Charlie January 11, 2013 at 10:43 am

So you actually think a solution is to have Georgia require every car – including those traveling through from another state – to get a transponder so every car can be tracked for every mile it travels?

I’m trying to figure out if I should ridicule you for thinking Georgians would allow this type of “big brother” program, or because you seem to think Georgia can somehow require every out of state driver to have one of these because of reciprocity.

The Last Democrat in Georgia January 11, 2013 at 12:47 pm

No, Charlie, I’m not saying that every out-of-state vehicle passing through Georgia would be required to get a transponder strip. I’m saying that the Georgia system of user-fee collection on major roads would be setup to collect from out-of-state vehicles that already participate in toll pass programs in their respective home states where those programs exist.

When I say “reprocity”, I’m saying that fee collection equipment on Georgia roads would be able to levy fees to out-of-state vehicles with transponders already issued through Peach Pass/E-Z Pass-type programs in states like Florida, Texas, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, California, North Carolina, etc. Likewise, electronic tolling equipment in other states would be able to levy fee to vehicles with transponders issued in Georgia when those vehicles use out-of-state toll roads.

Charlie January 11, 2013 at 1:02 pm

And I’m still saying there’s no practical way to get money from vehicles not titled in Georgia, and zero willingness from the vast majority of Georgians to have the state track everywhere they drive (and their current location at all times) via a transponder chip.

Next.

John Konop January 11, 2013 at 1:28 pm

I am in Florida and Texas a lot it is similar to what L Dem described. The negative is they have a lot of poll stops…………..But the mag card lanes goes faster…………

Charlie January 11, 2013 at 2:01 pm

John, I’m in Florida a lot too. Tampa has quit even manning many of it’s toll booths because of the cost. I pulled up to one without one of their cards, without change and no way to pay. It was…a bit weird. I emailed the address listed on the toll both and received no response. Also haven’t been mailed a ticket yet either.

That said, the tollways are only on major roads. And not even all of them.

She’s talking about removing all gas taxes, but somehow thinks there’s a system of chips or toll booths that are going to capture all the gas tax that those who don’t title their cars here pay at the pump.

That’s a hell of a lot more driving than what is captured at even the most aggressive state’s toll booths. Lost revenue that would have to be made up by those of us who live here.

John Konop January 11, 2013 at 7:05 pm

Good point…….

The Last Democrat in Georgia January 11, 2013 at 3:28 pm

Charlie, the way to collect money from vehicles not registered in Georgia would be through license plate recognition technology where a camera basically takes a picture of a license plate every time a vehicle goes through an area where fees would be assessed (most likely at major intersections on surface roads and near interchanges on freeways) and levies fees and sends an weekly or monthly invoice to the address to which the vehicle is registered.

As for the transponder strips being issued to each Georgia driver when their tags are issued and renewed annually, we are already headed in that direction and rather quickly. As I remarked above in response to Mr. Bearse’s mention of the I-85 HOT lanes, those toll lanes on I-85 are not necessarily a way to just merely clear out space for three-person carpools in the HOV lanes, but are really a demo for a much-larger and much more wide-ranging system of congestion pricing on all lanes of Metro Atlanta freeways.

The population of the Atlanta region has basically doubled from just under 3 million to just under 6 million inhabitants in the last two decades with a very-substantial expansion of the freight truck traffic-generating Port of Savannah pending in the not-too-distant future.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that congestion pricing to push the excess local traffic off of the freeways to make room for the increasing amount of truck traffic will be the only logical conclusion if the current already way over-capacity freeway system is not physically expanded to accommodate the growing population of truck and non-truck vehicular traffic.

If the road network in Metro Atlanta is not expanded soon, we are all going to be issued those little transponders whether we want to be or not and likely at the behest of the Feds, whose only interest will be to keep the Interstates flowing for through traffic and national commerce, local single and double-occupant vehicular traffic be damned.

If the roads are not soon substantially expanded, Metro Atlantans and North Georgians will literally find themselves priced off of the freeway system at rush hour by the Feds. When this happens North Georgians had better hope that there are some dependable carpools, buses and trains in place to take them where they need to go.

The question is do we want to at least try and be proactive about our transportation future or do we want to wait until the day where that choice will be made by some faceless bureaucrats in Washington? Do we want make our own choice between continuing to pay state gas taxes and more adequately funding each individual road that we must use with user fees or do we want to be forced by the Feds to pay exorbitant fees just to continue to have access to our own freeway system on top of continuing to pay state gas taxes? We can be assured that the fee structure will be much more than $0.01-$0.03 per mile under a congestion pricing scheme imposed by the Feds (try paying upwards of $15.00-plus one-way just to travel the same distance that people are already griping about paying $5.00 one-way through the HOT lane setup on I-85 in Gwinnett and DeKalb counties).

At least a distance-based user fee system administered in Georgia gives us a choice that we can control moving forward.

mpierce January 11, 2013 at 6:07 pm

At $3 million per mile, it would cost $3.75 Billion to build on our 1250 miles of interstate. Then you would still have over 100,000 miles of state and county roads to go.

John Konop January 11, 2013 at 7:07 pm

M,

That is bs math…… Obviously you have to look at it over 30 years…….

mpierce January 11, 2013 at 7:36 pm

John,

Again with no numbers of your own! You can amortize over 30 years if you want. Don’t forget to add in the O&M costs, the cost of over 7,000,000 transponders, billing costs, payment processing costs, litigation costs. What % of out-of-state motorists do you think will pay their bills? What is the opportunity cost?

John Konop January 11, 2013 at 7:51 pm

What is the addition for better movement of goods, people, capacity……? Do you think the founding fathers were wrong for investing into western expansion ie railroad system, Lewis and Clark……? Should we of never invested into airports, ports, Internet, electronic grid ? Ironically Russia fell because of the logic you support……..They have made it clear that they will not make that mistake again…. But hey forget history, just tell us what you feel……..

The Last Democrat in Georgia January 11, 2013 at 8:10 pm

Mr. Konop, exactly. The capital costs of infrastructure are not paid off in one lump sum, but like any necessary individual (a home, a car, an education) or collective (schools, roads, sewers, etc) expense, the costs of necessary pieces of infrastructure are basically financed by investors and paid off in small installments often over a period of a few decades.

A broad, big picture example is the construction of the Interstate system which has helped to foster unparalleled economic growth to the United States. Some local examples are local investments in the construction of Lakes Lanier and Allatoona, the massive expansion of the Atlanta Airport and the construction of I-575, I-985 and Georgia 400 north out of Atlanta into the foothills and southernmost ridges of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Together, the construction of the Interstate system, the construction of Lakes Lanier and Allatoona and the expansion of the Atlanta Airport have helped Atlanta grow nearly six-fold from a small, provincial city of less than a million people (about the size of Birmingham) into a major up-and-coming international city of almost six million people over the last six decades. Likewise, the construction of I-575, I-985 and GA 400 have helped to spark an overwhelming amount of growth and development (many might say overdevelopment) in their respective corridors north of the city turning sparcely-populated rural foothill and mountain areas into some of the most heavily-populated and (politically-powerful) areas in the entire Southeastern U.S.

Growing from just under one million residents in 1950 to just under six million residents in 2010 is a growth rate of roughly 540%!….540% is one heck of a return on those previous investments in infrastructure.

The Last Democrat in Georgia January 11, 2013 at 8:59 pm

mpierce, January 11, 2013 at 7:36 pm-

You want some more numbers? Here’s some more numbers: Georgia 400 carries an average of roughly 113,000 vehicles a day through its toll plaza grossing roughly $56,500 per day or over $20.6 million annually from the $0.50 toll that was placed on the busy route to help pay the cost of the road’s construction and continuing operation and maintenance.

Even though it has been controversial, there is no question of the overwhelmingly positive impact the construction of Georgia 400 has had on the Northside economy, helping to foster continued growth of the Buckhead district and accelerate growth of the Dunwoody/Perimeter, North Fulton and Forsyth areas. Georgia 400 was also unique in that with the tolls, the road helped to pay for its own existence in a state where transportation funding has become increasingly rarer over the last two decades as the population has shot through the roof and into the stratosphere.

Instead of running away from it like their hair is on fire towards piecemeal funding proposals, GA 400 is actually an example of transportation funding that our political leaders should be heavily pursuing because of the road’s ability to pay for its own existence and maintenance, unlike every other road in Georgia, which is subject to the increasingly volatile revenues of an increasingly ineffective gas tax.

mpierce January 11, 2013 at 9:32 pm

What is the addition for better movement of goods, people, capacity……?

How does creating state-wide per mile tolling system move goods or increase capacity?

Do you think the founding fathers were wrong for investing into western expansion ie railroad system, Lewis and Clark……? Should we of never invested into airports, ports, Internet, electronic grid ?

What do they have to do with wasting money on a massive tolling system?

Ironically Russia fell because of the logic you support

They fell because they didn’t waste money on a country-wide tolling system?

Again where are your numbers? You are never short on irrelevant references, but always short on actual analysis.

mpierce January 11, 2013 at 9:42 pm

but like any necessary individual (a home, a car, an education) or collective (schools, roads, sewers, etc) expense, the costs of necessary pieces of infrastructure are basically financed by investors and paid off in small installments often over a period of a few decades.

1) You have yet to show a state-wide per mile tolling system is necessary.
2) Many people would be better of in a cheaper house or an apartment, than in buying a house which is beyond their means.
3) You have failed to show any ROI on a massively expensive proposal

mpierce January 11, 2013 at 10:22 pm

Here’s some more numbers: Georgia 400 carries an average of roughly 113,000 vehicles a day through its toll plaza grossing roughly $56,500 per day or over $20.6 million annually from the $0.50 toll that was placed on the busy route to help pay the cost of the road’s construction and continuing operation and maintenance.

1) I doubt the average person going though the toll plaza was driving 50 miles (using you’re .01 per mile)
2) Did the people driving on 400 get their gas tax refunded? No. The toll was in addition to the gas tax not a replacement of it.
3) I support using tolls, but they must be used appropriately. The massive initial expense along with a high yearly cost make this a poor replacement for our current system. In addition, it is very big brother when you get to the tracking aspects on the system.
4) Large heavy vehicles do more damage to roads than small cars. The gas tax better accounts for that as larger vehicles tend to get lower mpg.

mpierce January 11, 2013 at 10:25 pm

You want some more numbers?

Yes. Please show a reasonable ROI (even with rough numbers) on creating such a system.

The Last Democrat in Georgia January 11, 2013 at 10:28 pm

mpierce, January 11, 2013 at 9:42 pm-

“You have yet to show a state-wide per mile tolling system is necessary.”

…Just take a look at Highway 41 in Cobb County during rush hour (parking lot), or Interstate 75 in Cobb County during rush hour (parking lot), or the Top End of I-285 during rush hour (parking lot), or GA 400 during rush hour (parking lot), or I-20 East during rush hour (parking lot), or I-20 West during rush hour (parking lot), or I-75 South during rush hour (parking lot) and the I-675 southbound that feeds into during evening rush hour (parking lot), or I-85 North through Gwinnett County outside of I-285, north of Spaghetti Junction (parking lot), or any part of the freeway system during rush hour when the roadways are wet or after a fatal accident (EXTREME parking lot)…Or the need to eliminate deadly at-grade intersections on high-speed Highways 316 (east of Lawrenceville out to Athens), 400 (north of Cumming), 365 (north of Gainesville), 278-6 (from I-20 west out to Dallas) and 78-10 (from Loganville to Athens)…Or the need to reconstruct the I-20/I-285 West, I-75/I-285 South, I-285/GA 400 North, I-20/I-285 East and I-285/Hwy 78 East interchanges…Or the need to construct elevated grade-separated truck lanes to accommodate the increasing volumes of already crushingly-heavy freight truck traffic that threaten make sections of I-75 South, I-285 West, I-20 West and I-75 North completely impassable after the pending expansion of the Port of Savannah…

…Can you really tell me that there is no need to increase funding to these troubled transportation corridors? Especially when it’s not as if the current gas tax revenue-generating system is really helping to deal with the pressing needs of the corridors that I just named above.

Other than a highly politically-improbable piecemeal increase in the state gas tax or even more highly politically-improbable new regional sales tax, do you have any suggestions for coming up with a way that can fully fund all the needed improvements that I named above?

The Last Democrat in Georgia January 11, 2013 at 11:28 pm

mpierce, January 11, 2013 at 10:22 pm-

“I doubt the average person going though the toll plaza was driving 50 miles (using you’re .01 per mile)”

The example of Georgia 400 as a self-funding piece of transportation infrastructure was not meant as an example of a per-mile distance-based system as the $0.50 toll charged on GA 400 was only a flat one-time, one-way toll, NOT a distance-based user fee system that was levied on each vehicle to travel the roughly 7 miles of the Georgia 400 Extension between Interstates 85 and 285, and vice versa.

And though the average person may not have been driving 50 miles when going through the Georgia 400 and paying the $0.50 to use the road, the entire length of the Georgia 400 Expressway (the entire section of the road that is controlled-access with separated-grade junctions, tolled and untolled) between I-85 in South Buckhead and end of the expressway at the GA 369 Junction in Coal Mountain north of Cumming is in fact 53.7 miles. Meaning that there are plenty of commuters who are using GA 400 who are in fact driving 50 miles (and more) between Atlanta and points north of Cumming on a daily basis.

“Did the people driving on 400 get their gas tax refunded? No. The toll was in addition to the gas tax not a replacement of it”

…The toll was part of the deal for getting the GA 400 Extension built sometime this century as even back then, roughly 25 years and 3 million new residents ago during the boom period of the Reagan Era, finding enough transportation funding from existing gas tax revenues to build a new road was still really difficult, if not downright impossible. Also, back then much of the transportation budget was going to service the debt on the then-newly built, then-massive Freeing-the-Freeways widening and reconstruction project of Metro Atlanta freeways. A toll in addition to the gas tax was the only way that the Georgia 400 Extension was EVER going to be built.

“I support using tolls, but they must be used appropriately. The massive initial expense along with a high yearly cost make this a poor replacement for our current system. In addition, it is very big brother when you get to the tracking aspects on the system.”

…It may sound very big brother-ish, but just does everyone think will happen when the Feds finally grow tired of dealing with Georgia’s anti-transportation investment b.s. and impose congestion-pricing on ALL LANES of Metro Atlanta freeways to clear out what they consider to be excess local traffic so that through traffic (interstate traffic) can continue to flow much less impeded? Just like the distance-based user fee that I am proposing, every driver in the Atlanta region is going to be issued Peach Pass-type transponder strips to put on their windshields so that they can be charged up every time they ride through multiple electronic tolling plazas. Unlike the distance-based user fee system that I am proposing, those fees that the Feds are going to be charging are going to be much closer to $1.00 per mile instead of $0.01 per mile.

Now, I don’t know about you, but one-cent per mile sounds much better than ONE DOLLAR per mile.

“Large heavy vehicles do more damage to roads than small cars. The gas tax better accounts for that as larger vehicles tend to get lower mpg.”

Under a distance-based user-fee system, larger vehicles, like freight trucks, would pay more (roughly $0.02-$0.03 per mile) than lighter vehicles on certain sections of the freeway system where more infrastructure is needed to accommodate heavier vehicles, like on sections where elevated truck lanes would need to be built to accommodate increasingly-heavy volumes of truck traffic (much of I-285 and most sections of interstate for roughly 20 or so miles outside of I-285).

mpierce January 11, 2013 at 11:32 pm

Showing transportation investment needs doesn’t show that your tolling system is necessary or even advantageous. We both agree that we need transportation investment.

You needs to show that your system is
1) possible – We agree it is; next
2) practical
a) We can afford to build it- At a roughly $3million per mile with over 100000 miles of road that’s an investment of over $300 Billion. FY11 Georgia net revenue collections = $15 Billion. While there is economy of scale pushing costs lower, the $3M per mile was for 2 lanes (one in each direction) and there are FAR more than 200000 lane miles. At first glance it fails this test.
b) Net revenues will be sufficiently large – I expect high maintenance costs (in addition to carrying costs from “a”). Granted I haven’t looked into it and could easily be wrong. But you haven’t provided anything to counter.
3) better than other choices – other possibilities (gas tax, transportation fee [i.e. yearly mileage X .015 due with annual tags], select toll roads, general funds, other, or some combination of the above).
4) Pros outweigh cons – Tracking help for law enforcement, Big brother issues, funding stability, political viability, added congestion from toll booth delays (mainly out-of-state vehicles), license plate read errors, etc, …

The Last Democrat in Georgia January 12, 2013 at 5:27 am

mpierce, January 11, 2013 at 11:32 pm-

“Pros outweigh cons – Tracking help for law enforcement, Big brother issues, funding stability, political viability, added congestion from toll booth delays (mainly out-of-state vehicles), license plate read errors, etc.”

I fully understand your concerns, though I will note that no manual toll booths will be located in Metro Atlanta. I will also opine that personally, I would prefer that ALL user fees be levied electronically from vehicles traveling at full speed.

But, the prospect of collecting direct payments of cold hard cash from out-of-state drivers could possibly be too much for transportation officials to pass up, so if any manual/traditional toll booths were utilized, they would all be located outside of Metro Atlanta. All tolling plazas in Metro Atlanta would be fully electronic with Open Road Tolling technology that allows fees and tolls to be levied on vehicles traveling at full speed without motorists having to stop or slow down to be charged.

And even all manual/traditional toll booths would have express lanes where all Georgia vehicles would not have to stop or slow down as fees and tolls would be levied to them at full speeds as all Georgia vehicles would be issued transponders at the time of their initial registration and subsequent annual renewals.

The locations in the state where manual toll booths would roughly be located are: On I-24 near Wildwood; On I-59 near Trenton; On I-20: Just inside the Georgia state line with Alabama, near Temple just west of Exit 19, east of Exit 105 near Rutledge, near Warrenton; On I-95: Near Woodbine, near Riceboro, just inside the Georgia state line with South Carolina; On I-16 near Soperton; On I-75: Just inside the Georgia state line with Lake Park, just north of Unadilla, just north of Forsyth, near Adairsville, near Ringgold/Indian Springs; On I-85: Just inside the Georgia state line near West Point, just inside the Georgia state line with South Carolina near Lavonia.

Interstates 185, 285, 475, 516, 520, 575, 675, 985 and Georgia Highways 316, 78-410, 278-6, 41-3, Athens Loop 10 would all collect user fees from vehicles traveling at full speed through electronic Open Road Tolling methods only.

Raleigh January 10, 2013 at 2:42 pm

The speaker has been quoted as saying “that others’ idea to divert a piece of gas tax money that goes to the state’s general fund, as much as $190 million per year, into new transportation funding was problematic because the state budget is already lean.”

Isn’t this the same problem as the E911 tax and Tire disposal tax, etc, etc.

I guess Go Fish centers are more important that transportation improvements.

Charlie January 10, 2013 at 4:00 pm

And while we’re looking at tax policy in other states, Bobby Jindal is proposing to eliminate state personal and corporate income taxes in favor of sales taxes, with the overall plan slated to be “revenue neutral”:

http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2013/01/gov_bobby_jindal_calls_for_eli.html#incart_river

Buried in the story is that means a projected rate (state portion only) moving from 4% to 7%.

The Last Democrat in Georgia January 10, 2013 at 7:48 pm

ELIMINATING state income taxes in favor of a simple state sales tax…Now we’re talking!

Federal big government power expansion types (both Obama Democrats and Bush Republicans) should take note.

Tax elimination, NOT tax increases are the way to go.

IndyInjun January 10, 2013 at 9:18 pm

Jindal is a fool. Louisiana’s parishes tax sales and use independently of the State of Louisiana at rates as high as 5.6%. Good catch, Charlie, to mention that Jindal ‘s rate is for the state alone. Also, Louisiana hasn’t liberalized its sales taxes on manufacturing like Georgia (it has given up better than $1 billion in revenue a year in 3 enormous chunks since 2005).

Dave Bearse January 10, 2013 at 6:54 pm

Replacing a system that generates revenue based on use in favor of the general economy subsidizing transportation is idoitic. If this exemplifies conservatives idea of sound tax policy, count me out on tax reform.

Rambler14 January 14, 2013 at 7:19 am

What’s your proposal?

Dave Bearse January 10, 2013 at 6:56 pm

Solutions will require leadership, which has been in short supply in Georgia for a decade.

Dave Bearse January 10, 2013 at 7:00 pm

Of course it’s quiet on transportation. We’ve got a shortage of assualt weapons to deal with, plus Obama’s fixin’ to take away 30 round clips at the precise time it’s necessary to arm school administrators.

atlanta_advocate January 10, 2013 at 7:11 pm

Don’t forget about your side pushing the oh so vital and pressing issues of gay marriage (when gays are less than 3% of the population, and polls show that the vast majority of gays have no interest in marriage) and forcing Catholic institutions to pay for birth control that can easily be afforded by their employees out of their own salaries, and going to the mat to make sure that abortion is the medical procedure subject to the least regulations, and has fewer regulations and restrictions in this country than anywhere else in the world. Please quit pretending as if your side doesn’t divert precious time, energy and political capital on marginal social issues.

seekingtounderstand January 10, 2013 at 8:54 pm

The underground economy will just grow if you put it all on sales tax. Whats fair about that system. Ever heard of service exchanges or barter systems?

IndyInjun January 12, 2013 at 9:17 am

Ever think that is what the miniature drones are for? People used to ridicule me by saying I worried about black helicopters, but now I am down to suspecting any blackBIRD that tarries too long. The surveillance state will naturally attach to the “fair”tax in the most ultimate of ironies.

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