Transportation Study Committee Is For Real

Last week we brought news of the study committee appointed for transportation funding.  I’ll note that the comments section indicates that a lot of Georgians – many including myself who opposed T-SPLOST – do understand the need and want a viable solution to our problem.  And it is “our problem”.

Today, Jim Galloway frames the issue well.  Click here and read the whole thing,  especially the part of Ed Lindsey playing the role of Cassandra. Forgive me for giving away the ending:

It is a point of pride among those in the state Capitol that Georgia, unlike the federal government, is constitutionally required to balance its budget each year. Unlike Washington, it cannot operate at a deficit.

The Plan B Committee will have to persuade Georgians that neglect is just deficit spending by another name, a tax that is levied without a referendum. Two years later, it’s still a tough argument.

Tough indeed, but frankly, even tougher than the issue as presented:

Funding options that the Plan B Committee will look at include grabbing that fourth penny, which can be worth between $180 million and $200 million a year. Tolls are another option, along with smaller versions of the 2012 TSPLOST, involving smaller groups of counties and fractional sales taxes.

Let’s be clear.  Georgia is now dead last of all 50 states in transportation spending, and we spend $.60 for every dollar an “average” state spends.  $200 Million a year won’t close that gap.  Numbers discussed by some at the Capitol add another zero to the total annual need.

Two Billion.  With a “B”.  That’s an even tougher argument.

There’s going to have to be quite a bit of intestinal fortitude to have this public discussion over the next 6-9 months.  Understanding the gas tax is a user fee that has been declining in value since it was set in 1989 is critical.  Understanding that the fleet of cars on the road get 27% better fuel economy just since 2007 (and thus pay 25% less user fees) is key.  Knowing that Atlanta is the number one city for the electric Nissan Leaf demonstrates that we have technologies that have a growing number of motorists avoiding this use fee altogether.

We’ve kicked this can down the road for so long that we have to ask if the road itself needs to be rebuilt.  The solutions will be tough.  The votes to pass them will be tougher.

Yet the numbers are real.  Half of our state lives in one of the fastest growing metro areas in the country.  If our growth rate over the next quarter century matches the slowest growth rate of the last four decades, we’ll still add four million new Georgians.  There is no way to do this on our existing infrastructure.  We’re barely able to pay for the maintenance on the infrastructure we currently have.

Every Georgian – especially those who feel they are Taxed Enough Already – needs to follow this committee.  The problem is clearly identified.  How we solve it, which means how we pay for it, is an open question.  But it is one that we must answer.


  1. Harry says:

    But we are taxed enough already. Instead of new taxes to fund roads, let’s cut other existing spending.

        • Ellynn says:

          Georgia’s Secetary of State (since we are talking funding through the state stream of funds) had to add overhead cost in the last 4 years inorder to verify every voter and professional licence holder in this state is a legal citizen. No way is that going to add up to $200 Million, let alone Billion.

          What else you got?

          • Harry says:

            Karen Handel was able to substantially reduce the SOS budget. Another example: The administrative side of DOT was off the chain as of a couple years ago.

            • Ellynn says:

              So if we took 5% off the total state funded budgets of the SOS and the DOT based on the 2014 budget is about $1.3 Million. on $198.7 Million to go.

            • Rambler14 says:

              The personnel numbers at DOT have been cut every year for at least the past 10.
              Vacancies just aren’t being filled.

              What else you got?

              • Harry says:

                I’m just saying we’re taxed enough already, financially stressed enough already, and need to learn to live within our means.

          • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

            How about using high-capacity multimodal transportation corridors (controlled-access highways, parallel transit lines and adjoining prime real estate assets) to leverage 30 years worth of capital and operating costs out of the private sector?….Something that would eliminate those costs as public expenditures.

            • Ellynn says:

              You would need to first define the market and different user groups of each transit type to see who would use the lines to insure private sector expenditures. Private firms do things to make a profit, not because it what is best for the end users. At lot of the existing data shows that the orginal theories on multimodal corridors did not, an average, pan out. Having a parallel transit line many not reduse opertating costs or lower useage of roadways.

              If you have not read ‘Reinventing the Urban Interstate: A New Paradigm for Multimodal Corridors ‘ from Transportation Research Board, it a very dry but imformitive idea of multimodel design.

              • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

                Good comments….Though one must keep in mind that the incentive for the private sector to get involved in directly financing the transportation network is in the profit-generating prime real estate assets that lie along major roads and transit lines.

                • Ellynn says:

                  Historically tranit line proffit has beens based on the old western rail expainssion examples. I build a station, I will get people to open shops and craete a comunity that will generate more profits. But lets look at Atlanta. Who rides the rails? If your user is a twenty something hipter computer engineer who is going to generate proffit at the number of shops and stores built just for him and his latte addiction. your golden. If it’s the twenty something low wage user who rides 3 different busses to get to 2 jobs and has to head home to take her online night class after she puts her kid to bed, your not going to have an attractive base to maintain investors.

                  • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

                    With American real estate being some of the most desirable on the planet and with Metro Atlanta’s immense logistical assets, we will have a very-attractive base to attract investors if (and when) we use real estate investment to fund our transportation costs.

  2. TheEiger says:

    I’m okay with increasing the gas tax to catch up with inflation and to offset the fact that cars are more fuel efficient than they were in the 1980s. I would like to see the additional 12-15 cents put into a separate fund transportation fund. I would vehemently oppose having this money flow through the general fund. This fund would then be used across the state for state transportation needs and matching funds where federal dollars are being sought. We would then have cash on hand without having to beg the taxpayers to pass stupid project lists and TSPLOSTs.

    The gas tax is essentially a user fee on the amount of road you use. Those that live in town and drive a mile to work will pay less than those of us who decided to move to the suburbs and commute into town. We use more of the road so we should pay the user fee to do so. Or stop complaining about traffic. One of the two. Again, I will say though that having the funds go to the general fund is a nonstarter. I don’t trust the folks under the gold dome to keep their damn hands off of it.

    • Charlie says:

      Motor fuel taxes, per the Georgia Constitution, go directly to the DOT. There remains an active dispute as to whether the “4th penny” is a motor fuel tax or a sales tax. I think that dispute should be settled once and for all that it’s a motor fuel tax, and that all of these taxes (plus any inflationary adjustments that level set us back to 1989 purchasing power) remain with the DOT.

      • TheEiger says:

        So every 6 months the Georgia department of revenue has to by law adjust the gas tax based on the price of gasoline correct? Wouldn’t the simplest funding solution be to allow the department of revenue to adjust the tax based on the price of gas like they are legally obligated to do and adjust it for inflation at the same time? That way the general assembly doesn’t have to vote to “raise taxes.” They can then complain and campaign against it, but it is done and to be honest no one would even notice. It takes the politics out of the issue and we move on to talk about water, education and medicaid.

        • Charlie says:

          I think after it’s corrected for the 1989 value, yes.

          Frankly, I personally favor making it a fixed cents/gallon so that it only indexes every year with inflation, and thus doesn’t vary when the price of gas spikes. I’m interested to see what other ideas the committee comes up with. But this would at least tie us closer back to the user fee concept.

          The problem with this approach is it’s a shorter term fix than some of the other options. I think it’s the most politically feasible in this environment. With the rapidly increasing fuel economy and the rapid adoption of alternative fuel vehicles, there will be much wider discrepancies going forward of the amount of “user fees” each user pays. A gas tax realignment likely isn’t the 20-30 year fix that the Chairman hopes for, but it should put us on solid footing for 7-10 years minimum if done right.

          • TheEiger says:

            To be honest I think a shorter term solution is what we need at the moment. The long term solution (20-30years) is to change people’s habits and that doesn’t happen quickly. Part of that long term solution we can already see. Large companies are moving closer to where their employees live instead of having employees commute into town. Just look at the growth occurring around the Sandy Springs/Dunwoody area and to a slightly lesser extent up 400 to Windward. It’s much easier for people who live in the Northern Suburbs to drive to Sandy Springs instead of midtown or downtown.

            • John Konop says:

              Good point put it does not fix movement of goods and services…just shifts the problem…The movement efficiently of goods and services are a key component of the economy. Metro Atlanta grew via vines airport, 75, 20…..clog vines you will have a problem….

              • TheEiger says:

                That is why on other threads I have talked about the need to have more rail from the port in Savannah around Atlanta to inland ports in Columbus and Dalton. That gets the “goods” that aren’t destined for Atlanta off of our roads. The more people we have driving a shorter distant to work and the more trucks we have off the road and those goods on rail the easier it is to get Atlanta’s goods and services to where they need to go. Building more lanes to downtown or more MARTA stops or rapid bus transits won’t stop the “sprawl” of Atlanta. We should use the sprawl to our advantage.

  3. Lwood says:

    I moved to metro Atlanta in 2002 from Alabama. Having relatives in Richmond we often had to choose between traveling through Atlanta or taking longer through the “back road” of Birmingham-Chattanooga- Knoxville- Staunton. I often would time things so that we would hit Atlanta at midnight or later. Now I live there and have learned to deal with traffic. Someone who had lived here for about 30 years advised me that the best thing to do was to get my own little section of Atlanta and stay there. My Richmond relatives lived in Marietta for 3 years in the 80s. I asked them “What is the worst traffic problem in Atlanta?” They replied ” 285 and 75″. I then told them about the new Braves stadium. Other relatives live in Nashville and we have scouted out back roads to avoid I75 as long as possible. I think that it will cost more than people are willing to pay.

  4. Lwood says:

    Since I keep up with the kinfolk in Richmond , I regularly check out the website linked below. This is VA 7th district, Cantor’s former district. It is interesting to note the parallel problems and discussion of things like taxes on sales of hybrids and electric vehicles.

    • Charlie says:

      Then you’re a step ahead of the game. Virginia passed a comprehensive statewide transportation funding reform bill a couple of years ago. The alternative fuel vehicle fee was one of it’s first casualties. But they did get most of their concept into reality. It’s something Georgia can look at for some lessons learned, good and bad.

  5. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    Good column Charlie, but at this point, most of the funding for our pressing transportation needs can most likely only be found in a place that we are not accustomed to looking…in the private sector.

    • Charlie says:

      Platitudes about the private sector are usually the excuse given by people that want to pretend they want to be part of a solution but aren’t able to quantify how to implement what they’re talking about.

      We look at a public-private partnership for the I-75/575 HOT lanes. The problem? To justify the ROI of the private investment, we had to promise not to improve any corridors or intersections near I-75/575 for FIFTY YEARS.

      We’re talking about adding four million people in 25 years. Think what Cherokee County looked like 50 years ago. Do you think people then could see and plan for what it is now? I don’t think we need to bind two future generations for what we think we know will happen now for projects that, when we work hard enough as we did here, can adequately be funded as the inherently governmental function that they are.

      • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

        The highly-flawed original version of the I-75/I-575 P3 is not the only way to structure private financing deals which can be structured in ways in which the private sector takes most or even all of the risk, particularly when profitable real estate assets along high-capacity corridors are leveraged.

  6. Baker says:

    Everything TheEiger said, plus either putting HOT lanes on 75 or tolls, both for Cobb-esque folks and Macon/Lovejoy types – User fees.

    • Charlie says:

      The HOT lanes are already coming on 75 north and south.

      FOUR MILLION PEOPLE are coming.

      Hot lanes are good for what we needed in 1990. What are we doing for the next 4 million?

      • ryanhawk says:

        Charlie — Do you have a source that indicates how many of those projected 4 million people will be born here versus move ins? Going back 10 years when I actually paid attention to the relevant data I recall that about half of metro Atlanta’s household growth was projected to be internally generated (i.e. kids grow up, get a job and buy house). Now? I have no clue.

      • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

        Metro Atlanta’s robust population growth numbers can be used to further leverage massive amounts of transportation funding from the private sector….That’s because investors *LOVE* high population growth rates, particularly in highly-industrialized first world countries like the U.S.

  7. George Chidi says:

    Some of this money can be found by rearranging budget priorities and taking advantage of some fiscal trends. Georgia spends $1.15 billion on corrections at a time of declining criminality. A bit of judicial sentencing reform to lower incarceration rates would free up 10 percent of that for use in roads.

    There are public-private partnership opportunities here … although I personally despise things like Lexus lanes. I’m thinking about development rights for transit hubs. It is a crime against the planning and zoning gods to have the acreage around places like Kensington Station or Indian Creek look like you could go bear hunting in the woods there … never mind some of the other rail stations. In every other metro area, subway and rail stations are usually commercial nodes. Sell the development rights — and liberalize the zoning rules around those stations — and use the money to build out the rail network.

    On top of all of this, we are going to have to raise the gas tax. There’s no other equitable answer, and it is to the eternal discredit of the legislature that they failed the moral test that tax presents. The gas tax is user-pays. It scales with use. It taxes the right users — the ones on the roads. It rewards energy efficiency. It can be levied efficiently and is hard to evade. And it’s too low right now to cover highway costs.

    Set the number that total revenue needs to hit to cover road expenses. Index it to a neutral, annual measurement of road-use per gallon. And then get out of the way.

    If electric vehicles begin contributing to road use — and public expense — in real numbers, then start lowering the Alternative Fuel Vehicle tax credit to compensate. But electric vehicles only represent about 1.1 percent of vehicle registrations right now, so I think the EV credit isn’t material.

    And, for reason’s sake — don’t be afraid to use the damned Snowpocalypse as a rallying cry for all of this, people. Call it Operation Hothlanta or something.

    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      Good comments, Mr. Chidi.

      Selling development rights to prime transit-owned real estate around MARTA stations are an excellent example where most or all of the risk is put on the private sector in a P3 or private financing deal.

      • George Chidi says:

        In DeKalb, at least, that probably needs to be part of the county’s long-term planning now. The county’s development pattern concentrated commercial development in large clusters at Perimeter, the Chamblee-Tucker corridor and Northlake … all of which are incorporating or annexing away.

        It’s in the county’s interest now to spread commercial development around to avoid large annexation targets. (Ah, the perversity of tax incentives.) Clustering commercial development in transportation-connected hubs is very New Urbanist, but it also protects the tax base.

  8. George Chidi says:

    Also, it’s worth mentioning — whispering, perhaps — that having a split delegation in Washington D.C. might be a good idea if we’re about to get serious about fixing our transportation problems. Nunn would be better positioned to negotiate on behalf of Georgia in a Democratic senate and with a Democratic administration than another Republican. If things flip, Isakson can make our arguments to the other side.

    • TheEiger says:

      Good try, but Nunn is a vote for Harry Reid to stay majority leader in the Senate and that is why she won’t get my vote.

  9. Ellynn says:

    I would also like to point out Georgia does have roads and people who do not live north of Macon. Their needs additional port access out of both Savannah and Brunswick. Their are aging bridges over salt water areas that need to be replaced. @80 needs some love and care. Islands Expressway east of Savannah is going to need to replace their set of 80 plus year old draw bridges. The Tybee Island road needs to be widened and the Bull River Bridge replace – that 8 miles has at least 1 fatel car reck a year and a bad stop traffic for 2 hours crasg every 10 to 14 days. Hwy 56 is a mess as is state 17. and state 33. Hwy 46 and 67 could use some attenttion if the other GSU keeps growing.

  10. debbie0040 says:

    The Chamber has their priorities mixed up. It is ironic that they advocate for more money for transportation when they had over 400 million of public funding being spent on the stadium. They don’t want the billionaires to have to pay more but want the average citizen to have to pay more. They should have advocated the money spent on building the new Falcons stadium be put toward transportation/MARTA. The tax break Delta gets for jet fuel should end and put toward transportation.

    The state sales tax collected on the sale of gas should go to fund transportation – not be put in the general fund.

    Tax credit’s for telecommuting, more van pools, flow control, new toll lanes that run straight through Atlanta without exits, etc.

    Rep. Ed Setzler’s bill should be given a second look and allow county commissions to decide who they want to partner with for their transportation needs and allow the county voters decide if they want to pay additional sales tax for transportation improvements including mass transit.

    If the plan is to have the state legislature to raise more revenue by raising taxes or fees- it will be met with very stiff resistance. The tax dollars are not being spent wisely now. One just has to look at the tax dollars being used on the new Falcons stadium and the tax breaks being given…

    • debbie0040 says:

      A new toll road that goes from the Augusta/Savannah area to Louisiana/Texas. More focus should be on routing traffic from South Georgia away from Atlanta for folks traveling west.

      • Ellynn says:

        I believe it’s called I-10. Too far south… how about US 80…

        The port can move goods locally on 21 through Effingham or US 25 through Statesboro. If your going from the Georgia coast to areas Northwest of Atlanta, you are skipping the metro loop already by going I95 to I26 to I40 through the Smokey mountains to Knoxville. From there you can head North to Lexington or west to Nashville and branch out from there. If Disney was closer to I 95, you would lose a large number of cross county travelers on I75.

    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      debbie0040, July 11, 2014 at 10:52 am-

      The money for mass transit is not in sales taxes. The REAL money for mass transit (and high-capacity transportation in general) is in prime commercial real estate located in high-capacity transportation corridors.

          • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

            In 2004, the City of Chicago received $1.83 billion for a 99-year operating lease of the Chicago Skyway and in 2006, the State of Indiana received $3.8 billion for a 75-year operating lease of the Indiana Toll Road….There’s definitely much funding for transportation in the private sector.

            • Charlie says:

              1) This is operating contracts for toll roads, not “Prime commercial real estate located in high-capacity transportation corridors”.

              2) Please just stop. It’s 4:00 on a Friday and I’m not spending my weekend on your circular lunacy.

              • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

                Not just an operating contract, but also the right to collect revenue from the infrastructure for an extended period. When tolls are applied to high-capacity roadways, the roadways themselves become attractive pieces of real estate to private investors…with commercial property the roads are even more attractive prime investments.

            • Ellynn says:

              Have you ever driven the Chicago Skyway? This is the south side of the South Side. It has industrial areas to the north of the corridor along Lake Michagin. This is the port area. To the south of the Skyway is South Chicago, Calumet Height, Pullman and once you cross the Calumet River, the train yards and ends at the Indiana Tollway in Gary Indiana. It’s 7.8 miles that connects a 50 year old set of bridges to a section of the city that has more container and rail cars then people. It has 7 exits – 5 of which you could not pay me to use after dark unless I had an Abrhams tank. It’s made to move cargo. The cost for two axels is $4.00 a trip. The cost for a 5 axel semi is $21.00 for from 4 am to 8 pm and $15.oo from 8 pm to 4 am each way. Unless you work downtown and live in Gary, the average commuter is not going using this. The cross county or visiter is not going to use this. Look at Google for each of the exits.

              There is no way you could pull this off in Atlanta and if you put this type of cargo tranfer area at the Port of Savannah, you would be hunted down and shot by the board of directors of about 10 major corperations and the US Army logicstic battallion stationed at Hunter.

              Again, traditional multimodal theory that orginally created the Skyway did not reduse traffic into Chicago. It did help the shipping and industral area remain mostly functional, but at the cost of creating urban dessets and with little access to commerical investment beyond what already exists.

              • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

                Many visitors use the Chicago Skyway as a major alternative to severely-congested I-94 in and out of Chicago from the southeast.

                It also doesn’t matter how crappy the area is that the road runs through, what matters is that someone was willing to pay nearly $2 billion for it.

                • Ellynn says:

                  Lets see, I am coming up from North Bend heading to the Downtown. Do I take both the Indiana and Skyway to save myself time at a cost of about $6 each way, or do I take the I80/ I 94 to the Dan Ryan ( I94) at the cost of nothing and have a few exits I can stop at to get gas or coffee with less chances of being shot? I can tell you if its dark out NO ONE takes the Skyway.

                  Chichago traffic is different then Atlanta. It fasters, has more access points into the downtown or major arteries and has a very successful overhead transit line. Most car commuter live to the west and north of the city. The airport is centered to the metro as a whole because of the lake. Not to mention the toll was privitized AFTER it had been in service for 50 years. They did not have to pay for the inferstructure.

                  • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

                    It doesn’t matter that the private investors that control the Chicago Skyway didn’t pay to construct the elevated roadway in 1958….What matters is that they will be responsible for paying ALL operating and capital costs on the roadway for the next 89 years until the year 2103.

                    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

                      The I-90 Chicago Skyway lease deal wasn’t intended to resolve traffic issues on I-94, it was primarily intended to take the maintenance costs of a crucial piece of transportation infrastructure off of the hands of a severely cash-strapped Chicago city government.

        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

          There’s a heck of a lot more money for transportation in commercial real estate (tens-of-billions of dollars) then there is in our current cash-depleted approach (effectively $0)…the sooner we realize this, the sooner we will have success. Until then we will continue to struggle mightily.

    • Rambler14 says:

      How’s your Plan B coming along, Debbie?

      You know, the one where you and the Sierra Club aligned because TSPLOST was such a horrible idea.

    • GTKay says:

      Debbie, you do realize that transportation is funded differently than the Falcon’s stadium, right? And do you also realize that we are in dire need of a dedicated revenue source for transportation? The network we’re currently using. Not some imaginary road starting in the Augusta/Savannah (?) area going west or north or whatever you said. Nor a toll road through Atlanta with no exits that would take from now until forever to buy right of way for. Georgia is next to last in per capita transportation spending. Please tell me where the waste in transportation dollars is. Opposing a long overdue increase in funding because we shoulda/woulda/coulda and because you really want to stick it to Arthur Blank shows your short sighted understanding of a huge problem. Dumb ideas don’t count for real ones.

      • debbie0040 says:

        GTKay, speaking of dumb ideas, how did TSPLOST work out for you? If you guys try another TSPLOST or ask the Legislature to raise fees or taxes, then you will lose just like you guys did in 2012. We are still organized and actually better organized, because we fully expected you guys to try again in a few years. If Gov. Deal wins in November, he may not be up for re-election again but Legislators will in 2016. In 2016, you can expect in some legislative races to see tea party activists not only fielding candidates in the GOP Primary but also helping Libertarians get their candidates on the ballot for Legislative races.

        The money could being spent on the stadium could have been allocated for transportation or MARTA with legislative process. You guys played your games with funding mechanism and thought no one was paying attention..

  11. GTKay says:

    I’ll add self-important to short-sighted. You’re already threatening opposition to a yet formulated plan. I’m still not hearing realistic, state-wide solutions from you. Only grudge politics.

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