Still Talking Up Those High-Speed Railways

August 14, 2014 12:10 pm

by Nathan · 8 comments

A high-speed railway running between Chattanooga and Atlanta has been talked about for the past 20-ish years or so. High-speed rail has been talked about linking different cities in Georgia: Savannah to Atlanta, Macon to Atlanta, Athens to Atlanta, Columbus to Atlanta, and there are multiple points in between that get talked about.

Alas, it’s been mostly talk, and GDOT talked about it some more this Tuesday in Dalton. Vaporware. An elusive golden unicorn that gets talked up about once every year or two, but it gets pushed to the back of the transportation novelty closet and nothing seems to happen with all the talk. I believe Georgia is a great state, and I believe other people see the potential for prosperity in Georgia…that’s why we’ve seen our population continue to increase. Studies look to see that growth continue and expand further outside of the current metro Atlanta region, and I don’t believe roads are going to be the sole answer to our problem of getting Georgians from Point A to Point B in an effective manner.

We live in an instant gratification society. If your 4G phone doesn’t pull up your Instagram feed in less than 2 seconds, then both your phone and your provider have failed (from your viewpoint at least). We want to travel, and we want to do so effectively and quickly. Sitting in traffic on the various Interstates in and around Atlanta for 45 to 60 minutes to travel less than 10 miles will not be tolerated by a new generation looking for opportunity in our state. A high-speed train network wouldn’t guarantee a draw of talent to the state, but it certainly wouldn’t help. I work in Chattanooga, so a high-speed link between Chattanooga and Atlanta would certainly give me a bit more communities to consider making my residence between my office in Chattanooga and Atlanta.

It’s something to consider, but the 900 lb. gorilla in the room will be how are we going to pay it while also keeping the roads maintained. That’s a good question, and we need to start consider different ways of funding our infrastructure. Gas taxes alone may be unsustainable in the future. My friend and fellow front pager Eric the Younger touched on that when discussing the Highway Trust Fund:

The gas tax has not been adjusted in 20 years, and in that 20 years the price of gas has gone up, cars are more efficient, and people are actually driving less. All this means that the current user fee is no longer acting like it should. If you drive a Leaf, you get to use roads for free and a prius gets to use them at a highly discounted rate compared to my 2001 Jeep Cherokee or my buddy’s 1968 Corvette and its gas gulping 427 V-8.

User fees, toll roads (real toll roads where the funds actually pay for the upkeep and maintenance on the road…not just a single toll booth planted at some seemingly random point on the road and calling it a toll road), per-mile taxes, or whatever. I’ll defer to the experts who study these things and get their opinion, but if we are wanting to 1.) plan for the future and grow Georgia in a sensible fashion that lets its citizens get from Point A to Point be and 2.) not be totally or at all reliant on federal subsidies to keep our transportation infrastructure updated and safe, then we will have to figure out what we can do to fund it.

We have some talking and decision making to be done. Let’s throw out the ideas and see what sticks.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

rmarsden89 August 14, 2014 at 1:16 pm

It would be great for both cities if we had a high speed rail between Atlanta and Chattanooga. I think if you add an end point in a vacations spot like Savannah then the project would only need front money and be able to pay for itself. They not only should look at how to pay for it, but what the ROI would be, I haven’t done any reasearch on it, but I would imagine that it would be a pretty profitable service for the state. Where we would want to be careful is to not expand it too much and stick to 2 – 3 stops, also the cities that it goes to would have to make sure that they have a decent public transportation system in place so the travelers could get to where they need to go once they get to the city, both Atlanta and Chatanooga have public transportation, but both of the systems are very subpar.

saltycracker August 14, 2014 at 4:58 pm

Population
Chattanooga 167,700. Metro 533,000
Atlanta. 447,800. Metro 5.36 million
Savannah. 142,000. Metro 356,000

Thought the experts say high speed rail is best connecting populations of 1 million+

Just hope Mega-bus is successful.

Ed August 15, 2014 at 10:54 am

+1. While I like rail and think we should invest more in it (OK so I wish we could have developed in such a way that a strong rail link would be a feasible option) I don’t see how this is a good idea partly because of the population issue but also is there any sort of real demand? Yes, I get it if you build it they will come and you’ve just created a much larger inter-connected megalopolis…

A high-speed rail link is something we should be extremely cautious about before investing in it (and I know we’re probably a decade away from having high-speed rail…).

saltycracker August 15, 2014 at 10:23 pm

Metro Greenville 647,000
Metro Charlotte 1.8 million
Metro Jacksonville 1.36 m

GDOT is directionally impaired. Populations and running sane cost/revenue numbers will not be on the agenda.

MattMD August 14, 2014 at 9:57 pm

Like Depeche Mode, my 4G LTE Verizon service has never let me down.

Nathan August 15, 2014 at 9:15 am
Dave Bearse August 15, 2014 at 10:42 pm

Wrong segment on the wrong route.

The first priority is cooperation with our Piedmont neighbors, NC, SC and AL for a route generally closely paralleling I-85 south to Atlanta and then I-20 west to Birmingham. That route is the spine of the Piedmont megalopolis, and Atlanta is near it’s center.

The best segment for Georgia of comparable Chattanooga-Atlanta length on the lesser priority I-75 corridor is Macon-Atlanta. The topography is much more accommodating too–it doesn’t make sense to me to tackle a route over the nearly the most difficult topography in the state.

Dave Bearse August 15, 2014 at 10:51 pm

It’s not rocket science. Raise the motor fuel tax pending development of technology for alternate taxation and tolling.

Nationally, raise the motor fuel tax a nickel a year for three years, then begin indexing it to inflation at the beginning of the fourth year.

Impose additional taxation on heavy trucks that do the most damage to pavements and bridges. The additional taxes could perhaps be levied by modifying the existing interstate transponder/scale system—peach pass for trucks—though it would have to pass federal muster.