Time for Georgia and Metro Atlanta to Step Up on Transportation

Let’s get real about transportation. We are at a crossroads. Do we step up and face our current challenge or do we allow this vital infrastructure to decay and fall further behind our present and future needs?

Georgia ranks forty-ninth in the nation in per capita transportation spending. In the Southeast, we spend only just over half what North Carolina and Virginia spend on transportation and 43% of what Florida spends even though we have more state road lane miles to maintain. Metro Atlanta also lags behind similarly sized metro areas in terms of transportation investment.   For instance, the Dallas region spends 280% more, the Phoenix region spends 150% more, and the Denver region spends 300% more than our Atlanta region on transportation.

The result?   Forty-eight percent of our state maintained roads and bridges are rated in either poor or fair condition. Metro Atlanta has been ranked 91st out of 100 among major metro regions nationwide for access to transit. Atlantans have one of the worst commutes in the nation with the average driver wasting on average over $900 in fuel per year sitting in traffic. Prospective businesses rank our transportation woes and our inability to address it as one of their chief concerns about moving to metro Atlanta.

In response to these concerns, the Georgia General Assembly created this year the Joint Study Committee on Critical Transportation Funding Infrastructure for Georgia and I was appointed as one of the two “citizen” members. Over the past four months we have met in Atlanta, Columbus, Tifton, Macon, Augusta, Savannah, Blue Ridge, and Rome, Georgia. We have listened to civic leaders, transportation experts, business executives, and everyday citizens explain not only the transportation problems facing our state but also possible solutions. Our charge is to make recommendations to the General Assembly before it convenes in January, 2015.

As our committee considers our solution options over the next month, we are mindful of the following realities brought out in our hearings:

  1. At a minimum, Georgia must immediately find additional transportation funding of $1 billion per year just to properly maintain our present transportation system, and in the long run we must also find another $1 billion + per year to meet critically needed future improvements;
  2. Greater flexibility and coordination between the state and local regions in Georgia are needed to allow our regions to assess and fast forward particularly critically needed transportation projects in their area;
  3. Public Private Partnerships and toll lanes and roads are a viable option for future improvements in some areas;
  4. As motor vehicles become more fuel efficient and electric cars more common, the present primary dependency on motor fuel taxes to fund transportation must be re evaluated;
  5.  At the same time, the present policy of allowing the state and local governments to divert sales taxes collected on motor fuel for non transportation purposes must also be reassessed;
  6. Greater coordination among metro Atlanta transit providers is required to make transit a viable transportation alternative in our urban and suburban area; and
  7. The following factors need to be adopted in determining which transportation projects should be at the top of the list for implementation: congestion mitigation; economic development; accessibility; safety; and environmental quality.

Throughout history, all great societies must continuously meet their infrastructure challenges or watch their earlier successes slip into the history books.  Atlanta and the State of Georgia are not immune to this reality. We are rightly proud of our past success but we desperately need to step up and respond to our transportation infrastructure shortcomings in order to maintain our status as a destination point for economic growth and for people seeking a higher quality of life.

Stay tuned on the Committee’s recommendations.

77 comments

  1. Could there be an incentive for individuals to move closer to their work place, have businesses relocate to minimize the commute of their workers, or some other financial offset to align better where people live vs. where they work?

    I realize this flies in the face of some peoples vision of conservatism, but so do tax breaks for companies to relocate to different areas, increasing gas taxes, and using the tax code to engineer behavior.

    My suggestion is if those horrid concepts are already on the table, could we use them in a bottom up approach, and not a top down one?

    • Charlie says:

      One of the biggest enemies of trying to solve this problem has been anti-regionalism, despite the state’s clearly defined constitutional role in transportation.

      You let the state start playing around in local zoning, and we’ll quickly be going backwards, not forwards.

  2. Just Nasty and Mean says:

    I see the underlying call for higher taxes in Rep. Lindsey’s essay. However, the committee should keep these facts in mind:
    1) We are in a competitive world, and especially competitive region of the country. Many of the surrounding states have a lower fuel tax than we have now. Do you need reminded we raised fuel tax just 4 years ago.
    2) Does it makes any sense of fairness to RAISE taxes on the consuming public, while at the same time REMOVING all energy taxes from business? Where’s the fairness there?
    3) Let those that USE the service pay for it. Ga400 PAID FOR ITSELF and feeder system improvements—in user fees (tolls). Like Ga400, once paid for, the fees should be removed.
    Those that benefit most PAY for the privilege.
    4) PPPs offer a good partnership for up-front funding and jump=starting projects But their involvement should be “bought out” once revenues exceed expenses.. One only need to go to the northeast to see where PPPs tend to perpetually gouge users. Phase them out, or we all will rue the day this concept was ever enacted.
    5) Whether the PC crowd wants to admit or not, heavy and light rail will not EVER—EVER–effectively service an area of sprawl we call Atlanta. It will FOREVER serve as a bane on poor taxpayers that rarely get benefit from the system (See: MARTA).
    Many thanks to those that contributed their time and expertise to the Joint Committee to study this issue.

    • Ellynn says:

      Name some names here. Which agencies, what sections, which services? how much savings?

      I deal with3 major state agancies, and two of them lost more then half their payroll 4 years ago when Deal made the hiring freeze perminate, and the other agancy is under staffed due to retirements – it has 10 -12 week review times – which is slowing down growth and constuction in this state.

        • Ellynn says:

          So what section(s) of DCA? The Small business deveople department, the Block Grant divison (which goverern the construction and maintaince of almost every rural county health department, and DFAC in the state) how about the Building Codes division, the Industrial Building department, the hundreds of economic development incentives and tax credit services for new and existing business, Office of Downtown Development, Solid Waste Management, Hazard Mitigation and Land Use, the Disaster Recovery Enhancement Fund (DREF) division. Don’t forget the manging of federal funds – Brownfields, the farm bill, HUD, the fostercare system.

          Name names…

          • gcp says:

            Eliminate all tax credits including the useless GATE cards. Eliminate GPB and office of lt. governor. Eliminate extension service. Make PSC part-time. Five year freeze on university building fund. Reduce salary by at least 10% for all employees making over 100,000. Eliminate defined benefit plans for all new state employees including teachers and those hired in the past year. Allow state parks to be run by private companies.

            Just a few of the obvious cuts but of course it means nothing because none will occur.

        • taylor says:

          I realize that I’m joining this late, but where does 6,000 DCA employees come from? The State Personnel Administration FY14 Workforce Report shows 388 employees. Not counting universities, only Corrections and Behavioral Health exceed 5,000.

          Ignorance is not always bliss. Frequently it leads to unwarranted anger.

      • Harry says:

        There’s only a finite amount of pie. State government needs to cut unproductive workers just as is done in the private sector. Then there would be enough money for roads.

            • Nathan says:

              Bumper sticker slogans aren’t solutions. The legislature has tried to cut excess spending. You believe there are additional cuts to be made. How much and where? State legislators and government officials do pay attention to our blog, so I’m sure they will read your recommendations. Data to back up your arguments will do well to support them.

              • Harry says:

                No, I think the monkey is on your back to show the voters and taxpayers of this state why another transportation tax increase is justified, and why savings can’t be found in other areas of state government. Last I checked we don’t have the most efficient operation in terms of employees per capita.

            • Charlie says:

              Harry, you are hereby banned from commenting on any transportation post for 2 weeks. If you don’t comply, you privileges will be removed.

              We’ve got people asking legitimate questions with legitimate concerns. You’re not going to continue to misdirect these discussions with your endless loops that end in “taxed enough already” as if that’s any metric of any kind. You did that for weeks across multiple threads enough that you’ve had your say. You’re not going to gum up the works any longer so others can’t have theirs.

              This will be your only warning.

        • Ellynn says:

          Their is not a finite amount of pie, only a finite amount your willing to fork over to make the pie. BIG difference.

          You could close down the enitire DCA and not have enough in savings to take care of transportation. That not even including what the state would lose in federal funding that goes to maintaining the majority of the services DCA handles. Like the farm bill, Brownfields, Block Grants, Solid Waste, Hazard Mitigation, the DREF, ect…

          Also, what type of pie? I like black cherry with a dutch crumble top myself.

      • ryanhawk says:

        I don’t often do business in jurisdictions that require a 12 week wait for a building permit, but when I do I don’t wish for more state employees. Eliminate the government reviews, and let a licensed engineer stamp and approve the plans. I can build an entire house quicker than an overpaid state employee can tell me where to put up a silt fence, which of course I already knew. And please, it’s not because they are understaffed.

        The real money is in “education” and “health care” of course, and a lot of it truly is waste and fraud. Deal slashed the budget for the central office of the state education department, as he should have, and hopefully the next governor will finish the job. Why don’t you go back and tell us which of the eliminated dollars were essential? Obviously none of them were essential in the case of the state DOE’s central office budget. The same is true for nearly every other department in state government.

        The reason so many of us support zero based budgeting is because we don’t know exactly where the waste and fraud is, but we know its there and we know the insiders have little incentive to tell us where it is.

        • Ellynn says:

          State reviews, like DOT, EPA, and SFM already require stamped drawings by lots of PE’s and the Architect of Record under Georgia law. So do Title II funded projects being reviewed by DOE, GSFIC, DOC, DCA, which makes sure we are spending taxpayer and SPLOST funds correctly, as required by Georgia law. Can’t say I have ever seem a house go through a state review unless it was near a wetlands. (I admit to being annoyed by the guardians of the silt fences, but we have specs that make that the GCs problem, not mine)

          I can tell you DOE does not have enough curriculum reviewers, or regienal system superviors, to handle 5 year plans or classroom requirements. Basic lead time on an enrollment review for a school is 6 weeks, 5 year plan is 3 months (unless it’s for a charter, then you get rushed through so the gov can say ‘look we are fixing education’). Every time a larger school board monkey’s around with the rules (you know who they are) it’s messes up the timing for the smaller systems. You might think the system is working just fine, but as the market improves and more people retire out, the clashes and the lack of services is going to start showing.

          ZBB in Education or Health Care funding would be problematic based on the fact these two sectors have changing facters in need and non state level funding. Example, a county like Ricmond has educational funding sources from the national DOE, plus the DOD, HHS, USDA, DOI, FEMA, and DHS. Also needs change before the upcoming budgets can be justified as requiring under a public sector ZBB.

        • Rambler14 says:

          Won’t work.
          And if anything, this is going in the OPPOSITE direction.

          Since a large majority of all projects involving GDOT have federal funding attached, the hoops associated with NEPA are getting worse every day.

          Remove the state/federal funding associated environmental requirements and you get projects delivered twice as fast and twice as cheap.

            • TheEiger says:

              “Also, GDOT is already operating at approximately… 50% of their staff from 20 years ago?”

              That statement slightly misleading. Yes, the number of people employed by GDOT is down, but the work is still be done by contracts. You aren’t really comparing apples to apples.

              • Rambler14 says:

                When it comes to the original poster’s comments
                “I can tell you DOE does not have enough curriculum reviewers, or regional system superviors, to handle 5 year plans or classroom requirements”

                The fact that more projects are completed by consultants then engineers at GDOT accounts for some of the drop in internal workforce, but not all. A large % of GDOT are not engineers. They’re construction and maintenance workers, environmental professionals, right of way acquisitions, planners, all parts of the puzzle that are involved in a project regardless of whether the design has been delegated to a private company via contract.

  3. bsjy says:

    Thanks for not pushing trains or trolleys. Another way to look at the ranking is that Georgia is the second most efficient state when it comes to transportation management. Just because we don’t spend as much as Virginia or Florida doesn’t mean we are in worse shape than those states. It means there are fewer dollars for politicians to throw toward special interests focused on infrastructure spending. Maybe that’s a good thing.

    How about increasing flexibility by removing the regulatory roadblocks to innovation and entrepreneurship? Let the Ubers and Lyfts and Juan’s Taxi Services start up without all the red tape. Eliminate the licensing apparatus, which functions mostly as a guild to limit supply. Take a page out of Mao’s book and let a thousand neighborhood bus companies bloom. Assume the solution will NOT be found by politicians – even those as good as Ed Lindsey – but by individuals in the private sector, and structure the political response to be supportive rather than suppressive.

    • Charlie says:

      Brookings has us 50th out of 50 in highway spending per capita. No trains. No trolleys. No airports. And we’re still last.

      Uber and Lift aren’t going to get you anywhere if they don’t have roads to travel on. There is a role for government, and that requires politicians at some level.

  4. Anonymole says:

    Can someone explain to me why MARTA hasn’t taken a look at DC Metro and copied its best practices?

    Changing the public perception on mass transit would do wonders for its ridership and would obviously reduce traffic in the area.

    • Charlie says:

      And here, we have a huge problem with perception and reality.

      Investigate what new GM Keith Parker has been up to. He understands he has to fix the current system (and perceptions thereof) before it’s going to be accepted for expansion beyond the current footprint serving democratic constituencies.

      But if you look at his expansion plans, the immediate plans include the Emory/CDC “Clifton Corridor” and North Fulton to Alpharetta. That alone would make it a lot more like DC Metro. Because we have to get rid of the perception that MARTA is for poor people.

      The successful transit programs around the country aren’t for poor people. They’re for everyone in a congested area.

      • Chamblee says:

        Charlie,

        Thank you for pointing that out. Keith Parker has done an amazing job getting Marta back in the black, implementing policies (like “ride with respect”) and even getting the trains to run on time.

        the only issue is that trains don’t go where people want to (and still won’t with no spur to braves stadium)- but with the expansions, we’re moving in that direction.

        • MattMD says:

          Well, building a spur to the Braves stadium/Turner Field now would be pretty stupid considering how they will be in Cobb in a few years. I am really curious to see what is going to be done about the traffic at the top end Perimeter. It is horrible going west at rush hour and baseball games often start around 7.

          With Clayton County joining the system I wonder how long it might take Gwinnett or Cobb to join up. We probably would have a very similar system to the DC Metro if the five core counties joined back in the 70’s. I hear the refrain that MARTA doesn’t go anywhere but it’s hard for it to do so when only two counties are funding it.

          Anyhow, I see Gwinnett joining before Cobb and even then I it would be hard for me to guess at either probability. It sure would be nice to connect Cumberland with the Duwoody area and Sandy Springs.

          • Charlie says:

            Your best hope across the top-end in the “near term” is for the DOT’s $3-4BN plan to rebuild I-285 north with managed lanes. If those come along, that opens the door to BRT. While not heavy rail, it’s an effective substitute that could link Cumberland to Perimeter to Doraville.

            That, however, would require GDOT to get closer to $2BN per year in additional state revenue.

            • gt7348b says:

              The one thing never addressed is who will operate the buses on that corridor (I-285) and where will the funding come from to pay for the operation of the buses?

              Additionally, instead of predetermining that “rail won’t work” why not let demand analysis indicate which modes is appropriate for different corridors. Sometimes it might be rail and sometimes it might be bus or a combination. You know, commuter rail is what originally allowed suburbs to form and was the original sprawl inducing technology.

              • Charlie says:

                Have a long talk with CSX or Norfolk Southern about the investment/right of way acquisition required to get rail lines suitable for commuter rail while still allowing for current/future freight traffic and you’ll start to think that rebuilding all of Atlanta’s freeways is child’s play.

                BRT is proposed for most of these new suburban routes because of the relatively limited investment vs. similar capacity/travel times. Heavy rail can be an option, but it won’t be cheap. That’s likely only a near future item for areas already in the MARTA footprint where tunneling will be required (Clifton Corridor) or where right of way is either partially acquired or relatively easy (GA-400).

                I love trains. But the practical application for near term solutions in Atlanta has them primarily used for freight, hopefully moving some trucks off the road.

                As for who would operate the busses across the top end?….Let’s get a firm proposal for managed lanes up there and then we’ll still have three years to solve the MARTA/GRTA/CCT/Gwinnett Transit argument. Hopefully we’ll make some progress on that well before then.

                • gt7348b says:

                  The transit discussion you mention has been going on since 2004 first at the Regional Transit Institutional Analysis (04/05), then at the Transit Planning/Implementation Board (06-09) and finally at the Regional Transit Committee of the ARC (10-present). I guess you could say the venue is there to have the discussion in the form of the RTC, but no one has pushed it. The one aspect of the discussion that many tend to forget is that transit is funded at the local – not state – level and therefore it is an issue of local control over who runs what service.

                  I completely support BRT where appropriate such as Buford Highway or Fulton Industrial Blvd and wish we would be exploring solutions such as the myCiti BRT in Cape Town, Rea Vaya of Johannesburg, or the EMX in Eugene, OR. However, it is more of an arterial, local trip rather than a commuter / longer distance trip.

                  Actually – I have talked with both CSX and Norfolk Southern – it is all about investment. TThe primary lines that are suitable in my opinion are all NS lines – basically a through Griffin / Gainesville. The other lines (CSX to Athens and Cartersville, NS to Douglasville, NS H-line to Macon through Stockbridge and McDonough, CSX to Senoia and Newnan – yes – they are either too challenged with curves or too busy with freight and no ROW)

                  While I’m well aware that the NS line to the NE is NS’s mainline, according to the 2007 RL Banks Commuter Rail Study (which I wish was online), the ROW available is 120′ – enough for a quad track line vs the current 2-track line. As far as the the S-line to Griffin – it is a matter of upgrading and allowing NS to continue to utilize as a reliever to the main H-line. The main obstacle to be solved is Howell Junction. If the region helped to fund a third mainline in the existing NE ROW, improvements to the S-line and grade separation of Howell Junction, I would think you would have NS’s attention.

                  While I realize this is as likely as expensive as some of the managed lane system plan – it does several things the MLSP does not:
                  * It helps improve the fluidity of the existing freight rail movements which underpin Atlanta’s success as a logistics hub
                  * It reinforces the land use and transportation investments of the communities along the route such as Griffin, Forrest Park, East Point, Suwanee, Duluth and Norcross

                  Sorry for the long post.

                  • gt7348b says:

                    Two additional points –

                    * Funding – if Gwinnett were to consider joining MARTA – part of its contract could be the portion from Doraville to Buford and combining with the Clayton portion – you have a potential funding source to approach NS for a Lovejoy/Buford service through
                    * The above requires no change to state law and MARTA has existing framework agreements for working with both CSX and NS

  5. blakeage80 says:

    Preamble: This is an honest question born of the desire to better understand transportation funding, not cast doubt on the current situation.

    What I see with my eyes is a lot of improvements happening in the parts of the ATL and in Athens, as well as some other places around the state. Examples: 316 bridges (x3) in Gwinnett, Sugar Loaf Pkwy extension around Lawrenceville, Mars Hill Rd widening from 316 to 53, Roundabout installation at Whitehead Rd and Tallasee Rd, Mitchell Bridge Rd widening, Plans for a Daniels Bridge flyover Loop 10 to Epps Bridge, and The new bridge over Peter St./Olympic Dr.

    Questions: When are all of these improvements supposed to stop? When is the money running out where we’ll need an extra 2 billion? If transportation funding is as poor as is being claimed, why are these improvements taking place since we won’t have the money to maintain them?

    I am having a hard time reconciling a call to pay more taxes with all of this going on. I also have a hard time seeing where an extra 2 billion dollars could be found in government waste, at least in time to solve our more immediate transportation issue.

    • Charlie says:

      You have two problems, one of maintenance and one of growth. Both cost money.

      Maintenance: We currently are underfunding required maintenance (via deferring maintenance) by $597M for just state roads and bridges alone. Roads need resurfacing every 7-15 years. We currently are operating on a 50-75 year schedule. We’ve had to do this during the past few “lean” years, but it can’t be done any longer. When roads get to the 15 year+ mark, it’s no longer resurfacing. It’s rebuilding. And that costs more.

      Expansion: Much of what we’ve done in projects/priorities have dealt with where we can get matching funds, often federal dollars. It’s how we stretch GA’s dollars the fartherest, but it also limits what can be done and adds a lot of federal strings. More dollars raised locally means more projects can be prioritized that are more “local” in nature (i.e, non-federal interstate). Think Georgia’s GRIP program and the $6 Billion needed to complete it.

      That’s a start to the answer, but Ed’s overview holds. We currently aren’t using all that we tax on gas for transportation. That’s where we start, but that only adds $700M to fix the problem. That may fix the deferred maintenance issue, but that won’t get us where we need to be as we prepare to add 4 million new Georgians over the next quarter century.

      • blakeage80 says:

        Thanks for the info. This next 2yr legislative cycle should be a good one. Does anyone know how specific the recommendations will be beyond “Here’s how much we need”?

        • Will Durant says:

          Can’t speak on all of the projects you listed but the Gwinnett bridges over 316 are paid for in part by local SPLOST money. I can’t find the numbers at the moment but Gwinnett has had to vote to tax itself in perpetuity to make up for the lack of a mechanism to have the late 20th century/early 21st robber barons (developers), pay their fair share. Can’t find current data but Gwinnett taxpayers had paid more than $1 Billion in SPLOST percentages dedicated to transportation between 1988 and 2009.

          • blakeage80 says:

            Wow. So, better state funding could mean less need for local SPLOST to fund transport. That would be nice for those counties that get into similar situations to Gwinnett.

            • Will Durant says:

              Not my point at all. I would like to end all SPLOSTs attached to motor fuel that are not directly related to transportation, ditto for the state sales tax.

              You have championed the feelings of rural tax payers that so much of their taxes go to road projects and MARTA in the metro Atlanta area when historically the spending has been disproportional in the opposite direction. Having worked for a company that was a subcontractor on DOT projects I have seen many a 4-lane created where the ADT did not justify the expansion. I would like to see the constitution amended to require the state motor fuel tax to be distributed to the districts proportionally to how they collect them. It stands to reason that those collecting the most have the most traffic.

              • blakeage80 says:

                I believe we on the same page regarding SPLOST and sales tax for transport. Sorry that my wording was unclear.

                My past mentions of rural GA were mainly to draw attention to a large swath of the the state that does not get talked about in these state-wide transportation debates. I understand Atlanta is bigger and has bigger problems that come with more people. I understand that it is THE economic engine of our state. Lastly, I understand (as Charlie pointed out to me one time) that South GA votes are really not needed to get a statewide transportation funding measure past, even if it mostly benefits ATL and it’s environs.

                Interestingly enough, as this AJC article points out
                http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local-govt-politics/why-3-georgia-regions-voted-for-t-splost/nQXjJ/ the rural areas of our state were more for (or less against) TSPLOST than metro areas. Why? They answered yes to 3 key questions. Is there value in better connected communities? Is transportation a means to stay competitive in a global economy? Is there trust that this project list is the best way to achieve these connections and stay competitive? It’s really the same criteria most voters in the state used. My guess is, the regions around Atlanta answered, ‘Yes. Yes. No.’

                • Charlie says:

                  Just to clarify (as I don’t remember the exact exchange), I believe I was making the point that the “majority” of Georgians now live in metro Atlanta. Thus the word “need”.

                  The reality is closer to as you point out from support of T-SPLOST. Folks in South Georgia are more likely to support a comprehensive plan than a lot of the suburban/exurban Atlanta counterparts. Thus, S. GA won’t be ignored in any final plan that is presented. Those that are going to provide the “yes” votes are going to have their concerns addressed.

                  • blakeage80 says:

                    Yes. the discussion of So. Ga. votes was one that centered around some political calculus.

                    Also, I think the GRIP program is proof that rural Georgia hasn’t been ignored. Those are valuable corridors for a lot of rural areas. How else are all the injection molded shoes made in Hazlehurst supposed to get to all those Walmarts? My views on this statewide transportation funding issue are evolving. (that’s right, this Paul Broun supporter believes in evolution)

          • Jon Richards says:

            Will: You are partially correct. The bulk of the funding for the I-85 / Georgia 316 interchange was paid for by federal dollars designated for what was at the time, the 13th Congressional district.

            It has been state policy for federal transportation money to be distributed equally among Congressional districts. (This also addresses the equality for south Georgia issue, but I digress.) The 2002 redistricting created a 13th CD that wrapped around the Perimeter from Smyrna south to Clayton County, then back north to along I-85 in Gwinnett, including the 85 / 316 interchange.

            Essentially the entire Federal allocation for that 13th District for 2003 went to pay for the rebuilding of the interchange. And yes, Gwinnett has a SPLOST that has spent over $1 billion within the county to improve the road network, including the construction of Sugarloaf Parkway and its extension to 316. I’m pretty sure that Ronald Reagan Parkway was also paid for by mostly county funds.

            • Will Durant says:

              Thanks for the clarification Jon. Lets just say that it appears they have planted more of the signs with the “Your SPLOST Money At Work” attribution than merited. As I stated, I tried to find the breakdown but the county website was woefully behind the times. As long as their real work is progressing I can forgive the website for lapsing however.

              Interesting however that these projects along with the GA20 widening across the river were on the regional TSPLOST list and now they are happening regardless of its failure to pass. Confirms that Gwinnett was going to receive even less than the 70¢ on the $1 we were told at the time.

  6. Ed says:

    One thing that people seem to not discuss (and I’m not sure why they don’t and I don’t want to sound like I’m implying anything) is making MARTA’s rail service more dense.

    Looking at Medical Center to Buckhead, there’s a five-mile gap between stations which is absurd considering the population along that corridor. The Gold Line? Forget it when you see all the wasted service.

    You could easily double MARTA’s service by just allowing it to make as many stops as an average commuter rail line does, with local and express lines running so that exurbians can still get in to the city quickly.

    Now I’m going to go on a bit of a rant but the biggest single problem for Georgia is that our systems are set up so that people who want to think intelligently and rationally about a problem are given a platform, even a minor one, but their voices are drowned out by know-nothings who make the Legislature kowtow to their every whim. I mean, for goodness sake, travel along 400 at rush hour and watch as mostly-empty MARTA trains whiz past the stand-still traffic. Then try to find some hope in metro Atlanta’s ability to solve its transportation problem because I don’t see it happening.

    • analogkid says:

      I’ve wondered the same thing. I would argue that even the 1.5 miles between the King Memorial and Inman Park stations is too great a distance. I’d love for there to be an infill station at Krog Street, but that ship has probably sailed. As you point out though, the distance between stations gets even worse the farther out you go.

      • smvaughn says:

        I think the last and best hope for that infill is the beltline, which (if it comes to full fruition) would yield a transit stop at the Krog St. Mtk.

        • gt7348b says:

          For an infill station at Krog Street, you would have these challenges to solve:
          * Constructing an aerial station above and around an active heavy rail (MARTA) service, a major freight intermodal facility (CSX) and state route (DeKalb Avenue)
          * Would require cooperation of CSX for some use of their land
          * CSX would likely require construction of additional barriers between the existing MARTA piers since they were originally constructed over 35 years ago.

          Given these engineering complexities before even considering the cost of an infill station, it is likely that there are other less costly feasible alternatives (i.e. running the Beltline to King Memorial and using the existing Grant Street underpass).

  7. ryanhawk says:

    Rep. Lindsey, here are my primary concerns:

    1. Do you believe that transportation should be financed with user fees or do you believe it should be paid for from the general fund? Gas taxes are already diverted to non-road uses. I’m willing to pay higher gas taxes AND other user fees (i.e. tolls) but only if the funds are exclusively for maintaining and improving roads. Create a real lockbox for road funds and we can talk. Otherwise, y’all can pound sand.

    2. We don’t need more or better rural state roads. How can you guarantee that any additional funds will be used to increase capacity where it is needed in congested areas rather than yet another “economic development” highway that leads to nothing?

    “Georgia was tied for first in three categories: rural interstate pavement condition, rural principal arterial condition and urban interstate condition. The Peach State scored its lowest (39th) in capital spending on bridges, was 37th in total disbursements per mile and was 31st in urban interstate congestion — although the foundation observed that Georgia had improved in that area from the prior year. Georgia was 15th in the percentage of its bridges that were deficient or obsolete.”

    • Charlie says:

      I’ll take a stab at these, and let Rep Lindsey extend, clarify, or correct.

      1) Motor fuel taxes are required by GA’s Constitution to go to the DOT to be used on roads and bridges. The problem with our current system developed in the late 80’s when the legislature passed a 4th percent sales tax, and deemed that portion a sales tax, not a motor fuel tax. Since then we’ve added SPLOSTS, with now a 5th & 6th percent taxed in almost every jurisdiction, and a 7th in DeKalb & Fulton, with an 8th in the City of Atlanta. Those taxes don’t go to GDOT, though some do go to local transportation projects.

      This is not an insignificant amount. At over $700 Million, it’s over 40% of what we collect as a user fee in this state on gasoline. Changing the current tax structure to a fixed 27.5 cents excise tax would lock box this tax with no additional changes and add $700M per year to GDOT’s coffers.

      2) This is a matter of opinion, and Rep Lindsey will tell you that in each corner of the state, the need was “there” and not “somewhere else”. In all non-metro areas, the need was “not in Atlanta”. We’re going to have to all accept the fact that we live in a large state with 10M people, and that each area/region has needs. the GRIP program is $6 Billion, and that will complete the rural economic development corridor program. The I-16/I-75 interchange needs to be rebuilt. I-85 needs to be widened from Gwinnett to the state line, and from Coweta to the state line. Those are all rural, and all on the priority list.

      One of the reasons we garbled up T-SPLOST was because it created an us vs them mentality. We can’t afford to let that happen with this discussion.

      • ryanhawk says:

        Thanks Charlie. I will think about that. The primary problem I see is congestion and I would like to see the issue addressed with congestion pricing of some sort.

        But looking at the list of projects you cite, by what standard does I-85 need widened? I drive this road from Greenville to Montgomery on a regular basis and just don’t see a need for widening it. Maybe for an exit or two north of the Mall of Georgia but that should do it for a more than a decade. North of there and southwest of Coweta seems like a huge waste to me. And even then just add a user fee peach pass lane and let whomever wants to use it pay for it.

        • Charlie says:

          You’re going to get congestion pricing already on most of Atlanta’s freeways. The Peach Pass “managed lanes” are coming to I-75 & I-575 North of Atlanta, and I-75 South of Atlanta, all with new lanes. The lanes on I-85 are set to be extended northward as well (I believe with the construction of an additional lane this time, though I’m not 100% sure on that). The long term and very expensive plan for the top end perimeter has the same.

          It’s harder to do that on existing roadways, as are tolls. While a direct “user fee”, the practical options for this are limited, and the political options of adding tolls to “roads we already paid for” are even fewer.

          As to the I-85 widening metrics, I frankly don’t know. But I will say this. The DOT Commissioner is now an Engineer. His Deputy, also an engineer. The political appointed position – Planning Director – was just promoted from being the DOT’s chief engineer.

          We have professionals, engineers, running the department and setting the priorities. Rather than the political wish lists that were T-SPLOSTS, engineers with studies/metrics are setting the priorities. I’ll be writing a lot more about that and why it’s important in the near future.

          • ryanhawk says:

            Thanks again Charlie. I really would like to see the standards or metrics the engineers use to prioritize and justify projects. I’m all for solving real problems, and getting ahead of things before they become a problem. I just want to make sure that the projects are prioritized in some rational way and that we are solving critical problems rather than wasting funds on someone’s pet project.

            One other issue that seems related to both congestion and road maintenance is heavy truck traffic. What are we doing in Georgia, compared to other states, to make sure that trucks are paying their fair share? Seems to me they cause an inordinate amount of damage and congestion for which they don’t really pay. I’m sure truck traffic is expected to increase significantly with the port improvements in Savannah, so this seems to be a relevant concern that isn’t getting much discussion.

          • Ellynn says:

            This is just a guess…

            As the majority of the training services at Ft Stewart are slowly being moved to Ft Benning, a larger direct route between Ft Bragg, and Ft Benning will become necessary. I would look to see where the federal funds for this orginated. Alot of the widening between Hinesville and I 95, plus additional I516 & t I16/US17 lanes and a exit that drives directly from the back gate of Hunter to the RORO dock in Savannah that the USNS uses were partially funded by the DofD in the early1990’s.

            Just a thought…

  8. Just Nasty and Mean says:

    Ed Lindsey—Harry makes a good point. At the beginning of Deal’s term, to manage to declining revenues and balance the budget, we trimmed it to just over $17B.
    What is is now—Representative Lindsey? Over $22B and growing!!
    Perhaps the State Government should be looking for revenue within itself and the current “take” from working Georgians vs: looking at new sources?
    Inquiring minds want to know—WHY NOT?

  9. blakeage80 says:

    One other thing. Wasn’t the committee supposed to submit their findings on 30 Nov? I’d swear this article is a repost from October. That or this is the weirdest Deja vu I’ve ever had.

  10. Edward Lindsey says:

    All:

    I appreciate the comments and questions that have been raised by everyone today, and I have been deliberately silent because I wanted to hear folks’ thoughts as the committee I serve on weighs our various options.

    I am not going to address specific recommendations at this time because that would be premature but let me answer some of the fact questions that have been raised — although Charlie has gone a long way in answering many of them already.

    1. We did not raise state fuel taxes for transportation four years ago. In fact, we have not raised state fuel taxes for transportation purposes in over 20 years.
    2. Believe it or not, the following two statements are both true: a. Georgia has one of the lowest taxes on fuel in the country for transportation purposes; but b. Georgia has one of the highest taxes on fuel in the Southeast. How can these both be true? Because we have allowed the state and local governments to tax motor fuel for non transportation purposes. (See Charlie’s post above.) I also hope this is addressed as I indicated in my #5 point above. Personally, I believe that a tax on gas should be a form of a user fee and any money raised should be dedicated to transportation. We should also look at other forms of user fees as I also outlined in my column.
    3. As I explained above, the fact that we spend less does not mean that we are doing better and are more efficient than other states although we do a pretty good job in Georgia. Sometimes less leads to less. The fact is that forty eight percent of our roads and highways are rated in fair or poor condition and that number is rising at our present low spending level. This is in addition to the congestion problems I have cited which is only going to get worse as our state population continues to grow.
    4. Georgia is not a spendthrift state. In 2008, we had a state budget of just over $21B and we were ranked 49th in the nation in per capita spending. As we rode out the Great Recession, we cut annual state revenue spending to just over $17B at one point. Since that time, our state revenues have slowly increased as the economy has improved and income tax and sales tax revenues have increased accordingly. Most of the spending icreases have gone toward education and public safety. I agree that there are always places in government where you can find fat and that should be attacked wherever you find it; however, we are still pretty tight with the taxpayer dollars and still rank 49th in the nation in per capital spending.
    5. There will always be transportation infrastructure needs as long as we are an economically vibrant and growing state.

  11. Al Gray says:

    I spoke to the Joint Subcommittee on Critical Transportation Infrastructure when it came to Augusta. In my years of addressing public officials I can truly say that I never saw a panel so stunned.

    If the legislature doesn’t take the time to see what shenanigans, lies, and deceptions of the public happened with the CSRA Regional TSPLOST program, you are not really interested in serving the public, you want to wash, rinse and repeat using a variant of the same process statewide after the majority of the state caught on to the deception the first time.

    Hint – Since when did expanding or giving more of a buffer of the Augusta National become “Critical Transportation Infrastructure?” Since when tricking poor McDuffie County into paying for it become laudable?

    While y’all are at it, please DO come up with the $125 to 160 million that CSRA region is coming up short on its projects. After all, the TSPLOST hawkers told everyone there was a “state guarantee” that our investment list projects would be funded and built.

    The fools over this way probably deserve to be double taxed – Lincoln, Columbia and Glascock Counties excepted (they futilely voted it down, only to be overwhelmed by the inner city Augusta voters who got seduced by promised projects that will now never be funded.)This will be a rushed process resulting in an enormous TAX INCREASE and for us a DOUBLE TAX INCREASE and perhaps a triple tax increase to finish the Band 3 TSPLOST projects.

    At the Augusta meeting, an executive of Sprint Foods implored the panel to avoid a gasoline tax increase, as he came armed with sales data for all stores within 35 miles of the SC border, showing the business lost to lower tax South Carolina. Will the whole legislature be made aware of that?

    I don’t think the legislature wants the truth out about TSPLOST as it rams this huge tax increase down our throats. It sure as heck hopes the folks in the 3 regions that passed it don’t wake up to the raping they are about to get.

    • Charlie says:

      Let me be a bit blunt here.

      We don’t like “Just Nasty and Mean”. It’s not our style.

      If you want to have a conversation with someone here, you’re welcome to do so. If you want to challenge facts as presented, that’s cool.

      If you want to be a horse’s ass, you’re venturing into my territory, and I’m quite territorial.

      Lose the attitude and feel free to stay awhile and engage.

      Decide to see who can be the biggest ass, and I’m going to win. Your choice. Think it through wisely.

    • Edward Lindsey says:

      “So, are you denying the state increased taxes on motor fuel in Georgia by applying a sales tax ON TOP OF a the excise tax? If you are implying that, then sadly, you are starting to sound like just another politician.”

      As best as I can tell, you have inadvertantly misread the report you cited. The sales tax on motor fuel in Georgia has been in place for decades.

      Let me break things down to clear up the confusion. The State of Georgia taxes motor fuel in two different ways. We have a 7.5 cent per gallon excise tax on motor fuel that goes entirely to transportation. We have a sales tax on motor fuel at 4%. Of this 4% sales tax, three quarters is dedicated to transportation and 1% goes into the General Fund. As I mentioned earlier, these sales taxes and excise taxes have been in place and at their current levels for well over 20 years.

      The only changes noted in the report you cited were on how and where the state administratively collects the taxes owed — wholesale versus retail level — and the revenue collected on the sales tax imposed due to fluctuations in the price of motor fuel.

      Let me also mention again that I strongly believe that the 1% sales tax on motor fuel that goes into the general fund (which was put in place in the 1980’s) should be reallocated to transportation.

  12. xdog says:

    I heard a suggestion I thought had merit the other day that was new to me but probably not to some of you.

    Enable the state to use some of the money gathered at the pump to fund minimum auto liability insurance. The state would designate a low bidding firm or possibly run the business themselves. Drivers would continue to buy additional liability and comprehensive insurance through individual agents.

    Administrative and sales costs would go down. The giant pool of drivers would command lower rates. Insurance costs would be tied directly to miles traveled. Every one, even out-of-staters, would be covered. Litigation between insurers would lessen. The savings on insurance premiums would mitigate the expected outrage at increased taxes.

    Good idea or bad, or somewhere in between?

    • Charlie says:

      We already divert more than 40% of the state money taxed at the pump away from the DOT, so for that reason alone I’d say bad.

      Beyond that, we already require people to buy liability. I’m not sure what problem this idea is solving. I find it hard to believe that the state would be more efficient than the myriad of private companies that already do this. And I don’t think it’s a good idea to put the state into competition with private businesses.

      So…..I’m saying bad. But that’s before we even got to the messy insurance/government vs private market kinds of stuff.

  13. saltycracker says:

    Use taxes in areas of majority public use are worth review. The justification has at its core the concern with poor administration of tax dollars, bureaucracies and to some extent for discouraging the use.

    They are also driven by the siege on broad based taxes. We routinely find ways to exempt consumer sales taxes, like internet sales, tax free days and all sorts of bills to be “fair or nice”.

    When we reduce our usage the rates are sometimes inadequate to add/improve infrastructure, fuel, tolls, water, power, parks…..Or it puts pressure on alternatives.
    The latest news is about falling 911 revenue as folks switch to cell phones.

    If we love user fees in lieu of general taxation, let’s start with schools and libraries.

    Not saying we end licensing fees or impact fees or marta rates or parking fees or even not increase fuel taxes but a discussion of user fees vs. General taxation is in order.

    • saltycracker says:

      P.S. if we give gambling money to education how much would be generated if we dedicated internet sales taxes to transportation ?

  14. portersprings says:

    Steve Gooch reports on the status of the Committee: No Report until December 31, 2014.

    I recently emailed Senator Steve Gooch asking him where the Committee Report was. It was due November 30, 2014. (Steve Gooch is cochair of the Committee. He represents District 52 and he was just elected Whip of the Republican Senate.)

    He responded:

    “The report will be available not later than December 31, 2014.

    The report will primarily be a recap of the multiple meetings held around the state this year.

    The report will outline numerous options for the general assembly to consider.

    And we do anticipate proposed legislation to be introduced as a result of the committee’s findings.”

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