Georgia Tranportation Bill: Past, Present & Future

Get on the bus!

The AJC has done it up over the past couple days with a series of articles both reflecting and projecting on the passage of the transportation bill at the Georgia State Capitol this past week.

First, self-proclaimed “Political Insider” Jim Galloway dishes on how Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed put his youngish reputation on the line and helped convince members of both parties that they should pass this “billion dollar kidney stone.”  (Ha!  That’s good stuff.)  A good primer in Georgia politickin’, if you like that sorta thing. Sicko.

Secondly, Ariel Hart does some intensive digging and churns out both a “Now what? What will they build?” report, and a more extensive “How will we F this up?” article.

Bottom line: Mayor Reed is a work horse, politics is petty, MARTA is thrown a bone for 3 years (but doesn’t deserve it OR deserves more), and the metro area could raise upwards of $790 million/year from the potential penny sales tax.

Let’s do this thing! (…in 3 years)

19 thoughts on “Georgia Tranportation Bill: Past, Present & Future”

  1. Thank you, Mayor Reed! He’s not only working for the benefits for Atlanta, he’s working for improvement of the whole state.

  2. Add to the Big Props list: Mayor Kasim Reed, House Speaker David Ralston, & Governor Sonny Perdue!

    Some of the really cool things to come out of all this:

    “New school” media discovered it can really “git ‘er done!” Which proves that “we the people” can “git ‘er done!” too!

    MARTA gained access to its own funds & the very real opportunity to show it can “git “er done!” Hopefully it will turn itself into the little train that could by becoming the best run transit system of all!

    All the Gold Dome folks proved that they do hear us & they can “git ‘er done” too. It’s great to see folks working across party lines to accomplish something. The folks that voted against the bill said it was because it didn’t do enough for MARTA. (Works for me!)

    This bill puts something out there to build on. And something real for all media to follow up on. With all the positive energy buzzing about, you gotta think there is amazing potential for Georgia’s transportatation system here!

    1. Oh Steve!!! You’re one of the folks that tells us HOW to “git ‘er done!” You know how all this government stuff works. Can’t you figure out a good way for the politicians to make it happen?

      The ABH is my hometown paper. Good point about regions not being quite so easily defined. There needs to be a way to allow for different projects. However, I agree with the commenter who says that the “Brain Train” would be mostly empty except on game days.

      (And boy, did I just get sucked into clicking on article after article to read the comments! I think you owe me a beer!)

      1. The brain train connecting Atlanta with Athens might draw a lot more business than you imagine. AAA airport shuttle service runs between the ATL airport and Athens with several loads of customers 7 days/week, and the highways they use are clogged with cars going to and from Atlanta. AAA charges $45 one-way between the two cities, and has no competition except people who drive their own cars or carpool.

        1. The shuttle is a wonderful option for that occasional trek. For regular commuters, I just think that the expense of the train pass + being without a vehicle is going to get real old real quick. And for a transit option to be successful, it has to be able to rely on a steady nose count.

          (I used to like taking Greyhound from Athens to the old Decatur station. I feel ancient.)

          1. Feasibility studies have indicated that an Athens-Atlanta train would draw good ridership. I would also point out that, with one exception, commuter rail start-ups in this country over the last 10 years or so have exceeded their ridership expectations.

            1. On paper it should work. Smart, environmentally conscious folks wanting a better transit option…

              What are the suggested ticket prices? This is Georgia. Georgians love their cars. Hate to think it, but I bet it wouldn’t take long for folks to revert back to the ol’ car ride.

              1. I haven’t reverted to “the old car ride” since 1998. Public transportation has been just great for me, and I hope Marta will come out of this brouhaha smelling like a rose and that the brain train will become a reality. I will be a frequent passenger, and never miss “the old car ride” at either end.

  3. Here’s what Morris News Service (Augusta Chronicle and some other Georgia papers) has to say:

    Analysis: Transportation bill triggers complex machinations

    By Walter Jones
    Morris News Service
    Monday, April 26, 2010 7:43 AM

    ATLANTA — If getting the General Assembly to finally agree on a transportation-funding plan after three years sounds complicated and plagued by politics, wait until the leaders of 500 cities and 159 counties try to get come to terms.

    The 29-page bill that eventually cleared the legislature runs about 10 times the length of the average bill and just as complex. It inserts more state influence into Atlanta’s Marta transit system, gives the Senate a veto over the governor’s pick for transportation-planning director, creates the woefully named Georgia Coordinating Committee for Rural and Human Services Transportation of the Governor’s Development Council, and it sets the mechanism for a higher sales tax to fund transportation.

    Although it’s been under discussion for three years, the specific bill, or rather the report of the six-member conference committee, was only placed on legislator’s desks the minimum one hour before they voted at the end of a long, busy day.

    “There aren’t seven or eight members (of the Senate) that could tell you what’s in it,” said Sen. Steve Thompson, D-Marietta, moments before it passed overwhelmingly. “I don’t blame you. It’s not the greatest page-turner ever written.”

    Most of the provisions are ideas that have been on the table for years. The Committee for Rural and Human Services, for example comes from a bill introduced in 2007 to tie together the dozens of tiny van services operated by rural counties and state human-services agencies, often along the same routes. The committee’s goal is to find efficiencies through cooperation.
    While the cooperation is merely encouraged for the local van services, it’s virtually demanded of the city and county commissions when they try to agree on projects to fund with this new money.

    “This will put county against county,” Thompson predicted.

    In recognition of the potential for conflict, the bill offers a carrot and two sticks.

    The carrot comes in the form of asking just 10 percent from local governments as their share of constructions projects developed by the state, the current standard. The sticks: a 30 percent requirement if voters reject the sales tax, and a bigger stick, a 50-percent match, if the elected local officials can’t even agree on which projects to build.

    Like sisters forced to share the same bedroom, cities and counties argue often because there are so many matters where their interests collide. The constant fussing led a few like Athens, Augusta and Columbus to merge and others like Macon and Griffin to often flirt with the idea of consolidation.

    A frequent source of conflict is the negotiations over local sales taxes. They rarely agree on how to divide up the proceeds, with cities arguing they provide the stores that generate the taxes and counties claiming bigger needs based on population or geography.
    At least a local sales-tax referendum only comes up when local leaders sense that the public is ready to pony up to address pressing needs.

    The Transportation Investment Act of 2010 passed last week doesn’t give them a choice to wait for public sentiment to ripen. It requires a referendum during the July primary in 2012. Otherwise, they get one stick for failing to agree on a projects list and another if voters aren’t ready to approve it.

    Those sticks of elevated local-matching requirements continue to apply until the tax passes, and a new attempt at passing a referendum can’t come up for another two years.
    The votes will be counted across the entire district, not by individual county. The county totals will be reported as they are for any election, but a county that supports the tax could still feel the stick if the majority of voters in the multi-county district reject it.

    Local officials are going to be walking a knife’s edge. If they don’t try to put enough sexy projects for their local voters to support it, the vote will fail. But if they don’t allow other cities and counties enough projects on the list, voters there will reject it.

    Since most districts will be dominated by one vote-rich big city, guess where most of the projects are likely to be. However, voters who never travel outside their home counties will be asked to pay a tax for projects there, with those sticks hanging over their heads if they don’t. After all, it’s local taxpayers who will pay the increased local match.

    The bill has a few more wrinkles. For example, it gives local legislators considerable power along side the mayors and county commissioners.

    First, two members from the House and one from the Senate will be part of an executive committee that comes up with the first draft of projects. Second, a majority of the local legislators in the district have to agree to the legislation needed to stage a referendum or a renewal, creating another opportunity for conflict. They will also get annual audits and yearly reports from a panel of citizens who will oversee completion of the projects.

    Opponents of the bill warned that rural areas that can generate little in sales taxes will get nothing from it, especially the South Georgia districts that have no major cities. So why not simply raise the tax statewide and distribute the projects as needed through the usual mechanism?

    Atlanta business leaders, many of them developers, wanted independence from the rest of the state. They wanted to move quickly to build mass transit while they figured the rest of the state would focus on roads.

    Many of their arguments have been about intercity passenger rail, which this new tax could pay toward both building and operating. But they still have the risk that a district on one end of a proposed rail line votes to build it while a district on the other end doesn’t. None of the debate mentioned the likelihood of a rail line to nowhere.

    One thing there is little doubt about. This complicated legislation will affect local and state politics as all the machinery begins turning. The resulting political herky-jerky progress could make the Atlanta rush hour it is designed to solve look like the Atlanta Motor Speedway.

    Walter Jones is the Atlanta bureau chief for Morris News and has been covering Georgia politics since 1998. He can be reached at [email protected] or (404) 589-8424.

  4. Interesting article. Much to ponder.

    It would stink to live in a little town & have to make the trip to buy the goods that will get taxed for spending on transportation projects that you will never even use. (Directly. Improved transportation systems improve many things indirectly.)

  5. On paper it should work. Smart, environmentally conscious folks wanting a better transit option…

    What are the suggested ticket prices? This is Georgia. Georgians love their cars. Hate to think it, but I bet it wouldn’t take long for folks to revert back to the ol’ car ride.

  6. Feasibility studies have indicated that an Athens-Atlanta train would draw good ridership. I would also point out that, with one exception, commuter rail start-ups in this country over the last 10 years or so have exceeded their ridership expectations.

  7. Hi Chira (Way up there- no reply link!)

    I absolutely agree with you that I’d like to see ALL mass transit options succeed! I mostly walk. I’m always surprised when I have to clean all the pollen off my car just to drive it! But you ROCK for making MARTA a way of life!

    [Dean- maybe it’s: “What she/he said!” If only it was so easy to get folks to completely agree with me! :0) ]

    1. Hi Deanne – I get my exercise by walking where the buses don’t go, AND I save tons of $ too. The occasional rental car at vacation destinations keeps me in practice should I ever want to own a car again… Public transportation is just a personal choice, not entirely economic, nor ecologic, nor any other “ic” — but it suits me well. Thanks for your supportive comments!

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