Advanced Search

11/01/01 - Loudest Voices Steer Transportation Policy


AVOC COMMENT: For the last several years, Georgia Transportation Funds have been extremely scarce for local governments and communities. With the current economic slowdown, it will get worse. Although greatly needed for heavily traveled roads damaged or worn from an ever increasing traffic volume, LARP funds for resurfacing are getting scarcer and scarcer each passing year. More expense is left to local governments who have more and more demands on local revenues. Just look at the surface cracking and rutting of county roads as you drive around your county. You can also spot areas that could be improved with some design and construction: i.e.: Intersections, Ramps, Frontage Roads etc. However, the funding is just not there. It is and will continue to be a significant challenge for Transportation and Local Government Officials, Planners and Engineers.

Wendell Dawson, President, AVOC, Inc.


The Atlanta Journal
Wednesday, October 31, 2001

: Loudest Voices Steer Transportation Policy
Jim Wooten - Staff

Gather 'round, children. Here's a really frightening Halloween story:

Government planners are toying with proposals to create what some have called "Lexus lanes" on the freeways. People who want to move fast, or at least faster, since HOV lanes through the Downtown Connector bottleneck are now clogged, could pay a premium to bypass gridlock. Sounds neat, right?

But wait, children. Here's the scary part: It's trick-or-treat transportation.

Government planners get to decide what's "fair" and then to decide how to remedy unfairness. And since rich people can afford the $ fare for getting through Spaghetti Junction without waiting in line, and the poor can't, the classes polarize. Furthermore, government planners, or the interest groups and politicians who manage them, get to decide what behavior they wish to elicit, and to price accordingly. If, for example, somebody decides too many commuters are electing not to ride the bus, they simply raise the premium for driving. Boo!

Politicians make choices for us. When they elect to direct the bulk of the state's transportation dollars to mass transit and commuter rail, for example, or to highway projects in underpopulated areas where traffic is minimal, as Georgia may do with Gov. Roy Barnes' $.3 billion transportation spending proposal, there are consequences.

We are in an era where anti-road activists drive public policy. The urban-based anti-roaders have aligned themselves politically with the rural good ol' boys. The concrete goes to the hinterlands, where it is welcomed as "economic development" attraction, while suburban commuters are forced to sit in gridlock --- or move intown or take a bus.

Toll roads are devices to force suburban motorists to pay for the alternatives favored by urban anti-roaders. So, too, is premium pricing. Proponents of premium pricing offer it as a way "raise money for other projects, such as expanding public transportation."

As MARTA demonstrated this week, public transportation can quickly fall into a death spiral. Unless population densities are substantially elevated and mass transit could, magically, materialize as a coherent, connected transportation system, the MARTA experience is prophetic. Our lifestyles are not conductive to rail transportation. A fast bus system serving van-pool networks has some attraction, but even that depends on an efficiently planned and managed road network.

Throw in a few high-cost components, though, such as a rail line to Cumberland Mall or a subsidy-eating commuter rail system to Athens and Macon, and suddenly your transportation tax dollars are gushing in the direction of remedies that don't enhance our mobility.

We're in gridlock and the train zooms past --- and we'd take it, except that its destination is rarely ours. Pick any two spots in metro Atlanta, or in Georgia for that matter, and think about how infrequently your journey is, or could be, satisfied by public transportation.

Politicians really should look at the way we choose to live and serve our needs. If we're stuck in gridlock, spend our money to get us out. If you can drive through metro Atlanta and imagine how your commute could be improved with intersection improvements, with lane additions, with bottleneck relief, the experts can too.

If it's not done, it's because the state has chosen to let you suffer gridlock while taking your tax and toll dollars for other priorities.

When Georgia executes a condemned killer, the people who speak the loudest, who define the issue, are the killer's lawyers and the 40 protesters gathered in vigil outside.

A parallel exists on transportation. The loudest voices, those who define the issue, are the hired lobbyists and the 40 environmental and anti-road activists, who believe that suburbanites should be forced out of their SUVs for the good of the country.

Jim Wooten is the Journal's editorial page editor. His column runs on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday