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07/16/01 - Questions About Governor's (GRTA) Road Plan & Spending

 The Atlanta Journal

Transportation plan offers only questions
Tuesday, July 17, 2001

AS THE dust settles from Gov. Roy Barnes' proposal to spend $.3 billion on state transportation needs, hard questions are starting to emerge about the details.

At a committee meeting of the Atlanta Regional Commission last week, chairmen from various county commissions quizzed staff from the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority about how much local funding the proposal will require.

GRTA officials explained that the state's taxpayers will fund construction costs that amount to $.1 billion for the Northern Arc, $46 million for commuter rail to Macon and $70 million for bus, van pool and circulator systems. Maintenance and operating costs, however, for buses, van pools, circulator systems and other components may fall to county taxpayers. For something like an express bus from say, Canton to downtown, or a bus system around Cumberland Mall, the state would pay for initial equipment, but operating subsidies may be imposed on the local governments.

"When (the state) gets it built and goes away, we're stuck with it," lamented Greg Dunn, chairman of the Fayette Board of Commissioners. "We're stuck operating and maintaining it."

Douglas Chairman Rita Rainwater raised another serious issue. Barnes plans to finance these projects with bonds, to be repaid with future federal transportation funds. But if the money is spent now, she asked, what will be left for needs in say, 2015, when someone else is governor and gridlock is still an issue? Good question.

"We'll have nothing later to complete these projects," Rainwater said. Her point is a valid one. The advantage of the bonds is that projects can be speeded up. The disadvantage is that the money for future governors' transportation priorities is to be spent now.

There are other concerns, too. Existing contractors are already overloaded; in places such as Gwinnett County, high-occupancy vehicle lane construction is behind schedule. With $ billion slated for highway construction in rural areas, commissioners questioned whether gridlock relief will be delayed with the focus diverted to rural road projects.

One aspect of gridlock relief likely to get short shrift, unless the Barnes plan is revised, is metro Atlanta's arterial roads, such as Mansell Road in north Fulton County. Barnes has designated only $50 million of $.3 billion to fix metro Atlanta's gridlock --- a mere 4 percent; 55 percent will go to mass transit. The arterial road money will be used to alleviate "choke points," according to the GRTA, but its focus is "to facilitate access to transit corridors."

State officials say the $50 million will apply to roads used by van pools or bus service, for example. Improving access to park-and-ride lots and transit stops will also be a high priority. It's quite possible that little or none of this money will be dedicated to highway improvements that solely aid motorists. For a region in traffic crisis, where 97 percent of us move by auto, that's a huge mistake.

Metro Atlanta taxpayers should be outraged. Barnes wants to spend $.3 billion on projects that aid other parts of the state, and the ones in metro Atlanta will serve a mere fraction of the population. He also has left a lot of unanswered questions about how much this will cost local taxpayers.

If the state is going to really make a dent in the traffic crisis, it has to get out of denial. People are not going to give up their cars. Honor those choices and invest accordingly.