A Senate Candidate Demonstrates a Lack of Knowledge About Georgia’s Transportation Needs

Dr. Mary Kay Bacallao is one of the two Republican challengers for Johnny Isakson’s Senate seat. You may remember her name. She also ran for State School Superintendent during the 2014 election cycle. Bacallao is running a low-budget campaign, having raised under $10,000 through April 15th. To make up for the lack of funds, she has taken to social media, posting her positions on issues on her page, as well as the pages of conservative groups, and asking those who read them to share her message with others.

I figured I would help her out. This morning, she posted the following on her Facebook page:

Why are federal transportation taxes, paid by Georgians, financing expensive “roundabouts” in local communities? Who asked for roundabouts? Why can’t we just have traffic signals? Once a roundabout is built, it is much more difficult to construct additional lanes for travel as needed. Roundabouts slow travel down and increase commute times. Imagine if the money spent on roundabouts was spent on two new interstate highways in Georgia, one going North/South and one going East/West that did not go through ATLANTA? The trucks passing through our state would not be driving through Atlanta! What if the federal transportation money was actually used to decrease traffic congestion? Look at all the time that is wasted sitting in traffic. We need smart people in D.C. who can solve traffic problems, not use your tax dollars to create them. Send a problem solver to D.C. – Vote Mary Kay Bacallao on May 24th.

Bacallao clearly doesn’t understand how roundabouts work, or their benefits. According to information provided by GDOT, “Roundabouts can offer a good solution to safety and capacity problems at an intersection. At intersections where roundabouts have been installed to replace existing intersections, accidents of all types have been reduced by over 35 percent, and injury accidents have been reduced by over 60 percent.” An AJC story from last August provides more details about Georgia’s roundabouts, and how they have reduced accidents and improved traffic flow. Priceonomics also makes a strong case for installing additional roundabouts.

Let’s set the candidate’s lack of understanding regarding roundabouts aside for a moment, and instead look at her ideas for an alternative way to spend transportation dollars. Rather than roundabouts, Bacallao wants to build two new interstate highways, one north-south and the other east-west, that would keep trucks off the roads around Atlanta. In this case, the misunderstanding is at two levels.

Bacallao appears to think that these interstates could be funded with the money currently spent on roundabouts. A quick back of the envelope calculation says that the two interstates would include roughly 550 centerlane miles to reach up, down, and across Georgia. That’s at least 2,500 miles of pavement, given there would have to be a minimum of two lanes in each direction. According to the AJC story referenced above, there are presently no more than 200 roundabouts in the Peach State today. If each roundabout used two lane miles of pavement, which is extremely generous, that’s 400 lane miles. There’s no way the cost of 400 lane miles of roundabouts is the same as 2,500 miles of interstate.

Bacallao’s bait and switch from roundabouts to interstates also reveals a lack of understanding about the Georgia DOT has a comprehensive freight corridor plan that deals not only with highways, but with rail, pipelines, and other transportation modes. She doesn’t understand how Georgia’s inland ports let freight move by rail from where it is unloaded in Savannah or Brunswick, keeping trucks off the road. And she may not realize that much of the truck traffic around Atlanta is destined for the metro area, where Hartsfield Jackson airport and the Peach State’s logistics industry is located.

Wrapping up, Bacallao says “we need smart people in D.C. who can solve traffic problems.” Based on the evidence, I’ll let the reader decide if she is the right person to do that job for Georgia.

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