This week’s Courier Herald column:
Last week Governor Nathan Deal assembled state leaders at Georgia’s Capitol for an announcement. The State would be contributing $100 Million toward building Bus Rapid Transit on Georgia 400 through North Fulton County. The money will leverage $184 Million in Federal Funds granted to build express lanes from I-285 to McFarland Road, bringing traffic relief to one of Georgia’s fastest growing and most congested corridors.
Bus Rapid Transit operates similar to trains, but the vehicles ride on tires instead rails, allowing for more flexibility of deployment. They also can share lanes with other cars, as they will in the planned toll lanes on Georgia 400. The tolls are key to financing new and expensive projects such as this one. Riders in cars will ultimately pay for much of the project’s estimated $1.8 Billion price tag.
The state’s contribution to the transit component is in conjunction with MARTA and Fulton County. It is committed before the new regional governing body “The ATL” becomes both the regional governing body for transit planning as well as the conduit for additional state funding. Consider it a tangible nod to those who have paid for the existing MARTA infrastructure before additional funding becomes a more regional discussion.
Many reading this column are doing so in publications that are well outside of Metro Atlanta and are likely wondering what is in this for them. Transportation – including transit – is a statewide function, as Georgians’ mobility is not limited to travel within county lines. It’s proper and correct for the state to spend some time focused on solving problems in the Atlanta region. One in five Georgians live in a current MARTA county. One in Three live in the five counties covered under the original MARTA act. One out of every two Georgians live in a county covered by The ATL.
The rest of Georgia has not been forgotten, however. While the word “transit” doesn’t mean exactly the same thing in the rest of Georgia, other non-Atlanta metropolitan areas have mass transit needs. Rural Georgia still struggles with mobility issues in getting people to job training, employment centers, and to non-emergency medical care.
The law creating The ATL was based in large part on work done by a House study committee on transit governance and funding. Observers should note that it, and also the House Rural Development Council, were created as two-year standing committees. Each are currently one year into their existence. It’s half time, with work remaining on the table.
The House Transit study committee will meet again this week, resuming their work. They will begin the task of studying the proper state role in funding and governance for non-Atlanta transit systems, as well as ways to improve operation and efficiency of mobility in rural Georgia. These issues are a bit more complex, as the problems must be clearly defined before solutions can be considered.
It’s no accident that rural mobility solutions were not moved as legislation at the same time as Atlanta’s transit issues. Memories of 2012’s regional T-SPLOST referendums remain with many “what not to do” lessons learned for many at the capitol. Attempts to solve Atlanta’s congestion problem caused voter confusion for those who voted against unrelated ballot measures in some of the most rural parts of the state.
Instead, other proposals from the Rural Development Council were moved to solve some issues of rural Georgia while the focus for Atlanta was for congestion relief. This year, with the Atlanta solution clearly defined, the mobility issues unique to the rest of Georgia can be fully explored and solutions proposed.
The rationale to solve this problem will be familiar to those who followed the debate over Atlanta’s transit future. It is one of economic development and quality of life. Employers want to have access to workers that must be able to reach them easily and reliably. Residents must have access to reach their jobs, to education centers, and to health care.
Transit and mobility issues will continue to dominate Georgia politics. This year, however, the focus will be well beyond those who live in Atlanta.
Charlie Harper is the publisher of GeorgiaPol.com and the Executive Director of PolicyBEST, which focuses on policy issues of Business Climate, Education, Science & Medicine, and Transportation.