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Georgia Needs a Real Department of Transportation

November 9, 2009
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State Rep Fran Miller (R. Dunwoody) wrote a column in the Marietta Daily Journal regarding transit reform:

Many people in our growing 10-county Atlanta metropolitan area have witnessed with frustration the failure of our state government to deal with transportation and congestion issues in a comprehensive manner.

To compound the problem, Georgia State University researchers say the rapid transit MARTA system will probably be short $85 million in sales tax receipts for fiscal 2010 and over the next decade could be short $1.4 billion. So what’s the bottom line? MARTA can not be financially viable in the long run with only Fulton and DeKalb counties as its prime source of funding.

2010 is an election year and it is politically imperative that the General Assembly give Georgians an opportunity to vote on a comprehensive transportation solution.

I believe a regional approach with a sales tax component has the best chance of acceptance by the public. No other statewide approach has passed in recent years.

In 2009 lawmakers passed SB 200 which created a Planning Division in the Department of Transportation. The purpose of the Planning Division is to be responsible for planning and transportation policy (not just for highways).

It is my intention in 2010 to add to SB 200 or any other approach a Public Transportation division under DOT, with the director of that division also being appointed by the governor. This director can be responsible for operating Georgia public transportation agencies including MARTA.

At the same time, I plan to introduce local legislation in DeKalb and have one of my fellow members in Fulton do likewise to repeal the current MARTA Act.

Obviously there are details that need to be worked out with the state assuming the assets and liabilities of MARTA. Priority issues include operations and federal funding. Hopefully, in the not too distant future, other transit systems such as Cobb and Gwinnett and agencies such as Georgia Regional Transportation Authority and the State Road and Tollway Authority can be incorporated into this comprehensive approach.

Any comprehensive transportation solution voted on by the people requires a two-thirds vote by the House of Representatives and the Senate in order for the initiative to be placed on the ballot.

Local legislation requires a majority of the county representatives and the county senators to sign the bill and a majority vote in each chamber.

This is our one chance to get away from a Department of Highways and have a meaningful Department of Transportation. With this new MARTA financial data, any reasonable person must conclude that Fulton and DeKalb can no longer carry this burden alone. I would hope Fulton and DeKalb representatives and senators would agree with me and insist that MARTA be folded into any comprehensive transit solution.

Furthermore, according to Georgia State University, metro Atlanta (10 counties) generates 53 percent of the state income and receives 37 percent of the state’s spending. If metro Atlanta’s physical infrastructure cannot allow further growth and/or our competitive position deteriorates, then the balance of our state will not continue to receive this additional funding over what they collect.

This alone should be the necessary incentive for non-metro legislators to support the creation of this public transportation division under DOT and a regional transportation solution with a sales tax component.

No great city in our country (New York, Chicago, Washington, San Francisco) relies only on highways. We either seize the initiative now or in the not too distant future explain to our children why Atlanta is no longer the Capitol of the South. Remember when we were the financial headquarters of the South?

Contact your state representatives and senators and voice your support for this approach.

A great start would be if every metro Atlanta county starts to climb aboard this train.

I don’t know how I feel about this proposal.  He talks a good talk, and obviously something needs to be done, but GDOT is notorious for screwing things up.  Maybe, all things considered, I have a skewed view and tend to hear about it more, but this strikes me as a bad idea.  Georgia just got chastised and became the laughing stock of the transit planning community when we disbanded the Intermodal division.  And they lost track of the Greyhound buses they had purchased.  Buses!  How do you loose buses?  Sometimes I loose my car in the parking deck, but it’s small, and blue, and there are loads like it.  I think I could keep track of a bus.  And you want to give them a much larger fleet of buses?  And trains.  I guess those are easier to keep track of, they needs tracks, after all.

I like the idea of a regional transit authority, but GDOT?  Really? 

Please please please tell me your thoughts.

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