An exercise in futility
The August 15th deadline for a draft project list gets ever closer, four days closer to be exact, and there is a fury of half hearted attempts at getting something put together. That, or there is a whole lot of back room politicking going on out of the public eye.
Yesterday the staff of the regional roundtable and their jurisdictions met at the request of the roundtable to create a draft project list constrained to the $6.14 billion expected to be generated from the TIA, which is now being referred to as Tia, as if the tax is a woman.
They didn’t come up with a constrained list. The list that they passed to the roundtable at 5:00PM yesterday was at $6.56 billion list, as of they threw up their hands and said we can’t do this.
If the staff, who do not answer to voters and who are only tasked with coming up with a possibility can’t do this thing it makes the whole process seem like a farce. Fulton and Cobb county staffs came into the meeting willing to negotiate to get the projects that they were invested on the final list. The other projects that no one seemed willing to work for so they remain lingering on the fringes are the regional mobility call center, some sort of transit project on the I-20 corridor, Gwinnett County bus operations funding, and additional funding requests from the Beltline and MARTA for state of good repair. These projects are over the constrained total by $465 million. Either they won’t make the cut or something has to be sacrificed, a task staff was not willing to do yesterday.
This morning the list was presented to the roundtable as if it were a new thing they had never seen before. I highly doubt that. My guess is that they spent the evening discussing it with staff and pouring over the list. At least I hope they did because this morning, following a fifteen minute break to “review” this list they adjourned to meet again on Monday. This morning’s meeting, which was meant to have lasted until noon, three hours, concluded at 10:30 with no decision on a list.
Either these elected officials are too bored to bother coming up with a project list or are still wheeling and dealing to get their projects funded. The latter is my guess. Why they are unwilling to have done that in the public forum this morning for us all to see is beyond me. Well, not really. I’m sure they don’t want us to see what goes on behind closed doors while they nickel and dime projects to death but darn it, that is fine entertainment!
So what do you need to know right now? Unless someone has a change of heart, the commuter rail line is dead despite all the folks coming out in support of the project including Kay Pippin, the chair of the Henry Couny Chamber of Commerce who said that the roundtable is, “Completely ignoring half of the region. There is life beyond I-20.” However, we are looking at a project list that is giving $3.14 billion to transit projects including:
* $37 m to begin a Heavy Rail extension past North Springs
* $180 m to GRTA express bus service
* $600 m to the Beltline
* $50 m for BRT and roadway operational improvements on Piedmont and Roswell Road
* $100 m to Clayton Coubty for bus service
* $879 m for Light Rail from Arts Center station to Cumberland along I-75
* $100 m for Light Rail on the I-85 corridor
* $500 m to MARTA for State of Good Repair projects
* $700 m for the Clifton Corridor
The additional projects on the list, those that are waiting in the outfields for funding, would bring the total list to $3.6 billion, if my numbers are correct, which would be amazing and beyond what I expected.
However, I do have some concerns. We need commuter rail. If you want to talk about regionalism, commuter rail is regional. It is the one project that would cross multiple counties and could have a huge impact on how and where people live in the metro Atlanta region. But where do we find the money for that? Well, why are we funding GRTA? GRTA is the only transit the state funds. Why are we giving the state an out on the one contribution they make? Also, are we sure the road projects on the list aren’t slated to receive funding from the state or the TIP, the ARC Transportation Improvement Program? Roads get more than the lion’s share of funding in Georgia from sources like the gas tax, so we need to ensure that what money available for transit goes to transit. Some road projects can even be paid for out of the 15% given to local jurisidictions for thier own use and they should be used in that way if they aren’t regional projects in scope. And finally, for one of the very rare times I can say I agree with Todd Long, why are we not fully funding projects? We set ourselves up for disaster when we allot $250 million to the I-20 project that will do nothing more than build park and ride lots because trust me, we will see no rail for that little amount of money unless the Feds pony up the rest. Bets on how likely that is to happen.
There is hope. Loads of hope. But there will also be a weekend of deals made or the roundtable come into Monday’s meeting with empty hands and egg on their face. Let’s just hope that the deals made this weekend reflect what the region needs and it’s residents want, which has been overwhelmingly in support of transit.