Transportation For The Future

The city of Atlanta, originally named Terminus, was founded in the 19th century around a railroad hub.

Transportation modes progressed with the growth and rebirth of the city after the Civil War, and the city changed from a freight and passenger railroad center. In the 1980s, Atlanta became synonymous with Hartsfield International Airport, accommodating a more modern form of transportation.

But as the city’s transportation modes evolved, so did its identifiable boundaries. As our region exploded in population, Atlanta was no longer just “downtown.” Atlanta now is Perimeter Center, the Galleria and Peachtree Corners. Job centers have spread from Gainesville and Carrollton to Winder, Henry County, Fulton Industrial Boulevard and even up into Cherokee County.

According to the latest census, more than 90 percent of the Atlanta area’s jobs are spread across 33 counties of the Atlanta metropolitan region. So, our transportation solutions now must shift from those of the spoke-and-wheel days when we tried to funnel daytime workers to the inner city.

As a member of the House Transportation Committee, I am proud to have a voice in the future of transportation planning for this region. Unfortunately, there has been far too much talk and planning by the bureaucracy of state and local agencies and not enough action to keep up with the growth.

Demand has far outstripped capacity, and that is the sole reason why our commute times worsen every year. We are not building enough local road or highway capacity to meet the demand of commuters who choose to drive to work each day.

There is no way this region will ever afford a mass transit system that will be able to take Joe Worker who lives in Stockbridge to his job in Marietta and then to Lawrenceville for a son or daughter’s after-school softball game. Our lives are too spread out in the region to make mass transit a realistic solution.

Some may prefer these new live-work-play communities where they can stick close to home and work in the same neighborhood. But studies show most Americans change jobs every three years, so unless you want to move every few years to be close to your job, these communities aren’t the solution.

Instead, we have to plan for more highway capacity. There is no way around it. Instead of looking at tax increases to fund projects that will never move significant numbers of people – such as heavy rail lines to Athens or Macon – let’s instead think creatively. I’m a firm believer in the private sector and what it can do to solve our congestion problems. We should consider:

• High occupancy toll lanes or HOT lanes that are barrier-separated and provide faster access for a fee. These lanes can offer congestion-pricing or variable-priced tolls to give commuters options to pay to drive in faster lanes or stick to traditional lanes of traffic.

• Abolish or streamline most if not all of the alphabet soup of local and state planning agencies involved in transportation planning, including the Atlanta Regional Commission. The ARC seems to favor high-density zoning policies, which only increase traffic rather than encouraging the private sector to offer alternatives.

• Try some bold strategies. We still need the Northern Arc, or a similar limited-access highway north of the existing perimeter. We also need truck-only lanes in Metro Atlanta. Let’s think big and consider allowing private financiers to build a massive tunnel underneath downtown Atlanta to divert traffic off the downtown connector. Moving traffic is a bonus in trying to boost our air quality.

• Finally, we absolutely must follow the mandate set forth by the governor’s Congestion Mitigation Task Force two years ago. If any project does not significantly reduce traffic, then we absolutely should not build it. Neither the state nor local communities have dollars to waste on transportation projects that are veiled economic development projects such as the “Brain Train” to Athens.

With a significant shift in attitude about solving congestion, we actually may be able to tackle the biggest threat to our region without a tax increase, without more government and without more pain for our region’s commuters.

Categories: Guest Commentary