Three Questions on the Transportation Investment Act

This was originally published on the Civic League of Regional Atlanta’s blog (and newsletter) and re-published on Peach Pundit.

After serving on the Steering Committee for last summer’s “Get A Move On” Townhall, I was asked by the Civic League to respond to three questions regarding the upcoming voter referendum on the Transportation Investment Act of 2010.

Originally, my responses appeared on their blog and in an e-mail newsletter. I’ve included the questions and my responses below:

What’s good about the Transportation Investment Act?

When the Transportation Investment Act passed in 2010, it showed a genuine concern for the transportation issues here in Georgia, especially metropolitan Atlanta. Its passage also indicated a desire to address the failed attempts of the centrally-planned Georgia Department of Transportation attempts to improve the seemingly endless commutes for Atlantans. Legislators presented municipal and county officials an opportunity to work together to relieve congestion woes in a cooperative and efficient manner.

I appreciate the attempt, as well as the willingness to cede authority to bodies with stronger ties to the communities served in each region. Rather than attempt further planning at the state level, the TIA brings cities and counties with similar struggles and interests to the table.

What’s bad about the Transportation Investment Act?

While the above attempts are admirable, the reality of the product returned is filled with projects that lack the intentions of the legislators who voted to pass the bill two years ago. Several legislators who voted for the bill have reconsidered their support after seeing the resulting project list prepared by the Atlanta Regional Roundtable. While roundtable members winnowed a massive “wish list” down to what could fit into the estimated revenues generated, those members pushed the goals of decreased congestion and increased mobility aside in favor of the vague and unquantifiable concepts of “economic development,” “livability,” and “jobs” that proponents and “education efforts” alike utilize when discussing the referendum.

The project list completely lacks any item that directly correlates cost and use. The most efficient allocation of funds occurs when there is a direct correlation between these two factors. The voter referendum considered July 31st only authorizes spending for the construction and implementation of the projects contained within the list without a mechanism to “invest” in the operation and maintenance of the $6 billion worth of new transit project “wants” in a region that needs solutions, rather than what amounts to taxes disproportionately allocated when compared to real world use. Both sides agree that over half of the taxes to be collected fund mass transit projects. Historically, use of mass transit in our region does not exceed 5% of the population and is in a state of declining use, so what sense does it make to have the whole pay for a majority of transportation options that less than 1/20th of us utilize?

What’s the bottom line for your organization?

Both organizations I lead encourage a “No” vote on the July referendum, as the projects do not adequately address the mobility and congestion issues that the Atlanta region faces. Both the proponents and opponents point out that there is no “Plan B,” which implies that the regional roundtable gave voters an “or else” ultimatum, rather than seeking a solution that solves the transportation issues facing the region. The General Assembly gave a tremendous amount of control and authority to a regional body in hopes of regional solutions, but received only favors to special interest groups and a mentality of “What can I bring home to my constituents?” in return.

I rarely, if ever, oppose a proposal without offering alternatives. As such, I offer the following solutions:

  1. After voters reject the referendum, start from scratch to determine the actual needs of the region, by including stakeholders in the discussions, rather than a handful of officials no one elected to represent them in this effort.
  2. Focus the production of a project list that addresses the issues of mobility and congestion with a strong relationship between the two using the resources and their level of commitment to fund them.
  3. Rather than continue the monopoly over such decisions to an overburdened and ever-growing leviathan government, allow private companies to propose projects they can build, maintain, and operate efficiently and independently of bureaucrats and a regional government entity.

How is that for a starting point from which to begin “Plan B” when voters reject this tax increase?