Update — Cost of HOT Lane Keeps Rising

The cost of gas isn’t the only thing going up.  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the cost to travel one-way in the 16-mile HOT lane along I-85 reached a new high of $4.75 this morning.  And that $4.75 only covers the stretch of I-85 where the HOT lane is available, between Old Peachtree Road and Chamblee Tucker Road.

Is the GA Senate Transit Governance Bill Not Leaving the Station?

Last week, the Georgia Senate Transportation Committee introduced Senate Bill 474, a bill which attempts to tackle the thorny issue of transit governance in the Atlanta region.  But rather than applause, the bill was met with concern and pegged as a nonstarter.  Critics complain that the bill would give the state too much power over local transit decisions without requiring the state to have a financial stake in the game.  Georgia is one of the few states in the country without a dedicated revenue source for transit, and many leaders around the Atlanta region feel that the state should share the burden of funding regional transit if it wants to have a say in regional transit decisions. 

Under SB 474, regional transit decisions would be controlled by two governing bodies.  SB 474 would establish a local “Transit Governance Council” consisting of the following members:

  • The chairperson of the board of commissioners from each county in the Atlanta region;
  • One mayor of a municipality from each county in the Atlanta region chosen by the mayors of each municipality within that county;
  • The mayor of the City of Atlanta;
  • Three members appointed by the Governor, one member appointed by the Lieutenant Governor, and one member appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives;
  • Two non-chairperson county commissioners nominated by the Governor; and
  • One municipal elected official nominated by the Governor.

The Transit Governance Council would be housed within the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA).  Importantly, the fifteen-member GRTA Board (appointed by the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Speaker of the House) could override any decision made by the Transit Governance Council.   As a result, SB 474 would not only give the state some influence over the make up of the Transit Governance Council itself, but also the trump card over any decision made by the Transit Governance Council. 

The fate of SB 474 remains to be seen but there are already murmurs that the bill will not have enough support to go forward.  If the bill fails to gain traction, the current transit governance knot will not be untangled before this summer’s regional transportation sales tax referendum.

I-85 HOT Lanes in the NY Times

The New York Times looked to Atlanta’s own I-85  HOT lane conversion project as an example of a national trend toward HOT lane conversions.  (Article here).  The article describes the impact of the conversion on travel conditions on I-85, quoting Howard Rodgers of Stolenlanes.org.  It goes on to suggest that the conversion of HOV lanes to HOT lanes is justified by limited use of the carpool lanes. 

The environmental studies for the I-85 project, however, show the opposite:

This growing demand on the travel corridors has begun to reduce the travel time reliability of the existing HOV lanes. Based on I-85 HOV lane traffic data from the Georgia Department of Transportation’s (the Department’s) Navigator system from 2002 through 2008, the peak directional HOV lane density (calculated as a combination of average speed and volume) increased from 17 vehicles per mile in 2002 to 26 vehicles per mile in 2008.

 Interstate 85 HOV to HOT Conversion Project: Final Environmental Assessment (January 2010) at I-2.

Plain English translation: the I-85 carpool lane wasn’t under-used, it was over-used.  It takes some interesting logic to reason that an overcrowded carpool lane can be fixed by kicking out the two person cars and replacing them with single person cars.


Two Birds, One Investment

MMPT Before (from Central Atlanta Progress Green Line Report)

Yesterday JunctionATL kicked off the Green Jobs, Good Jobs Conference in Atlanta by highlighting the job creation potential of different types of infrastructure investments.  But mass transit offers an additional job creation advantage because it serves as a catalyst for nearby redevelopment.   Developers are eager to invest around transit stations because they guarantee permanent, reliable access for the adjacent areas.  This transit-oriented redevelopment offers a second wave of job creation from the same transit investment.

MMPT After? (from Central Atlanta Progress Green Line Report)

A metro Atlanta project that demonstrates these reverberating economic and employment impacts is the Multimodal Passenger Terminal (“MMPT”) proposed for downtown’s “Gulch” area.  (For more information on the MMPT, click here).  

A recent study by Central Atlanta Progress estimates that redevelopment triggered by the MMPT and the transit using it would :

  •  Increase downtown real estate investment  by $3.1 billion;
  • Attract 8.6 million square feet of additional development;
  • Create or house 15,700 additional jobs downtown;
  • Increase the annual tax base by $65 million; and
  • Yield $6 dollars in private redevelopment investment for every dollar spent.

Not too shabby.  And those numbers are even more impressive because they don’t reflect any of the economic benefits resulting from construction.  Those numbers make you wonder why redevelopment potential isn’t at the center of the discussion every time we consider a big ticket transportation project.  (I’m looking at you, HOT lanes!)



What You Build Matters

Junction ATL welcomes the Good Jobs/Green Jobs National Conference to Atlanta today. Drawing hundreds of people, the conference is an excellent opportunity to explore job creation through stronger environmental and energy policies.  Here in Atlanta, the conference provides an opportunity to examine the effects of infrastructure spending on the local economy.

The Atlanta Regional Commission recently performed an initial analysis and forecast of the economic impacts of the project list for the 2012 TIA referendum and the results are pretty staggering: passing the referendum would create or support an additional 200,000 job years, including 34,000 jobs in the construction sector by 2040. Almost two-thirds of those jobs will be in mid-to-high paying job sectors. 

No great surprise there — spending millions of dollars on any large-scale construction project will generate economic activity and jobs.  But not all transportation projects create jobs equally.

Research from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst shows that mass transit projects produce 28% more employment effects than new road construction, and 17% more than road repair projects.  In fact, mass transit provides the second most bang for the buck of any infrastructure investment category (only slightly trailing “Inland Waterways/Levees”). 

Employment Impacts per $1 Billion in Infrastructure Spending


Source: Heintz, J., Pollin, R. and Garrett‐Peltier, H. (2009). How Infrastructure Investments Support the U.S. Economy: Employment, Productivity and Growth. Political Economy Research Institute. University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Tables 3.1 and 3.7

Job creation shouldn’t be the sole consideration guiding the TIA list or our other infrastructure investments.   But the fact that the TIA project list contains a significant portion of transit projects means that it will provide a greater shot in the arm for Atlanta’s economy than a road-centric project list. 


Myth Busters: Atlantans Don’t Use Transit

Myth: “Only 3% of Atlantans use public transit.”

The Atlanta Business Chronicle titled a recent article with this misleading statistic.  (Full article behind paywall).  The article goes on to explain that 81,600 working Atlantans (3%) reported in the Census that they rely on transit for their daily commutes. Beyond the rhetorical sleight of hand from the article’s title to its body (Atlantans versus working Atlantans;  “using” versus “relying on for your daily commute”…), the statistic is problematic in two other respects.

First, only looking our daily commute – work trips – grossly underestimates the actual number of transit riders because people travel for other reasons. Comparing the Census data to Federal Transit Administration data bears this out.   FTA data shows that MARTA, GRTA, Cobb Transit, and Gwinnett Transit averaged 502,000 weekday boardings – almost three times as many trips as the Census data suggests (163,200 trips, or 81,600 workers going to and from work).  We travel for all sorts of reasons: going to school, the doctor, the mall, or the Hawks game. And many transit riders are more occaisonal, but equally grateful users-for example, getting to the airport.  Work isn’t the only reason people leave home and the discrepency in the transit data reflects this.

Second,  judging transportation solely by what happens at rush hour is a mistake.  Work trips are taken between 7-9 AM and 5-7 PM, and it is important to prevent traffic from shutting the city down during those four hours.  But focusing only on rush hour skews our transportation system toward particular types of trips, particular times of day, and particular destinations.  With so many vehicles on the road at one time, even small improvements in rush hour congestion requires big, expensive projects.  A rush hour focus means expensive projects yielding small marginal gains. It means building lanes that are empty 20 hours a day.  It means getting little bang for our buck.  Overspending on rush hour means underspending elsewhere. 

Whether roads or rails, buses or bicycles, transportation is about more than just getting to work.  Transportation is essential to our daily lives and necessary for our economy.  Reducing this complicated picture to one data point, one variable, one piece of information doesn’t show the whole picture.  We need to focus on designing a system that is equally efficient for work trips as non-work trips; for weekdays as for weekends; for drivers, riders, and walkers.

What’s the Hold Up?

As congressional debate on the federal transportation bills picks up steam, it’s worth revisiting the goals of Atlanta’s transportation and planning agencies.

In March 2009, GDOT, GRTA, ARC and MARTA adopted a shared policy platform for the federal transportation reauthorization bill (ARC Position Paper ).  Congress hasn’t made much progress in passing a reauthorization bill in the intervening three years, so these 2009 goals remain the unified position of the Atlanta agencies.

The Position Paper is positive in most respects: a fix-it-first approach to preserving existing infrastructure; increasing funding for multi-modal investment; equalizing the share of federal support for projects across all modes; and identifying clear “objectives and structure” for federal transportation programs.  But one glaring shortcoming is the suggestion that the environmental review process for transportation projects should be “streamlined.”

The anti-regulatory crowd argues that big transportation projects take years to build, therefore NEPA must need to be “streamlined” and public interest review limited.  This opens the door to all kinds of rollbacks under the catch-all umbrella of “streamlining,” such as those suggested in the Policy Paper.

But large-scale transportation projects are massive, complicated and costly.  They have the potential to influence virtually every aspect of our daily lives – the air we breathe, where we live, how we get around, and the economic opportunities available to us.  Further, transportation is one of the largest uses of public infrastructure dollars.   With so much potential to shape our lives and our communities, short-circuiting the review  and limiting the scope of public involvement for these projects is short-sighted.

Particularly when so-called “streamlining” measures won’t speed up project delivery.  A recent Washington Post article rebuts the idea that NEPA and other regulatory review processes are to blame when projects are delayed.  A 2000 Federal Highway Administration study examining the reason for delay in 89 large-scale transportation projects found that the leading causes were lack of funding (18%), local controversy (16%), low state priority (15%) , and project complexity (13%).

 Reasons for EIS Project Delays (FHWA, 2000)

The measures in the Policy Paper,  and many of the others batted around the halls of Congresss these days,  will only help “streamline” the public’s ability to review and influence the selection of projects impacting their lives.





Golden Pegged as Next GDOT Commissioner

It appears that the revolving management door at GDOT has stopped swinging– at least temporarily.  The State Transportation Board unanimously recommended Interim GDOT Commissioner Keith Golden to take over the reins of GDOT permanently.  Golden’s appointment is expected to go into effect March 1st. 

Golden, a professional engineer and longtime GDOT employee, has served as Interim Commissioner of GDOT since former Commissioner Vance Smith stepped down last September.  Golden will be the fifth GDOT commissioner in the last four years. 

(UPDATE — Keith Golden was officially confirmed as the new GDOT Commissioner on March 1, 2012.  To see the press release, click here)

Talking Transit in the Salon

A couple interesting transit-related articles in Salon.com.

This article on why it takes so long to build transit projects.  (Hint – they are pretty complicated).

And this article on how transit is the latest front in the culture wars.  Contrast that with William Lind and his “Conservative Case for Transit.” 


And the Grant Goes to . . .

The Atlanta Regional Commission recently awarded its 2012 Livable Centers Initiative grants to a handful of Atlanta communities.  The Livable Centers Initiative is a competitive grant program that provides funding to help local communities  around the region successfully integrate their transportation improvements with their land use decisions. 

This year’s grant recipients include the Lakewood Activity Center and the Marietta University District.  To find out more about ARC’s Livable Centers Initiative and all of this year’s grant winners, click here.