State Comparisons

A recent piece by the Wall Street Journal includes a series of interactive maps comparing road and bridge conditions across the 50 states. These maps draw on data from a July 2014 report released by the Obama Administration, “An Economic Analysis of Transportation Infrastructure Investment,” and are part of a push for a new federal transportation funding bill.

These maps suggest that Georgia does a good job of maintaining its roads and bridges compared to other states.  Below is one example.

The White House’s report also contains state by state data on a variety of other topics.  Of interest here, according to the report Georgia ranks 27th in the country in per capita fuel consumption.

Fuel Per Capita

And Georgia ranks 32nd in the country in the percentage of capital outlays covered by federal funds.  Another way to look at the federal outlay ranking is the degree to which a state relies on federal funds, rather than state funds, for its transportation projects.  This data shows that Georgia relies more heavily on federal funds for transportation than 31 other states.

Capital Outlays



A Contract and a Plan for Clayton

After much discussion about lock boxes and portions of pennies, the Clayton County Commission and the MARTA Board of Directors were able to hammer out contractual language and allow the residents of Clayton County to vote on joining MARTA.  The final signed contract is here.

Appendix 1 to that Contract is a document titled the “Clayton Extension Report.” This document:

[I]ncludes an illustrative 10-year system plan, implementation plan, patronage estimates, and a financing plan for Clayton County transit service. The system plan describes general physical aspects such as routes, service plans, and necessary acquisitions for both bus service and rail transit.

The Clayton Extension Report includes several maps illustrating what MARTA service in Clayton might look like. With the caveat that these are examples rather than the final plans, check out the maps below.
2016 Bus

2025 Bus

More Learning From the Past

Perhaps the Transportation Infrastructure Funding Study Committee isn’t open to campaign advice from a New England think tank named after Michael Dukakis. If so, they should read up on “Winning Transit Referenda: Some Conservative Advice” by Paul M. Weyrich and William S. Lind.

These self-styled “pro-transit conservatives” offer strategies for succeeding with conservative voters in a transportation referendum.  This passage on the “mechanics of winning” seems particularly salient:

Here is where so many transit referenda are lost: the people in charge of them simply do not understand the mechanics of winning. You can have the greatest proposal since the Shaker Rapid, poll after poll showing you are ahead, plenty of “feel good” TV advertising and so on, and still lose because you did not know or you neglected the mechanics of winning the vote.

The starting point is to study other successful referenda. You should look at transit referenda that won in other cities, and non-transit issues that won in your own city. How did they do it? There is no need to re-invent the flanged wheel (or worse, think you don’t need a wheel at all, like Maglev). As Bismarck said, “Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. A wise man learns from the mistakes of others.”

Learn From the Past or Repeat It

Speaker Ralston and Lt. Governor Cagle recently announced appointments to the Joint Legislative Study Committee on Critical Transportation Infrastructure Funding.

HR 1573, adopted in this year’s legislative session, created “a joint study committee of 16 members for the purpose of identifying new sources and methods of funding for critical transportation infrastructure needs.” As its membership and meeting schedule take shape, commentators have opined that the Committee might represent a serious effort to figure out a solution for transportation funding in the state.

They should start by looking at what worked elsewhere. Denver, Seattle, and St. Louis all had transportation referendums fail before they succeeded. To find that success, those cities identified  what went wrong in the first campaign and fixed it. Georgia should do the same for the TSPLOST, and a good place to start with this self-examination would be the 2013 report by the Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University, “Ten Lessons Learned from Recent Legislative and Ballot Campaigns to Increase Local and State Transportation Funding.”

The paper surveyed six transportation funding referendums across the country, including Atlanta’s 2012 TSPLOST campaign, and identified ten traits that led to their success (or failure). According to the report, the ten lessons for a successful transportation referendum are:

  • Both the legislature and the voters matter;
  • Plans are better than projects;
  • Understand what the public thinks;
  • One key to victory in transit campaigns is those who will never use transit;
  • Humor helps;
  • The agency needs to be respected – or invisible;
  • Service cuts and fare increases are a strong motivator… but may not be enough;
  • Include funds for operations – including buses;
  • Don’t neglect transit allies;
  • If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

This report is also useful because it provides a case study on Atlanta’s referendum. According to the report, the key takeaways from Atlanta are:

  • A multi-step process can help avoid resistance of elected officials to raise taxes or fees;
  • Distrust of government inhibits transportation investment but specifics can help overcome it;
  • Regionalizing the raising and expenditure of revenue can address concern that one geographic area is subsidizing another, but such regions have to be devised correctly;
  • Significant political support can be shored up by giving back some revenue raised to municipalities for discretionary spending; and
  • Money alone cannot buy love, nor can it secure a victory at the ballot box.

As the Joint Legislative Study Committee begins to wrestle with post-TSPLOST options, it must consider what factors contributed the failure of its predecessor. Some of the mistakes might have been built into the law, such as the size of the region or the amount of the tax.  Others might have been temporal, by attempting to levy the new tax during a period of economic uncertainty or holding the referendum on a primary election date.  Still other mistakes might have occurred in the quantity and quality of public engagement around the referendum.

The Committee should consider all of these factors to ensure that the problems with the TSPLOST are fixed before we start down this road again.

ATL Transit Goes Live, a transit planning portal sponsored by metro Atlanta’s transit agencies, went live yesterday. The website is supported by MARTA, Gwinnett County Transit, CCT, GRTA, and the Atlanta Regional Commission.

The website’s centerpiece is its trip planning tool, which allows one to plan a transit itinerary across the region’s various jurisdictions and its multiple transit providers. The website also provides fare and transfer information for the various systems.

State Sen. Brandon Beach illustrated the challenge of navigating metro Atlanta’s various transit systems in his amusing YouTube video released last year.

Sen. Beach then introduced SR 735 which directed the transit agencies to create the trip planning website:

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY that the members of this body hereby urge the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, Cobb Community Transit, and Gwinnett County Transit to work together to develop a website, to be located at, that allows riders to plan and pay for a trip that involves riding on one or more of the participating transit systems.

(Curiously, although the resolution calls for a URL of “” the final website is located at

The website provides an additional tool for those new to transit or unfamiliar with the region. But it also illustrates the various ways in which the region’s transit service is not integrated.  The agencies do not operate on a single payment system or fare schedule. They to not approach service planning in a comprehensive fashion.  The do not benefit from economies of scale by coordinating their procurement, training, and contracting. And they do not present a unified front when competing for federal funds. But most importantly, the website reaffirms the unfortunately reality that most of metro Atlanta is not served by transit. is a useful step toward more robust regional transit service. But it is only a baby step.