Progress also continues to extend variable-rate highway toll lanes intended to provide congestion relief. The latest toll project, the I-75 South Metro Express Lanes, opened in January on a 12-mile stretch in Henry County.
A sales tax win last November also creates a stable new funding venue for transportation and transit improvements in the City of Atlanta. Voters in Fulton County also approved their own tax hike last fall for road fixes. Fulton commissioners also voted to help pay for an ARC transit study. In Clayton County, MARTA buses have been rolling since shortly after voters there approved a sales tax measure.
These all point to an increasing commonality of purpose among agencies and jurisdictions. That makes great sense in an area where many people cross boundaries each day in their travels. In other words, there’s increasing recognition that we’re all in this together.
One big factor that’s still an outlier at this point is what’s next for state government in supporting the next phases of transportation improvements. Encouraging words were heard from the Gold Dome during a kickoff hearing late last month of the new House Commission on Transit Governance and Funding.
In opening remarks, House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, spoke frankly and refreshingly about what should lie ahead. “Taking bold action requires more than words, it requires action,” he said.
“There’s a great deal of data that tells us that transit must play a role in our transportation planning in the years ahead,” said Ralston, noting that millennials “place a premium on having the option to take a bus, a train or a bike to work.” Ditto for many of today’s big job creators, we’d add.
Ralston assigned the work of “undertaking a “thorough discussion and assessment of transit in Georgia. I further charge this commission to work with stakeholders to recommend ways to integrate transit into this state’s transportation future.”
And toward a big point, the Speaker said that, in addition to facilitating new or modified inter-agency agreements, “your recommendations may also include reasonable state funding to support our transit systems, subject to appropriate controls.”
That’s an exciting acknowledgement of a big missing piece. Direct, ongoing state fiscal support for transit would be a long-overdue force multiplier for congestion relief in Georgia. It should come to pass soonest, we believe.
And in words aimed at staving off possible turf squabbles, Ralston added that, “to be clear, I am not of the opinion that the state must wholly control or take over a transit system in order to provide funding. This is not a zero-sum environment. Rather, I encourage you to work with transit operators and local governments to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.”
He’s right. It’s not a zero-sum play. Working collaboratively among agencies and entities will likely yield the best results for taxpayers and commuters alike.
We urge the committee to speedily get after its important work. Done well and with foresight, innovation and courage, Georgia and all its cities stand to greatly benefit from the result.