Next Two Years Could Drive Our Transportation Success for Next Half Century
By David Allman, ULI Atlanta District Council Chair
When I was growing up in the early 1960s, I’d ride my bike to the end of our street off Glenridge Drive and watch with wonder as construction crews bulldozed dirt, building what would soon become I-285. As I saw four lanes of interstate – two lanes in each direction – being poured, I figured that massive amount of new roadway would be enough to meet Atlanta’s transportation needs for my lifetime.
Boy, was I wrong! As we’ve witnessed the unbridled growth of our region the past few decades, we can all agree that our transportation infrastructure has not kept pace with the growth of population.
I was one of many who were disappointed by the failure of the T-SPLOST referendum three years ago that would have raised more than $8 billion for new road and transit investment – yet today I am again optimistic.
While I had hoped for more funding this spring when Gov. Nathan Deal signed House Bill 170 that will raise nearly $1 billion annually for transportation, I believe it was a good bill and that it was all we could realistically expect, given the current political landscape.
In fact, I believe the bill brings us to a pivotal moment at which, if we play our cards right in the next couple of years, we could put into place several big pieces of a regional transportation infrastructure that could serve us well for decades. A few things need to happen that will set the table.
For one, we need to allow Fulton and DeKalb voters to support MARTA’s drive for a half-penny sales tax increase that will support much-needed expansion in the North Fulton, Clifton and I-20 East corridors. And try to find a way to add some dollars from the half-penny for the Atlanta BeltLine. Use this to accelerate completion of its pathways and provide connectivity to MARTA. This would stimulate southside economic development and provide geo-balance for Fulton’s half-penny. Also, some dedicated transit dollars from the state would be good (perhaps form the new tax money that is not restricted to roads and bridges).
Secondly, we need GDOT to prioritize a couple of new public/private partnership projects –an east-west managed lanes/transit connector along I-285 from Cumberland/Galleria to Doraville is one – another could address relief on the Downtown Connector.
We also should let the voters of Gwinnett and Cobb vote on transit or MARTA extensions. There is a growing inevitability that MARTA will be accepted by one or both of these counties. Once one approves, watch the pressure on the other. Let the voters speak!
Counties outside the five core, denser counties (where most of the above projects will occur) were given the flexibility in this past legislative session to levee partial or full penny SPLOSTs, either alone or in conjunction with adjacent counties. So they too can decide what improvements best serve their interests, including possible outer ring east-west connectors.
Crucial for success in all the above is for MARTA, GDOT, the core counties and Atlanta’s BeltLine to tee up collaborative discussions to focus our thinking on the best solutions. The state has done the first part of the necessary heavy lifting by passing HB 170. Now it’s up to all leaders – the core counties, the outlying counties, the cities, the state and the federal government (meaningful extension of the Highway Trust Fund) – to do a lot more work at this important juncture.
I believe if we can corral all of our public-private partnership stakeholders at the table, we can find real solutions in the next two years. Then perhaps my grandchildren will watch with awe as we build a new set of transportation solutions that really will meet our needs for the next 50 years. Let’s seize the opportunity!