As metro Atlanta motorists know too well, slow going — however frustrating — beats no going on the overworked roads and expressways that underserve us on the best of days.
That maxim also applies to our transportation systems. For that reason we can celebrate, if somewhat modestly, the recent announcement that the project to unclog one of the region’s critical road junctions is edging closer toward becoming a paid-for deal.
Two pieces of the financing puzzle needed to fund improvements at the intersection of Interstate 285 and Georgia 400 were laid into place late last month. In the post-T-SPLOST vacuum, any progress toward a worthwhile transportation effort is good news indeed.
So it is significant that Gov. Nathan Deal has announced a $10.5 million contribution by the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts toward the cost of this sorely-needed roadwork. The Atlanta Regional Commission also voted recently to allocate $80 million in state bond money that could be applied toward the project.
Both steps show real leadership by the governor, the Perimeter business community and the ARC. Even so, the moves still leave funding for the Ga. 400/I-285 project far short of the estimated $450 million cost.
Coming up with the remaining money to complete what everyone agrees is badly needed work will be a large task for a cash-short region and state still reeling from last year’s defeat of the transportation sales tax referendum in Atlanta and most other parts of Georgia.
Upgrading a vital crossroads of the South such as the 400/I-285 connection is a must. And it is only one of many important projects that have stayed on even the most pared-down of post-recession to-do lists for this region and state.
The needs are many, and the resources few. Yet we must keep Georgia moving and economically competitive. We have to find a way to pay for at least the no-frills work needed to help us catch up with the needs of a still-growing population and industrial sector. A state ranked 49th in transportation investment really has no other option.
We continue to be encouraged by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution research last fall showing 67 percent of metro Atlantans polled would be willing to pay taxes “in support of a well-designed program to reduce traffic congestion in the Atlanta region overall.” The task now before us is to reach widespread agreement on just what “well-designed” looks like. Getting there will require lots of grassroots civic interaction and research. Let’s get on with it.
The grassroots elements that organized to sink the T-SPLOST have shown early signs of coalescing around a broad concept of smaller is better. As in freeing even a single county to find a way to pay for and undertake transportation work. Short-term, perhaps that’s the best this far-flung metropolis of 28 counties can do. Such sub-regions would seem to align nicely with the “keep government local” philosophy popular here.
The challenges of using smaller alliances to achieve mutual goals will lie in how to coordinate such efforts within a broader metro area where many drivers cross at least one political border going to and from work each day. How do many small projects fit into a larger whole? There is also the question of how smaller-scale initiatives compare against the economies of scale that region-wide efforts might achieve in terms of containing costs.
Figuring out the next steps will most likely require legislative action that wasn’t forthcoming in 2013. State Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, introduced a bill this year that would allow smaller-scale tax votes for transportation work. It went nowhere as the Georgia General Assembly ignored pleas to consider post-T-SPLOST options. In that sense, elected officials held true to their stern warnings in the weeks leading up to last July’s fated vote that there was no Plan B. They were right.
But that cannot remain the case. Now it’s up to all of us to start talking about what a cohesive plan looks like that stands a realistic chance of being passed into law and actually making a significant difference in our congestion troubles.