Transportation

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Georgia's Transportation Crossroads

Georgia is in a transportation crisis. Roadway congestion wastes time and energy, tailpipe pollution causes health and environmental problems, and our oil dependence only grows.
 
Expanding public transportation can provide more Georgians with alternatives to driving, while addressing these problems and laying the foundation for an efficient transportation system for the 21st century.
 
Public transportation already helps hundreds of thousands of Georgians get where they need to go. Beyond saving consumers time and money, transit systems take cars off the road, cut air pollution, provide a dependable way to get around or help in a pinch, and jump-start economic growth.    
 
But Georgia’s transit systems, despite their importance, are disjointed, underfunded, and fall far short of their potential. Scores of good transit projects are waiting in the wings, while the problems affecting our transportation system only multiply.
 
Georgia must adopt a new course and develop a vision for transit in the 21st century that will fix the state’s historical shortchanging of transit. By funding and executing key public transportation projects, such as those identified by the Concept 3 and Connect Atlanta plans, we can drive growth and foster healthier communities statewide. In a time of increasingly limited public funds, Georgia must spend its transportation dollars where they have the most impact. For that reason, the state must reshape its transportation planning and funding priorities to address its decades-long underinvestment in transit.
 
Georgia’s car-centered transportation system is leading us to drive more, use more gas, spend more on fuel, lose more time stuck in traffic, and create more global warming pollution than a decade ago. 

  • Georgia residents drove roughly 109 billion miles in 2008, more than 50 percent more miles than they drove in 1990.
  • By 2007, drivers in the state were consuming 19 percent more fuel annually than they did in 1997. The price of gasoline jumped 91 percent over the same period, causing Georgians to increase the money they spent on gasoline by more than $6 billion.
  • Atlanta drivers lost 135 million hours to traffic congestion in 2007, a 49 percent increase from 1997. The wasted time and fuel cost Atlanta $3 billion in 2007.
  • Georgia’s transportation network increased its carbon dioxide pollution by more than 37 percent between 1990 and 2007.

Despite many shortcomings, public transit in Georgia is already paying dividends by saving money, reducing congestion, and cutting global warming pollution.

  • In the Atlanta region alone, public transit saved 88 million gallons of oil in 2006, translating to consumer savings of $230 million at the pump.
  • In 2007, public transportation prevented more than 10.5 million hours of traffic delay in Atlanta and saved the area economy more than $225 million in wasted time and productivity.
  • In 2006, Georgia’s public transit systems together avoided 670,000 metric tons of global warming pollution. This is the equivalent of removing more than 130,000 cars from the road.
  • More Georgians are taking advantage of these benefits. Nearly 9 percent more passengers rode Atlanta’s MARTA system in 2008 than in 2007.

Georgia needs to rethink its transportation system for the future and invest in efficient and clean public transportation. There are many worthwhile transit projects that can meet transportation needs in the state.
 
A 21st century transportation system for Georgia should include (not in order of priority):
 
1) Better Transit in Metro Atlanta

  • Commuter rail service to Athens, Bremen and Macon: Commuter rail service between Atlanta and Macon would connect two growing regional hubs. A Bremen/Douglasville line would expand access to rapidly developing suburbs, and the “Brain Train” from Atlanta to Athens would link an increasingly busy bioscience corridor and thousands of university students and professors with downtown Atlanta – as well as with each other.
  • Light rail service along the Atlanta BeltLine: Ringing the city with a belt of light rail would draw together neighborhoods on Atlanta’s perimeter, focus future development, make transit a viable alternative for trips along the BeltLine by eliminating the need to first travel into downtown, and serve as the backbone for a robust transit system in the future.
  • Improve local transit service and provide better transit connections: Expanding the MARTA system, building new light rail lines and increasing bus rapid transit service can fill gaps in the local transit network while improving connections between transit services, making it easier for passengers to reach a wide range of destinations in the metro Atlanta area.
  • Build a streetcar along Peachtree Street: Clean, electric streetcars can help revitalize downtown districts. On Peachtree Street, a streetcar can help renew the downtown and address growing residential and commercial demand for efficient local transportation, while also bolstering Peachtree’s reputation as Atlanta’s most notable destination street.   

2) Transit Between and Within Other Cities

  • Improve transit in smaller cities: Improved transit in smaller cities and suburbs, using a variety of transit systems such as light rail, bus rapid transit, and express bus services, would give residents local transit options beyond the automobile.  
  • Expand intercity passenger rail service: Regional passenger rail service can connect people and activity centers around the state, linking cities such as Albany, Dalton, Savannah and Valdosta with Macon and Atlanta.   

3) High-speed Rail

  • Build a high-speed “bullet train” network for the Southeast: High-speed rail along federally designated corridors would connect cities like Atlanta, Macon and Savannah with each other and with out-of-state points like Birmingham, Chattanooga, Charlotte, and Greenville, while providing a rapid alternative to travel through congested highways and airports.

To address our transportation crisis, Georgia needs bold vision and a smart plan. The state should:

• Lay out a clear and compelling vision for transit in the 21st century. With a strong vision and commitment to invest in transit as the sensible way forward, Georgia can build an integrated public transportation network to meet transportation needs and solve problems for residents in cities and towns around the state.

• Provide stable funding to make the vision a reality. Georgia uses state budget funds to pay for highway and road projects, but is one of the only states in the country that leaves counties to raise the capital for transit. As a result, transit in Georgia has been underfunded for decades. A bold new vision for transit in Georgia must be paired with dedicated, adequate and sustained funding from regional as well as state-level sources.

• Urge Congress to enact a new federal transportation funding law. The new law should prioritize investing new capital in public transit, fixing existing roads and bridges rather than building more highways, and spending taxpayers’ money more wisely by using federal dollars to invest in high-priority transportation solutions.

• Reform state allocation of federal transportation dollars. Georgia should focus federal money on a statewide list of priority transportation projects, rather than dividing up the majority of the funds among the state’s congressional districts.

• Coordinate with other Southeast states to develop better public transportation infrastructure throughout the region. Collaborating with both local and state decision-makers on a regional high-speed rail system would be an excellent start.

 

Road Work Ahead Holding Government Accountable for Fixing America's Crumbling Roads and Bridges

Over the last 50 years, America has built roads and bridges at a pace and scale that dwarfs most of the rest of the world. We’ve built a national highway network like no other, with more than 45,000 miles of interstate highway and 575,000 highway bridges. 

Now, much of that system is showing its age – and as maintenance needs continue to grow, we are falling farther behind. Across the nation, drivers face more than 90,000 miles of crumbling highways and more than 70,000 structurally deficient bridges. Neglected maintenance of roads and bridges acts as a constant drain on our economy and a scourge on our quality of life. Rough and rutted roads cause accidents, damage vehicles, trigger traffic jams that lead to countless hours of delay, and waste money Americans need for other expenses. On some occasions – such as the 2007 collapse of the I-35 bridge connecting Minneapolis – it can lead to profound tragedy.

Why are America’s roads and bridges in such terrible shape? And who or what is to blame? 

The deterioration of our roads and bridges is no accident. Rather, it is the direct result of countless policy decisions that put other considerations ahead of the pressing need to preserve our investment in the highway system. Political forces often undermine a strong commitment to maintenance: Members of Congress, state legislators and local politicians thrive on ribbon-cuttings. Powerful special interests push for new and bigger highways. Meanwhile, federal and state policies – which should provide strong guidance in the wise use of taxpayer dollars – often fail to achieve the proper balance between building new infrastructure and taking care of what we already have built.

To fix our roads and bridges, America first must fix our transportation policies. To counteract the tendencies to neglect repair and maintenance, we must adopt strong “fix-it first” rules that give priority to maintenance of our existing roads and bridges, set national goals for the condition of our transportation system, and hold state governments accountable for achieving results.

This report describes how America’s roads and bridges are in disrepair, bringing together a wide variety of statistics and sources with state-by-state analysis. It shows how special interest pressure tilts the playing field toward the construction of new and ever-wider highways at the expense of repair and maintenance. U.S. transportation policy fails to properly emphasize highway and bridge maintenance, with federal transportation policies allocating vast amounts of money to the states with little direction and no accountability, and with Congressional earmarks further tilting spending away from maintenance. State transportation funding policies are often similarly short-sighted, focusing on the creation of politically popular new highways rather than maintaining existing roads and bridges.

Spending more money on transportation won’t fix America’s roads and bridges without a top-to-bottom shift in funding priorities and policies. The report’s recommendations include ways to:

· Make highway and bridge maintenance a national priority.

· Reorganize federal highway programs to focus exclusively on either maintenance or new construction.

· Require states receiving federal aid to plan for future maintenance before building new roads.

· Measure performance the right way.

· Reward states for good performance on national objectives.

· Create fix-it-first policies in the states as well

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Greasing The Wheels

In the wake of the Minnesota I-35 bridge collapse there was enormous public outcry and recognition of the need to repair our crumbling infrastructure. Americans expected public officials to respond to the tragedy with a large scale effort to address the nearly 73,000 structurally deficient bridges in this country. The findings in this report suggest that did not happen.
As Congress prepares a new multi-year, multibillion dollar transportation bill, we explored the intersection of money and politics and recent transportation funding decisions.
We analyzed two data sets and new information that shine light on the influence of campaign giving on transportation funding decisions at the state and federal level. First the report examines, on a state-by-state basis, how much money was contributed to both federal and state campaigns by highway interests, defined as those from the development, automobile, transportation, and construction sectors. Then, the report
looks at the number and dollar amounts of transportation earmarks from the 2008 federal transportation appropriations bill that were funded in each state to highlight the priorities of members of Congress.

Key findings:
• In 2008 there were 704 earmarked “member projects,” in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, totaling more than a half a billion dollars in federal-aid highway projects on the annual transportation appropriations bill.
• Members of Congress earmarked funds in the 2008 appropriations bill for just 74 bridge repair projects. Only slightly more than 10 percent of the highway funds allocated for “member projects” in that year’s appropriations bill went to bridge repair or restoration.1
• At the same time, in 2008, highway interests gave over 133 million dollars to candidates for both federal and state office. The findings suggest that elected officials often overlook preventative maintenance projects, especially when new capacity projects are encouraged by campaign contributions.

Recommendations:
We recommend reform of current campaign finance policy in order to ensure that the public interest is protected and that transportation decisions are made based on smart policy rather than politics.
• Congress should move to a voluntary system of publicly financing our elections that is focused on incentivizing small dollar donors and would raise the voices of individuals, keep elections competitive, and reduce the special access and influence of large corporate donors.
• Congress should spend taxpayers' money more wisely by focusing transportation dollars on solving our nation's biggest problems. Federal transportation money should be spent only on projects that produce real results over the long haul - for example, by reducing our dependence on oil, curbing global warming pollution, alleviating congestion, improving safety, and supporting healthy, sustainable communities.

Excluding emergency relief funding that was appropriated for the 1-35W bridge after the collapse.

Private Roads, Public Costs

A growing number of states are considering arrangements in which a private operator provides an up-front payoff or builds a new road in return for decades of escalating toll receipts. The report assesses these deals and identifies a number of problems, including: 

· Private toll roads typically require greater toll hikes to generate the same upfront payment that could be generated without privation.

· Private deals lead to serious loss of public control that hinders future transportation planning and typically force public payments to compensate private companies if policies reduce toll traffic.

· Deals are often conducted with inadequate public disclosure or input.

· States generally lack the capacity to oversee or enforce private road agreements

· Problems are compounded by the fact that contracts typically extend 50-plus years in order to obtain large federal tax subsidies.

The study examines 15 completed private road projects and 79 others that are proposed or underway.

The report, which provides numerous public opinion survey results on private roads, also provides six basic principles for protecting the public from bad road privatization deals.

Report | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

Economic Stimulus or Simply More Misguided Spending?

President-elect Obama has declared that the next recovery plan must do more than just
pump money into the economy. It will also create the infrastructure that America needs
for the 21st century.

This fall, Congress asked states to submit lists of “ready-to-go” transportation
infrastructure projects that could be funded by the stimulus package. Lists from nineteen state departments of transportation (DOTs) show that the broader goals articulated by President-elect Obama will be undermined if Congress, the Administration, and the states do not establish forward-looking rules for spending stimulus funds.

Only about one-third of state DOTs have released to the public the project lists they
submitted to Congress. However, a majority of the nineteen that have come to light are
badly out of touch with the current trends, public priorities and transportation system
needs that underpin the President-elect’s declaration. Most stimulus project lists from
state DOTs prioritize new highways while paying relatively little attention to repairing
crumbling bridges and roads and even less emphasis on forward-looking transportation
options, such as public transit and intercity rail. As a result, they are contrary to
President-elect Obama’s stated intention to use smart spending to reduce America’s
dependence on oil and emissions of global warming pollution.

On average, the nineteen states would spend more than 75 percent of funds on
highways and only 17 percent on public transit or intercity rail. In fact, seven states
would allocate 1 percent or less, including four that would allocate nothing at all. This
would be a step backward from even the grossly inadequate 20 percent share received
by transit in federal transportation laws since the 1970s. It runs counter to Americans’
stated preferences, declining automobile use, and rapidly increasing transit ridership.
Of the fourteen state lists for which adequate data on types of proposed highway
spending were available, states on average would divert the majority of highway funds
for new and expanded roads rather than addressing their backlog of repair and
maintenance projects. More than a third of states would use less than a quarter of road
funds on backlogged repair or maintenance.

To prevent a misspending of recovery funds, Congress the next Administration and state
leaders should apply six principles:

(1) Any road funds should go first to maintenance and repair of structurally deficient
bridges and roads, not new highways or lanes;
(2) The combined total for public transit, intercity rail, and bicycle and pedestrian
projects should be no less than funds for highways;
(3) Public transportation funds should include support for operations so agencies
can accommodate the rising demand.
(4) Surface Transportation Program highway funds should be distributed as under
current law so that a portion of resources flow directly to metropolitan areas that
know best about which local projects are needed;
(5) All states, cities, and agencies should publicly disclose the stimulus lists they
have submitted;
(6) Direct recipients of stimulus funds should report on how money was spent and
any transportation spending that it displaced.
The economic recovery package will present an opportunity to advance widely
recognized, new transportation priorities for the 21st century. It will be up to Congress,
the Obama Administration, and the states to make sure that happens. So far, however,
too many of the states are off to a troubling start.

News Release | Georgia PIRG Education Fund | Transportation

PIRG on National Expert Blog about Transportation Stimulus

President-elect Obama is correct to liken an infrastructure stimulus to Eisenhower’s historic initiative to create the Interstate Highway system. That endeavor set the patterns for America’s car-dominated transportation network and suburban growth throughout the second half of the twentieth century. The coming stimulus similarly presents a tremendous opportunity to advance transportation goals for the twenty-first century.

It is critically important how infrastructure stimulus money gets spent. It is not enough to simply spend money. Nor should Congress assume that more transportation is always better. As many have pointed out, America’s transportation system isn’t just broke; it’s also broken. In fact, transportation contributes to many of America’s most pressing problems. Consider:

  • Each year Americans waste billions of dollars and millions of hours stuck in traffic – a problem that is often made worse by construction of new highways.
  • Our transportation system is also the chief source of our nation’s addition to oil, consuming two our of every three barrels, and leaving our nation vulnerable to volatile prices and hostile foreign regimes.
  • Cars and trucks are the biggest end-user source of global warming pollution. We will not succeed in reducing these emissions unless we allow Americans to reduce the number of miles they drive.
  • Finally, too many transportation projects like Alaska’s infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” have been embarrassing boondoggles that erode confidence in government and divert dollars from more productive uses. 

Clearly, not every infrastructure dollar is equally good for the public interest. As state Departments of Transportation eagerly offer lists of favored projects, how should Congress and the Obama administration decide?

 There needs to be a commitment to spend for results rather than simply to inject dollars. The reason that there is such wide consensus that our national transportation system is dysfunctional is because the current system primarily collects gas taxes from the states and then pumps those dollars back based on outdated formulas forged by political compromises that had nothing to do with achieving national goals. For decades, the federal government has spent billions of dollars on highway projects with little evaluation and no accountability. That must change. Spending is not based on allocating dollars where they will yield the greatest results. There are not even clear goals for what the transportation system should accomplish.

 Thus the next Congress should should spend taxpayers’ money more wisely by focusing transportation dollars on solving our nation’s biggest problems. Federal transportation money should be spent only on projects that produce real results over the long haul – for example, by reducing our dependence on oil, curbing global warming pollution, alleviating congestion, improving safety, and supporting healthy, sustainable communities.

 A rough guide for what that change looks like can likened to the difference between the early Detroit bailout requests and the emerging counter proposals. Rather than simply throw more money toward continuing failure, the emerging consensus seems to be that funds most go toward a fundamental shift in the business model and in the mix of vehicles that get produced. No less substantive change should be demanded from a stimulus package for our dysfunctional transportation system.

As part of ensuring accountability, state DOTs should report on the results of how transportation stimulus money gets spent. That sounds like common sense but it would actually be a major shift from the current system. States should report back on the extent to which the projects funded with stimulus money increased or decreased jobs, energy security, carbon dioxide emissions, vehicle miles traveled. Perhaps the second installment of a two-year package would be allocated according to how well states advance national goals with the first installment.

Other priorities for spending transportation stimulus should also advance the nation toward future goals. Emphasis should be placed on expanding clean, efficient transportation choices for Americans by prioritizing investment of new funds for light rail, commuter rail, rapid bus service, high-speed intercity rail and other forms of modern public transportation. At least as much money should be allocated to these transportation choices as to roads and highways. In doing so, federal policy will encourage transportation investments that build dynamic and accessible communities, where more Americans can walk, bike or take transit to get where they need to go. Meanwhile stimulus money allocated to roads and bridges must prioritize "fixing it first." Investment should go to maintenance and repair of America's crumbling bridges, not massive new highway expansions. 

The United States Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) has signed up growing support for these basic principles from over 100 public officials from state, local, and federal government as well as other civic leaders. 

 

To see a list of the principles and signatories see:http://www.uspirg.org/issues/transportation/more-and-better-transit/transportation-principles-signers

 

To see more about U.S. PIRG’s positions and reports on transportation, see: http://www.uspirg.org/issues/transportation

 

For an in-depth report on America’s transportation challenges and solutions, see:http://www.uspirg.org/uploads/2q/fV/2qfVu2ZrflTk-TnRQEDdDw/A-Better-Way-to-Go-vUSPIRG.pdf

To view this and future blogs by Baxandall and Krieger, go to http://transportation.nationaljournal.com/2008/12/how-should-infrastructure-stimulus-be-spent.php

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