As Atlanta Faces Transportation Challenges, Panel Recommends State Transit Funding

Leah Binkovitz | @leahbink | January 3, 2017

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Like Houston, Atlanta-area residents rank traffic and transportation as their biggest concerns. But in Atlanta the problem is compounded by a long, confusing list of transit services and a lack of state funding.

Now, a new set of recommendations from a state senate committee aim to remedy the situation, urging Georgia’s legislature to establish a consistent funding stream for transit and to coordinate services at the state level. Without an actual bill, the recommendations are just suggestions. But the report, released in late December, calls for legislative action in 2018.

The report called for a transportation system “to end traffic congestion as a regular part of life in metropolitan Atlanta and to dramatically increase the mobility of its residents.” The report was released by the Senate Study Committee on Regional Transit Solutions. Lack of coordination and dedicated funding were the two biggest issues identified in the report that help make Atlanta among the most congested cities, according to the committee.

One reporter described the array of options in Atlanta as an “alphabet soup of transit agencies.” The services range from “heavy rail, bus systems and university shuttles, to on-demand services, paratransit and vanpool,” the report continues. While some of those services are coordinated regionally, others, says the report, “are available only on a local level.” Georgia has more counties than any state but Texas, and Atlanta’s metro area alone includes 28 counties.

Though the report offers several specific solutions, including the development of bus-only lanes on highways and expanded rail and bus service across the Atlanta metro area, the recommendations are relatively broad. They also insist “no county or municipality shall be bound to participate in or fund such programs until approved by the voters in a local referendum.”

There’s reason to think many in the area would support such programs. A survey from the Atlanta Regional Commission found that 73.5 percent of Atlanta residents think transit is very important. And more Atlanta-area residents tend to think expanded transit service, as opposed to improved roads and highways, is the best way to address traffic, by a 43 percent to 32 percent percent. Voters approved tax increases to do both in November.

Similarly in Houston, where traffic tops local concerns as well — but people are more divided on whether highways or transit are the best solution — Mayor Sylvester Turner has called for a “paradigm shift” away from highways. Though his transition team recommended the appointment of a “transportation executive” similar to the education and flood czars he’s already appointed, the position was never created. Meanwhile, an ambitious bike plan that was expected to go before city council in the fall is still on hold.

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