Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Who's running Georgia's transportation policy
by Lyle Harris
Georgia Online News Service

We've had enough.

Georgians are officially sick and tired of being sick and tired about ever-lengthening commutes that continue to waste our precious time, money and gas.

Our Job-like patience has all but expired after waiting for years on promised road improvements that are desperately needed but never seem to get off the drawing board.

And although it's irrefutably obvious that merely building more roads is no panacea for the worsening traffic problems in metro Atlanta and other urban areas, we're still woefully lacking in commuter and high-speed rail lines for those of us who want to choose not to drive a car or hop on a plane to get where we're going.

All of which begs the maddening question, who's running transportation policy in this state anyway? Maybe, just maybe, we'll soon have an answer.

After being asleep at the switch on transportation issues for most of his time in office, Governor Sonny Perdue seems to have been jolted awake by the near-deafening chorus of Georgians who are no longer amused by bureaucratic delays and boneheaded excuses from their public officials.

Even before the 2009 legislative session got underway this month, Perdue was promising decisive action on transportation issues as early as last summer, perhaps realizing that if he wanted to someday have a gubernatorial legacy to brag about beyond his beloved "Go Fish, Georgia" program for anglers, he better get busy making his mark on more substantive matters.

Building a comprehensive transportation network that significantly improves mobility was never going to be easy or cheap, of course, even when our state coffers were relatively flush. But as the national economy continues its dizzying, downward spiral and the state budget is showing a staggering $2 billion deficit, the degree of difficulty in identifying "new" revenues (i.e. taxes, tolls and/or user fees) to finance our transportation needs has risen by several truly frightening notches.

Granted, the newly-minted Obama administration may eventually come through with millions of dollars in stimulus money to defray the costs of transportation-related infrastructure, including "shovel-ready" projects that could spur new job creation while also helping to move goods, services and people around Georgia more efficiently.

It's true that the federal government has a pivotal role to play in helping foot the bill for transportation improvements in our state. But it's up to us to decide whether we're going to swallow hard and start demanding fixes from those whom we've elected or keep allowing them to fester.

Which brings us back to Perdue. To demonstrate his relatively newfound interest in addressing our chronic transportation problems, Perdue commissioned a $2.5 million study to figure out what all that ails us and devise innovative solutions. The study led to yet another transportation acronym that's being touted as the latest be-all and end all: "Investing in Tomorrow's Transportation Today, or IT3, for short.

The Perdue administration is claiming that the study and the ambitious plan it has spawned will, among other things, address so-called "governance issues." For those playing along at home, that's classic Perdue-speak that means he's never quite figured out how to wrangle the confounding hodgepodge of transportation agencies into a cohesive, collaborative whole.

What Perdue reportedly has in mind is a singular, uber-agency to ride herd over all the players including the Georgia Department of Transportation, the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, the State Road and Toll Authority, the Atlanta Regional Commission and, of course, everybody's favorite whipping boy, MARTA.

This as of-yet-unnamed super-bureaucracy would have an equal number of its members hand-picked by the Governor, the lieutenant governor, and the speaker of the House, respectively. (Never mind that the three men who currently hold those posts — Perdue, Speaker Glenn Richardson and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, Republicans all — are fierce political rivals who have engaged in some nasty public smackdowns.)

Not to be outdone, several key state lawmakers are also busy pushing legislation aimed at getting Georgia out of the transportation ditch that many of them, and their legislative forebears, have gotten us into.

Specifically, two bills already introduced in the Senate, and another proposal expected to be filed in the House this week, warrant close scrutiny. The House measure could eventually lead to a statewide sales tax for transportation; the two Senate bills would allow contiguous counties to tax themselves to jointly pay for projects that could include mass transit, light rail and other alternatives, as well as more conventional roads and bridges.

At this point, it's unclear whether any of the ideas that Perdue or state lawmakers are cooking up during this session will work. If recent history is any indication, the prospects aren't exactly promising.

But for Georgians who are understandably frustrated by the damnable lack of progress and chronic leadership gap on transportation issues, the recent rumblings from the Governor's office and both legislative chambers offer the faintest glimmer of hope that this year just might be different.

Lyle Harris is a former member of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial board.   [full bio]


Editor's note: Hello, Georgia. Lousy weather today, and if you're in the transportation business, the storm clouds are really dark. But Georgia's top-rated journalist on transportation issues, Lyle Harris, tells us that there's a small sliver of silver lining in the transportation thunderheads. Meanwhile, a Georgia town that's a lot like Mayberry Senoia in Coweta County has become the darling of Hollywood movie makers, according to Georgia Online News Service's man-about-the-state, Bill Osinski. Finally, for a special treat, GONSO introduces as a regular columnist Ralph Reed. He has a bit of advice to bitter partisans on both sides of the political fence: "Our civic life need not resemble an episode of 'The Three Stooges.' We can do better."

Do you have questions, suggestions, praise or rants for the Georgia Online News Service? Email me at john.sugg@georgiaonlinenews.org or call at 800-891-3459.

John F. Sugg, Executive Editor


Today's GONSO

Who's running Georgia's transportation policy

by Lyle Harris
We've had enough.

Georgians are officially sick and tired of being sick and tired about ever-lengthening commutes that continue to waste our precious time, money and gas.

Our Job-like patience has all but expired after waiting for years on promised road improvements that are desperately needed but never seem to get off the drawing board.

Full Story

Georgia's version of Mayberry becomes Hollywood's new darling

by Bill Osinski
Life is just a scene, when you live in Senoia.

This Coweta County town isn't just trying to become known as the movie-making capital of Georgia; it wants to be a town that doubles as a movie set.

The drive to preserve Senoia's turn-of-the-century (19th) look as an attraction for moviemakers is also a means to develop a healthy 21st century local economy.

Full Story

Obama's reach across divide praiseworthy, but not without precedent

by Ralph Reed
Barack Obama's inaugural address Jan. 20 was notable – apart from the usual eloquence and Obamaesque stagecraft – for a clarion call for a new, post-partisan politics. He challenged the nation to embrace a kind of 21st century version of the Era of Good Feelings, which prevailed between 1817 and 1825 after the decline of the Federalist party but prior to the sectional disputes that later arose over the extension of slavery.
Full Story

Tomorrow's Budget
A sure(hell)-fire way to raise state funds? Tax all 7 Deadly Sins
by K. Patrick Jensen
Transportation top concern for business community
by Jeanne Bonner
Lesson for legislators: Don't forget the children
by Pat Willis

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