Georgia’s Transportation Crossroads

Why the Peach State Should Invest in Public Transit for the 21st Century

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.  


Georgia PIRG Education Fund