With TSPLOST in rearview mirror, it’s time for ‘Plan B’
by Ron Sifen
October 07, 2012 12:24 AM | 3484 views | 8 8 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Georgia Public Policy Foundation has produced an outstanding “Plan B” transportation plan. It was developed by transportation professionals to cost-effectively address our real transportation needs.

One of the major reasons why the TSPLOST failed is because many voters understood that the projects list squandered most of the money on projects that would not improve the flow of traffic in the region, and did not address the region’s real transportation needs. If implemented, Plan B would actually improve mobility throughout the region.

I have been saying for years that rail transit is ill-suited to meeting the needs of a region that is characterized by low population density and widely dispersed employment centers, and that it would provide the worst cost-effectiveness of any transit alternative. GPPF had previously pointed out that Atlanta has the lowest population density of any major city in the world.

In Plan B, GPPF says in addition to having very low density, Atlanta’s commuters are not primarily traveling to one central destination, but from one suburb to suburb. That makes a rail-based network unaffordable, it says.

“We find it very frustrating that the Georgia Public Policy Foundation is often referred to as ‘anti-transit.’ We are not anti-transit, we are ‘anti’ wasting money,” it says. “We believe a rail focus is a lose-lose scenario. Those not politically connected are unable to get rail lines in their neighborhood. The cost prevents the creation of a true interconnected network that fits our commuting patterns. Plus it hurts low-income residents: We’ve seen in many cities that the bus routes the poor depend on are eliminated in order to shore up the operating costs of expensive heavy and light rail lines.”

Plan B effectively demonstrates how terrible the TSPLOST allocation of dollars was. Cobb’s recent transit alternatives analysis study also demonstrates that rail would be extremely cost-ineffective compared to BRT and express bus.

I had previously written about the Regional Transit Action Plan, which was a comprehensive affordable transit network that would have cost a tiny fraction of what a few new rail lines were going to cost in the TSPLOST. GPPF’s Plan B is recommending a plan that is very similar to the RTAP. The 10-year price tag to implement and operate and maintain the entire comprehensive transit network is about $650 million. The TSPLOST would have spent 500 percent more (more than $3 billion) to provide worse transit service to far fewer people throughout the region.

Some people ask why everyone should invest in transit if only 5 percent use transit. Transit that is designed to meet the transportation needs of the region helps everybody, including those who don’t actually ride the transit themselves. If transit provides good connectivity, it can help more people to get to jobs and also result in less traffic on our roads. Those who drive benefit from less traffic congestion and better traffic flow.

A less aggressive timetable for completing the transit in Plan B might reduce the cost over the next few years. But overall, Plan B’s transit component is the right plan for the region.

Transit captures only a little more than 10 percent of Plan B’s dollars (as opposed to 52 percent of the TSPLOST boondoggles list).

Plan B allocates a lot of its money for fixing dysfunctional interchanges and adding managed lanes, which is by far the most cost-effective way for the region to add capacity today. If the tolls apply only to new lanes, then if you continue to drive in the existing free lanes, you won’t have to pay the tolls, and when others pay the toll, you benefit by having less traffic in the free lanes.

Plan B recognizes that a growing region has more people driving more cars. We do need some increased capacity and we need to improve the performance of the infrastructure that we already have.

Perhaps the most impressive and cost-effective component of Plan B is its focus on utilizing technology to improve how our existing infrastructure performs. Plan B has an impressive array of cost-effective technology recommendations, including better synchronization of traffic lights, and numerous other items.

The financial portion of Plan B may need to be tweaked. Many people will like the fact that Plan B relies on a reallocation of $5 billion of tax dollars, rather than new taxes. However, it may be difficult for the Legislature to reallocate this much money annually within three years. In addition, GPPF’s analysis may be correct in its comparisons of transportation infrastructure and education infrastructure, but it may be politically difficult to transfer money from education to transportation.

I agree with GPPF that the state should allow SPLOSTs with fractional pennies. For a Plan B that does a great job of meeting our transportation needs, I would not object to a new half cent sales tax. You can get more information about Plan B at gppf.org.

The State Legislature needs to address the failure of the TSPLOST. GPPF has provided an outstanding Plan B.

Ron Sifen of Vinings is president of the Cobb County Civic Coalition. His views do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCCC.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
we need REAL transit
October 29, 2012
This plan sounds no different than the T SPLOST. Just big figures on how they are going to save money with no details. On top of that they are going to suggest BRT over rail? First, who is going to ride a bus all the way from the burbs into the city that stops at multiple stations? All while still having to deal with the same traffic they are trying to get away from? The argument is that Atlanta isn't dense enough so instead of rail, which will ultimately promote denser development we are going to support a slower bus system that will continue the development paths we have take for decades. I'd much rather drive and park at a rail station than to drive to a bus station. HRT and even LRT can carry far more people at a faster speed than BRT. Now I'll agree for SOME services BRT is better but not for bringing folks down your main arteries into the city. Coming down from Marietta to Midtown, we need rail not a bus system. Now from Marietta to Sandy Spings a BRT service may be what is needed. We need to stop looking at density as the only factor because the current MARTA rail does just fine when it comes to ridership. Why? Because the bus system is a feeder for the rail service AND because there is enough of a population to have people park and ride at the stations. What we need to do is expand the rail system we have to add more stations so that we can implement shorter, more direct bus routes with faster frequencies rather than depending on long bus routes. Why doesn't some one do a servey that ask what they would prefer on all those routes that Xpress runs? Would they rather continue taking a bus that only runs during rush our every 20 or 30 minutes or a train that runs every 10 minutes all day and night and doesn't have to fight with traffic?
October 08, 2012
Those who are in leadership and influence positions will not support a Plan B or any other proposed solution, because it is not THEIR idea.

Do you think the personalities of people like Kasim Reed and Tad Leithead are going to allow them to buy into something that is not the spawn of their over stimulated egos?

Do you think they are going to be down with a plan that reveals the incompetence and ill advised collusion that they arrogantly displayed when they tried to shove Plan A down our throats?

Do you think they are going to support a plan that does not fatten the wallets of their cronies in the, development, transportation construction and consulting business and increase their power and political ambitions?

Not very likely!!

They will likely resign themselves to a covert undermining of a Plan B, because an aggressive campaign of opposition would identify them for what they really are.

mk...Plan C...
October 08, 2012
Western Truck Corridor!!!

I know you know your stuff, Ron, but I don't for the life of me understand the silence on how the dredging of the Port of Savannah is going to effect Atlanta's traffic in huge , negative way.

Already,.. the majority of wrecks and whole interstate shutdowns, is from tractor trailer accidents. Get these 18 wheelers off the metro interstate, and immediately, the roads would be safer, less congested and the pavement would last years longer. Atlantas suburbs have grown too much, to not try to make the local interstates better access for LOCAL commuters. Any day of the week, truckers are bumper to bumper around 285, 85 and 75! The trucks would be much more efficient on a route OUTSIDE the largest city in the south.

The Panama Canal is opening new locks to make ease for Chinese tankers. Their destination,...eastern ports,.. Savannah included.

Start in Griffin on 75, take a western route crossing I-20 east of Douglasville, connect back to 75 south of Acworth.

There's alot of undeveloped no mans land in west Fulton, south and west Cobb, and Douglas County.

I know this won't happen. Atlanta will continue to be known for worst traffic and along w/ declining revenues,... corruption grows.

Charlotte, Denver, Austin and Dallas, much more pleasant cities. I hope to escape to one.
plan b
October 07, 2012
To all those who said there would not be a Plan B, this is a Plan B. This may not be perfect either but it is way better than the TSPLOST.
Ed from Mableton
October 07, 2012
Save billions and improve traffic flow? Plan B sounds like the way to go! Nice work, Ron.
October 07, 2012
I don't trust the politicians and I don't trust GDOT. I am not ready to support this Plan B, but Ron has a pretty good track record. I definitely like the technology part. I have to think about the rest of this.
October 07, 2012
"adding managed lanes, which is by far the most cost-effective way for the region to add capacity today".

I don't agree. The managed lanes are a way to use everyone's tax dollars to build traffic lanes for a limited group of people who can afford them.

If we need toll lanes for the rich, then plan to charge enough to buy the right of way, build and maintain the lanes, and pay for the administration of the lanes. Those who benefit should pay for it.

Who Leads ?
October 07, 2012
Sifen alerts us to a really serious Plan B for traffic congestion. It addresses many of the concerns from the TSPLOST vote in a positive and constructive way.

Who is going to provide leadership for this? Will the "Not Invented Here" factor keep Cobb DOT on the sidelines? Will our State officials grab this as a good start and run with it?

Let's get going.
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