By Benita M. Dodd
Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was in town this week, advocating a 10 cent increase in the gas tax to go to Washington to fund transportation, citing crumbling transportation infrastructure and the state of the interstates. He said now that he’s out of office, he can speak more freely.
Of course, transportation solutions run the gamut and, in an ideal world, pedestrian-friendly improvements, bicycle lanes, streetcars and rail would get equal time and everyone would live happily ever after.
But money is tight; prioritization is critical and congestion relief comes first.
Yet LaHood was unaware of the $110 million I-85 demonstration toll lane project his predecessor had announced with great fanfare, or of this month’s presentation to the State Transportation Board on a regional network of high-occupancy toll lanes.
That he knew nothing of the promising congestion-relief option of road pricing in one of the nation’s most gridlocked regions speaks volumes.
Though unpleasant, Atlanta’s traffic congestion reflects a thriving economy. But when even the popular express buses are trapped in gridlock, it’s a disincentive to commuters who would otherwise consider them as an alternative. Buses on the geographic outskirts run almost empty – and that’s public transit that is neither efficient nor cost-effective.
Around the country are examples of efficiency and cost-effectiveness: Denver’s Call-n-Ride service operates small buses and compact vans in low ridership areas; New Orleans contracts out the Lil’ Easy, a flexible route, on-demand neighborhood circulator using 14-seat shuttle buses.
Transportation problems are not solved with environmental solutions, but with transportation solutions. The $10.8 million for MARTA’s solar panels was a TIGGER grant – Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction – for “cutting-edge environmental technologies to help reduce global warming, lessen America’s dependence on oil, and create green jobs,” according to LaHood.
TIGGER’s are wonderful things – but far better for funding fuel-efficient, smaller shuttles than solar panels.Congestion exacerbates pollution. Stop-and-go traffic increases emissions from vehicles. The answer is not solar panels or transit-oriented development, it’s improved traffic flow, which enhances flexible public transit options in this auto-oriented region.
“Going forward, livability will be a watchword of federal transportation policy,” LaHood blogged after his visit. So much for “mobility.”
Benita Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.
I thank you for what you do. For 15 years you’ve been researching and writing on issues that matter. You take on tough questions, you apply innovative thinking, you push for action, and you do it all without regard to politics.