Transportation Deja Vu All Over Again

August 7th, 2014 by 2 Comments
Former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood addresses a joint transportation study committee this week at the Georgia State Capitol.
Former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood addresses a joint transportation study committee this week at the Georgia State Capitol.

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.

He said Georgia, with the world’s busiest airport, has no one to influence Congress’ transportation policymakers. He said that we should send Washington the money,  and maybe they’ll stand up and do the right thing. This he said after the state DOT commissioner, Keith Golden, talked about how undependable the federal government is and how the way the feds are spending is unsustainable.
LaHood lectured legislators to the effect, “The last time I spoke here, I told you need to get your act together.”I remembered his visit sort of differently, so I went back to search for the article I wrote (for the AJC, I think) when I heard him speak in Atlanta,  as Transportation Secretary, that time back in 2009:
As I wrote back then:

He brought pie in the sky: solar panels for the roof of MARTA’s garage and promises that high-speed rail will come “if Georgia gets its act together.”Worse, he brought a way for locals to get hooked on federal funds. Waxing lyrical about Atlanta’s “sustainable” communities, about bicycles, rail, pedestrian improvements and streetcars connecting “livable centers,” LaHood enthused about federal funds going to local governments for “smart growth” approaches.Proponents of these high-density approaches boast about reducing vehicle miles traveled and therefore pollution. Unfortunately, pollution becomes more concentrated; transportation options become costlier; housing diversity and affordability suffer.Local governments become dependent on the federal grants and subsidies and are sucked into federal intrusion and mandates that force behavior and lifestyle changes on residents.

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.

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When I served four terms in the state Senate, one of the few places where you could go to always and get concrete information about real solutions was the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. That hasn’t changed. [The Foundation] is really right up there at the top of the state think tanks, so you should be very proud of the work that they are doing!

Congressman Tom Price more quotes