Break Georgia's roadblock against transit solutions 

For all the talk of traffic meltdown in metro Atlanta, there are positive transportation trends within the city itself. Market forces are attracting the kind of development that doesn't depend exclusively on cars. A walk through Midtown reveals a level of energy, excitement and prosperity that can only exist close to a transit station. Before the first mile of new track is laid on the Beltline, new places to work and play are flowering alongside it. Atlanta is finally on its way to feeling like a big city.

Many suburbs and small towns are eager to join in the sanity that comes from a more balanced transportation system. They recognize that highways are extremely expensive to build and maintain, and become less effective with each new user. They see that transit can adjust relatively easily to increased demand by adding trains or train cars. City dwellers should make common cause with these suburbs and small towns.

In contrast, the state government is unlikely to be a leader on transportation issues anytime soon. A legislative study committee on transportation has spent most of this summer listening to road lobbyists. The highway builders want to increase taxes on the entire state so that funding will be funneled through their favorite agency: the Georgia Department of Transportation. GDOT prefers such projects as widening I-75 to 23 lanes ($4 billion) and building double-decked highway tunnels under the city ($5 billion). If GDOT gets its hands on a statewide tax increase, there's no reason to believe that money would go to expanding mass transit, which is a crucial component of any true plan to solve the metro area's transportation woes.

The good news is that metro Atlanta and other regions of the state can solve many of their problems without state money. But we do need the ability to allow our voters to decide whether to increase local taxes for specific transit projects. A bill proposed by the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce – an alternative to the road lobby's plan for a statewide tax increase – would allow that to happen. Elected officials from each region should be allowed to create the project list rather than unelected GDOT officials at the state level. The principle that voters should have a say in their transportation options seems to have gotten lost in the current funding debate.

If elected officials followed up legislative approval of the chamber's proposal by sending the region's voters a balanced list of projects – not just roads, but also commuter rail, trolleys, trails and buses – voters might break our current gridlock by approving it. If state or regional leaders try to saddle us with road-heavy solutions, you can count on many metro Atlanta citizens and civic groups to oppose them.

We need the state to get out of the way by passing legislation that allows the region and its voters to solve our transportation problems.

Lee Biola is president of Citizens for Progressive Transit, a grassroots organization advocating balanced transportation solutions for metro Atlanta.

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