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Friday, November 6, 2009

Toll roads, train terminal deals, and MARTA's clean bill of health

So there was an election this week in which an estimated 24 percent of registered voters participated. Pretty depressing.

But there was also a ton of transit and transportation news we couldn't get around to covering. Thus, we present it here. Catch up time!

On Monday, the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts issued MARTA a clean bill of financial health. State auditors said the controversial (and complicated) leaseback transaction deals MARTA struck with AIG actually earned the transit agency $15 million. (Atlanta Unfiltered's Jim Walls has a link to the audit.)

Later that day, longtime business columnist and smart growth champion Maria Saporta  told state Rep. Jill Chambers, R-Dunwoody, to stop making MARTA "jump through time-consuming hoops on her witch hunt for evil and wrongdoing." Chambers, who's never shied from criticizing the transit agency, chairs the state's MARTA oversight committee and requested the audit last spring. She responded to Saporta in the post's comments.

On Tuesday, the AJC reported that the Georgia Department of Transportation was eying the paper's soon-to-be-vacant headquarters on Marietta Street as part of a long-planned downtown train terminal. (The paper's moving to Dunwoody next year.) But the AJC says the building's not for sale. Then the article containing that information disappears from the Internet. Maybe Cox, the AJC's parent company, reconsidered?

The AJC's Ariel Hart wrote a thorough rundown of GDOT's proposed public-private toll roads. If built, motorists could see paid lanes on I-75/575, I-285 and Ga. 400. GDOT Boardmember Dana Lemon was irked that her south metro Atlanta district didn't include any projects. We say don't fight it, Ms. Lemon. Let the north metro counties enjoy their toll roads and the headaches they bring. If these projects shake out like some other state's, their contracts could stipulate no "nearby transportation improvements." That means any fix — i.e. transit, adjacent intersection or state route improvements, etc. — that could steal motorists customers from the Lexus Lanes. It's fine-print minutiae, but it could come back to bite Georgia in the end. Push for transit instead.

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