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Friday, July 26, 2013

Metro Atlanta transportation: tolls in, knuckleheads out

Wanna escape terrible traffic? Expect to pay.
Don't ask for whom there will be road tolls, Atlanta. There will be road tolls for thee.

At least that's what the bosses of Georgia's transportation agencies, speaking at yesterday's forum at the Metro Atlanta Chamber, are suggesting.

Jane Hayse, director of the Center for Livable Communities at the Atlanta Regional Commission, the agency in charge of coordinating the metro area's cities and counties, said that managed lanes are the "foundation of our long-range plan."

By "managed lanes," she means toll lanes that would cost money for cars carrying a single passenger. Chris Tomlinson, executive director of the State Road and Tollway Authority, Georgia's toll collectors, said that people who have used the nearly two-year-old toll lanes on I-85 "are getting used to the idea" and have seen a benefit.

There aren't many immediate options for a growing metro Atlanta to decrease traffic besides funneling people into car alternatives such as express buses or vanpools.

The state's road-building money comes mostly from a flat tax based on each gallon of gas sold. That's lost its robustness as new, more efficient cars consume less gas to go longer distances. Most of Georgia, including metro Atlanta, voted down T-SPLOST, a 1-cent, 10-year transportation sales tax proposal, last year that would've raised $748 million for statewide transportation projects.

An $840 million "managed lane" project in the northwest suburbs along I-75 and I-575 will soon get underway. It'll result in essentially a reversible lane alongside an estimated 30-mile corridors. The lane will bring paying traffic toward Atlanta in the morning and back home in the afternoon.

At the moment, it seems that North Fulton commuters are the only ones who will get a break: the toll booths on Georgia 400 are expected to come down the week before Thanksgiving this year.

Rail expansions, either MARTA or intercity rail, cost real money, and for that reason are unlikely, unless the GOP-dominated Legislature decides to spend some cash.

But Keith Parker, MARTA's new-ish CEO, told chamber guests that he has numerous forthcoming improvements that the state agency can pay for on its own.

MARTA will re-open some bathrooms and roll out an app that shows real-time bus locations. Fares won't go up this year and probably not next year either. In addition, agency officials are starting a "ride with respect" campaign that will end "uncivil" behavior on MARTA vehicles.

"I had another name for it," said Parker. "It was called the 'no knucklehead behavior campaign.' Our marketing folks said I can't use that."

No word yet on alternative transportation for Atlanta's knuckleheads.

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