The Livable Communities Coalition

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Tag Archives: Atlanta Regional Roundtable

Anti-transit myth #6: Rail transit only serves cities


Excerpted from Moving Minds: Conservatives and Public Transportation by Paul M. Weyrich and William S. Lind.

Myth 6: Rail transit can only serve city centers, but most new jobs are in the suburbs.

This anti-transit myth is a bit different from the others, because the problem itself is not a myth. The myth is that the problem has no solution.

Downtowns remain important centers of employment in most regions, and even Wendell Cox admits that transit serves downtowns well. But it is also true that much job growth is in the suburbs.

There are solutions, and rail transit has an important role to play in them.

One solution stems from the nature of much suburban job development. It is not always spread out evenly across the map. Rather, it often follows certain corridors – corridors that can be served effectively by rail.

Rail transit can do more than serve corridors where job growth is concentrated. It can also help create such corridors.

A major reason why rail transit has difficulty serving suburban growth in many American cities is that there just isn’t enough of it. A single light rail line can only serve a limited area. But if a rail system is large enough, it serves much more than downtown. Washington’s Metrorail is an example: This five-line, 103-mile system serves not only downtown Washington, D.C., but also such major employment centers as Crystal City; the Pentagon; Rosslyn, Virginia; and Bethesda and Silver Spring, Maryland.

Serving suburban job destinations requires not fewer rail lines, but more.

Regionalism makes a comeback at Oct. 11 roundtable meeting

All 21 members of the RegionalTransportation Roundtable today completed their review of four contentious amendments to their project list, a prerequisite before the 10-county Atlanta region can vote next summer on a penny tax to finance a host of transit and transportation projects.

Today’s meeting addressed last week’s most contentious amendments. As roundtable chairman Bucky Johnson noted near the end of today’s meeting, it is clear many of the roundtable members used the weekend to drive resolution on the amendments that threatened to weaken the final project list.

Norcross Mayor and roundtable chairman Bucky Johnson thanks the 21-member roundtable for its hard work over the last several days, which helped end Tuesday's meeting on a positive note.

“I appreciate folks for working diligently since our last meeting to try to deal with this,” Johnson said. “Let me thank you on behalf of all the citizens and all the roundtable for what you did to get us over this hump.”

Key among the contested amendments was a proposal to siphon money from MARTA’s funding to bankroll continuing service of several key GRTA Xpress bus routes. Today, the board approved its original 10-year $95 million allocation for GRTA, stipulating that the money be used primarily for operations, with some for capital spending. An accompanying resolution suggested that the state should provide capital funding to fill the equipment gap over the next decade.

An amendment to provide funding to study the potential of a commuter rail line in Rockland County was withdrawn, as was an amendment accompanying the request for greater GRTA financing. Another amendment — to fully fund a MARTA light rail line along I-20 — failed to get a second to bring the issue to a vote.

The issues, which seemed so contentious last week, were resolved in a series of meetings between Roundtable members determined to build a consensus around the project list. The list will go before the roundtable Thursday at 9 am at the Loudermilk Center in downtown Atlanta for a final vote before being delivered to the state by Oct. 15. The issue is scheduled to go before voters July 31.

Douglas County Commission Chairman Tom Worthan.

“It shows what counties and cities sitting down together and working together, listening to each other,” Douglas County Commission Chairman Tom Worthan added. “It shows what we can accomplish.”

Fair Share for Transit releases white paper to address GRTA question

Opportunities for Funding GRTA: Some Options and Alternatives: A Paper prepared by the Fair Share for Transit Initiative

October 11, 2011

Introduction

From the outset, the Livable Communities Coalition and the Fair Share for Transit Initiative have supported funding for GRTA Xpress bus service through the TIA as one element in a comprehensive strategy to expand the availability of transit  in the region.  We believe GRTA is a key part of the region’s transit delivery system and should expand, not contract, in the future.

However, recent events serve to divide rather than unite transit advocates around the issue of how to best fund GRTA over the next ten years.  TIA Amendments 9 and 10 propose to identify additional GRTA funding based on reductions to the proposed TIA funding amounts for MARTA (Amendment #9), Clifton Corridor, Beltline and/or Cobb County Transit line (Amendment #10). Given how thinly funded these proposed new systems or system enhancements already are, it is inevitable that transit supporters would not want to use these sources to meet all of GRTA’s remaining needs.

Further, it is also important to consider the relative TIA funding levels in the context of the transit service provided.  In 2009, MARTA averaged 504,420 weekday trips whereas GRTA had 7,337.[1] The current draft project list would allocate $600 million in funds to
MARTA and $95 million in funds to GRTA.  In other words, MARTA provides 68 times the trips that GRTA currently does, but would receive through TIA only six times the amount of funding. Based on these metrics, GRTA is being very well funded through TIA relative to MARTA, although we would argue that both systems should be funded at higher levels.

In this context, this paper offers some practical suggestions for how to provide funding for GRTA without unnecessarily weakening other transit projects and providers.

How much funding does GRTA need?

As a threshold matter, we should have a clear understanding of what GRTA’s funding needs are.   In this regard, the targeted funding mount for GRTA has evolved throughout the TIA process.  As the table below shows, both the staff funding recommendation and the current amendments would result in funds in excess of the amount initially requested.

TIA-AR-041

 

%
of Initial Funding Request
Initial  Funding Request $180,000,000
Funding
Recommended In Staff July 7, 2011 List
$200,000,000 111%
Funding
in Draft List
$95,000,000 53%
Funding
in Amendment 9
$34,400,000
Funding
in Amendment 10
$80,000,000
Draft
Funding Amount  Plus Amendments 9 and
10
$209,000,000 116%

Given that GRTA is already proposed to receive $95 million form the TIA, it appears to need somewhere between $85 million and $105 million in additional dollars to bring it to the funding level originally requested through TIA  or later modified by staff.

Should (will) the state fund GRTA?

It has been asserted that TIA funding is necessary because the State is not expected to fund GRTA  during the TIA period.   However,
GRTA has historically received some level of state funding, as indicated in the chart below.

 Funding
(Capital + operations)

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

Fare Revenue

$7,060,620

$3,908,970

$2,785,279

$3,907,212

$2,513,196

$1,586,757

$3,721,792

$25,483,826

Local Funds

$5,095,892

$4,474,474

$1,175,714

$4,259,186

$3,856,733

$9,103,268

$564,146

$28,529,413

State Funds

$6,315,869

$1,454,728

$4,046,507

$13,817,795

$1,074,382

$374,781

$1,782,476

$28,866,538

Federal Funds

$15,721,315

$7,826,820

$10,102,894

$16,724,317

$3,863,065

$24,326,823

$4,796,372

$83,361,606

Other

$0

$0

$0

$0

$78,213

$0

$0

$78,213

Between 2003 and 2009, GRTA received an average of $4.123 million in state funding per year.  Extrapolated over 10 years, this same level of funding would yield $41.23 million in state support for the TIA period.  This would represent somewhere between 39 and
48 percent of the gap funding GRTA is seeking.

Consistent with this historical data, the project description for TIA-AR-041 contemplates state funding for GRTA during the relevant years:

“The proposed level of funding ($95 million) will maintain current levels of service and the existing route structure for approximately five years, although it is anticipated that the state will also contribute funding to keep the system operational beyond
that timeframe
.”[2]

Moreover, Atlanta’s regional transportation plan, Plan 2040, also contemplates State funding on an ongoing basis throughout the TIA period.

TIP
Entry Number

Project
Description

State
Funding Amount

AR-280-2012 GRTA XPRESS BUS SYSTEM OPERATING ASSISTANCE – FY 2012 6,000,000
AR-280-2013 GRTA XPRESS BUS SYSTEM OPERATING ASSISTANCE – FY 2013 10,000,000
AR-280-2014 GRTA XPRESS BUS SYSTEM OPERATING ASSISTANCE – FY 2014 12,000,000
AR-280-2015 GRTA XPRESS BUS SYSTEM OPERATING ASSISTANCE – FY 2015 12,000,000
AR-280-2016 GRTA XPRESS BUS SYSTEM OPERATING ASSISTANCE – FY 2016 12,000,000
AR-280-2017 GRTA XPRESS BUS SYSTEM OPERATING ASSISTANCE – FY 2017 12,000,000
64,000,000

This plan was approved by the ARC board, comprised of the same elected officials now considering the TIA.  This six year funding projection, if extrapolated over ten years, would entirely meet the funding GRTA is seeking.

Everyone is aware of the uncertainties associated with future state funding for GRTA.  However, with the high probability of legislative consideration in 2012 of a larger role for GRTA in regional transportation governance and oversight, it is almost certain that funding issues will also be on the table for discussion.

What other sources of funding might be tapped for GRTA?

In addition to state funding, there are other ways GRTA could potentially raise additional revenues to meet its projected needs.  These include:

  • Fare increases.  GRTA could raise fares as a means to raise additional revenues. Although fares were raised in 2010, that was the first fare change in seven years.  It would be reasonable to consider raising fares again in the ten year TIA window. GRTA could also explore shifting from the zoned fare system currently in place to a true distance based fare system.  The graph below is a simplistic illustration of the revenue that could potentially be raised.

Annual Unlinked Trips (2009)

1,839,802
Fare Increase $0.50 $1.00
One Year revenue $0.9 million $1.8 million
Ten Year Revenue $9 million

$18 million

  • Local TIA set-aside.  Fifteen percent of the TIA revenue would be distributed among the local jurisdictions for local projects. If counties allocated just 1% of these local funds to support GRTA, it would raise $10.8 million over the ten years.
  • Flexible funding.  GDOT or ARC could program Surface Transportation Funds to cover GRTA capital costs.  STP funds allocated through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act were used in this manner to offset MARTA expenses in 2008/2009 and this provides the template for how these funds can be “flexed” to cover the capital needs of transit providers.  Other regions and states have been aggressive and creative in their ongoing use of “flexing” strategies to fund needed
    transit in association with related road improvements.
  • Elimination of duplicative services.  Amendment #9 identifies examples where money might be saved by eliminating parallel or duplicate routes.  The Roundtable should also consider where funding for other projects – such as the proposed I-20 highcapacity bus service – eliminates the need for GRTA Xpress service along certain routes, thereby reducing GRTA’s overall funding need or allowing it to shift service to other underserved areas.
  • Toll Revenue. Excess toll revenue from the I-85 HOT lane project has been dedicated to fund transit service in that corridor. Similar agreements could be arrange for toll revenue from other HOT lane projects or GA 400.
  • Counties and CIDs.  Counties outside the current MARTAservice area like Cobb and Gwinnett have been leaders in implementing their own bus services.  All counties to be served by GRTA should be expected to contribute some local funds to ensure is maintained at, or even increased to, desired levels.
  •  Concessions and Advertising. GRTA can generate revenue by selling advertising space on the side of the buses and by entering concession agreements for the park and ride facilities.

Certain of these ideas may have more practical merit and implementation potential than others.  The point, however, is taken together they can generate meaningful revenue for GRTA and help it meet its legitimate needs without weakening other complementary transit projects and providers.

Conclusion

Through the actions of the Regional Roundtable to date, the GRTA funding gap has been substantially closed, and GRTA should be able to operate at existing levels for five years or more at current proposed funding levels. At the same time, the successful pursuit of the funding alternatives described above could not only generate the additional revenues that GRTA is seeking through TIA, but raise millions of dollars beyond that to fund further expansions of the system.

It is clear that GRTA will be an important part of the Atlanta region’s future transportation system.  It is in the interests of all transit
advocates and supporters to help identify ways to fund GRTA in an fair, equitable, and adequate fashion, and to support public leaders who pursue such actions.


[1]
FTA National Transit Database Agency Profiles, 2009 data.

Christman delivers comments to roundtable

Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman reminds the roundtable that TIA funds represent only a portion of expected spending on transportation over the next 10 years.

Raymond Christman – Comments to the Atlanta Regional Roundtable, Oct. 6, 2011

Good morning and thank you for this opportunity to make comments on behalf of the Fair Share for Transit Coalition.

As I stated at last week’s meeting, we believe that the Roundtable has done a tremendous job in developing a strong, diverse and well-balance draft project list.  Now we are in the final stages of considering amendments to that list and, understandably, emotions run high as the final opportunity comes about to secure funding for a particular project.

Given the introduction of some nine amendments, we believe, as I’m sure others do, that we have the responsibility to our supporters to make comments and provide input.  Our specific comments are provided in the letter that I sent to you on Tuesday, a copy of which is being distributed today.

There is no need for me to reiterate any of this in my public comments today, but I would like to draw your attention to several core issues which we believe are important for you to consider as you act today:

  1. First, we believe that a number of these amendments, as written, serve to divide rather than unite all of us in support of better transportation for the region. Take Amendment 10, for example.  Do we support more funding to expand GRTA Xpress bus service in the region?  Of course. But do we support achieving that by reducing funding for the Atlanta Beltline, the Clifton Corridor, and the Northwest Corridor.  No, we do not believe that is the way to accomplish that goal.  The same comment could be made of many of the other amendments;
  1. Second, we urge you to keep in mind the total financial requirements — both operating and capital — for these large-scale transit projects.  We urge you not to unduly shave dollars from these projects at the 11th hour to fund other needs, thereby weakening the region’s ability to deliver these projects as proposed;
  1. And, third, please also continue to keep in mind that TIA represents just a portion – a significant portion, but still just a portion — of the total transportation spend for the region over the next ten years.  As Jane Hayse reported to you last week, the region is projected to have $18 billion to spend on transportation over ten years, including the $6.14 the Roundtable is acting on today.  In this context, if faced with a difficult choice between two worthy projects, we again urge you to particularly support the ones that can be funded no other way than through TIA, and allow other local, state, federal funding sources cover some or all of the costs of others.

Thank you for this opportunity to make these comments, and thank you again for your service to the region.

Fair Share for Transit responds to proposed amendments

Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman

A message from Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman:

October 4, 2011

To members of the Metro Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable:

The purpose of this letter is to share with you on behalf of the 86 member organizations of the Fair Share for Transit Initiative our comments on the amendments to the project list that were submitted to the Regional Roundtable.  We appreciate the open and transparent process maintained by the Roundtable, and the opportunity to provide input.

Our comments are as follows:

  1. Amendments 03 – Parker Road and Northwest Transit –  We oppose this proposed reallocation of $5 million in much needed funding for the Northwest Transit project to support a local road improvement in Rockdale County.
  2. Amendment 04 – Sigman Road and Northwest Corridor Transit — We oppose this proposed reallocation of $10 million of much needed funding for the Northwest Corridor transit project to support a local road project in Rockdale County.
  3. Amendment 05 – Northwest Corridor and Multiple Cobb Projects — We would strongly prefer to see the proposed funding for light rail development (Project No. TIA-CO-035) in Cobb County remain at its originally proposed level, but we also recognize the county’s leadership is attempting to balance competing priorities. And we recognize that while the amendment will shift $271 million from the light rail project, it will also invest $110 million in providing additional much needed Cobb County Transit Xpress Bus Service in the underserved northwest portion of the county.  Further, while we understand that there are good reasons to believe that this light rail project will successfully compete for future federal funding that will allow it to be built as planned, the absence of full local funding for this project creates uncertainties and risks.
  4. Amendment 06 – Commuter Rail and Multiple Clayton Projects  —    We support the proposal to direct  $20 million of  funding in Clayton County for planning and engineering work associated with the Griffin commuter rail line (Project No. TIA-CL-002).  Clayton officials have consistently been focused on the need to develop the Griffin commuter line to facilitate easier access to its neighbors. Such connectivity is essential if the region is to prosper as a whole.  While this funding is clearly inadequate to fully build out this project, it provides valuable seed capital that can help this project continue to move forward as it seeks other funding support.
  5. Amendment 07 – I-20 East Transit and SR 400 — We strongly support the proposal to shift funding from State Route 400 projects (TIA-AR-030 and TIA-FN-014)) to develop MARTA’s rail service east along I-20 (TIA-M-023).The SR 400 projects, while very important,  have access to other funding sources,  unlike transit projects like I-20 East.  Furthermore, the I-20 rail extension has been a top regional priority for years.
  6. Amendments 09 – Douglas, Xpress, and other Regional Projects– We are strongly opposed to this amendment, which is both confusing and counter-productive for good regional transportation policy.  First, this amendment would reduce funding for much needed MARTA state-of-good-repair support by $34.5 million, and reallocate this funding to the existing GRTA Xpress bus system.  Second, this proposal appears to attempt to shift (funding) responsibility for specific existing GRTA routes from GRTA to CCT, GCT, and MARTA.,
    • Our opposition to these amendments are in no way related to lack of support for GRTA Xpress bus service.  This service is essential for the region and needs to expand, not contract.  But the region should not be weakening one set of transit projects or providers to help another.  Further, GRTA, as a state-created agency, should be supported by state funding, not local taxes.  The purpose of the TIA was not to help state government transfer its transportation funding responsibilities to local governments in the region.  As a matter of good public policy, the state should meet its funding obligations to GRTA and allow scarce TIA funds to be used to support other worthy projects.
    • Further, the shifting of funding responsibility for certain GRTA routes from GRTA to other transit providers seems to us to be the kind of governance and system integration issue that should not be decided through Regional Roundtable financial horse-trading, but in another forum where the best regional transit service delivery decisions can be made.
  7. Amendment 10 – Xpress and other Regional Projects – We are also strongly opposed to this proposal, which would significantly diminish funding to the three key proposed rail projects:  the Atlanta Beltline Streetcar circulator, the Northwest Corridor transit line, and the Clifton Corridor project.  Each of these projects has seen their funding cut through previous Roundtable deliberations (and the Northwest Corridor funding would be significantly reduced as well by Amendment 05, to be considered by this Roundtable).
    • Again, our motivation is in no way directed by opposition to GRTA Xpress bus service.  But robbing one set of transit projects to support another transit service solves no larger regional problem nor ultimately expands regional transit service.

We have no comments with respect to Amendments 08 and 11.

We all share the belief that a robust transportation system is required if Atlanta wants to remain the economic capital of the Southeast, and we applaud the roundtable in recognizing the importance of significantly expanding public transit to enable the region to move toward a 21st century system.

Transit investment remains a crucial element in attracting and developing new business. For each dollar invested, transit projects return $8 in economic benefits.

In addition, expanding transit options provides much-needed congestion relief and better air quality, improving the lives of countless residents and assuring a seamless internal transportation system for commerce.  Fifty-seven percent of respondents to a recent AJC poll said that the current proposed breakdown in the draft project list of 55 percent transit vs. 45 percent for roads was a good balance, and Fifty-one percent of metro voters would support the referendum, with its current project mix, if it were held today.

We are confident that the full Roundtable will approve a final project list that is strong, diverse, and well balanced.  We appreciate the opportunity to provide these comments.

Sincerely,

Raymond Christman
Executive Director
Livable Communities Coalition

Roundtable’s road show stops in Henry County

Henry County Commission Chairwoman B.J. Mathis welcomes the crowd at Tuesday's roundtable public meeting.

MCDONOUGH – Unlike the town halls recently held in Cobb County by Cobb’s conservative legislative delegation, Tuesday’s official public meeting in Henry County was far less dramatic. Public comments indicated support for a good project list that leads to a positive vote in next year’s referendum.

Henry County’s Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable members, Locust Grove Mayor Lorene Lindsey and County Commission Chairwoman B.J. Mathis, welcomed Henry County residents and business owners to learn the details of the draft project list approved Aug. 15 by the roundtable’s executive committee.

“The purpose of the meeting tonight is to answer your questions and to have input from you on your thoughts regarding the list,” Henry County Commission Chairwoman B.J. Mathis said. “Tonight is just simply information that we need to receive back from you, and we’re on a very short timetable.”

The full 21-member roundtable must approve a final project list by Oct. 15.

Not much has changed for Henry County since the executive committee’s vote. South metro business interests continue to push the roundtable to include the Griffin commuter rail line on the final list.

According to Henry County Chamber of Commerce president Kay Pippin, Georgia can no longer afford to perpetuate the existence of two Georgias, the Georgia that exists north of Interstate 20 and the Georgia that spills past Macon into south Georgia.

“Cities south of Atlanta are perishing,” Pippin noted. “This is a chance to connect the two Georgias, to possibly connect Macon, McDonough, Hampton, Griffin – struggling places – and on to Savannah.”

While north metro Atlanta quibbles over the best ways to relieve congestion, south metro Atlanta worries about the economic consequences of a divided region that could threaten passage of a 1-cent sales tax in next year’s referendum. Transit –specifically commuter rail – seems key to Henry County’s economic interests.

Georgians for Passenger Rail chief executive officer Gordon Kenna directs his comments to the panel, urging the roundtable to reconsider the proposed Griffin commuter rail line.

Georgians for Passenger Rail chief executive officer Gordon Kenna still hopes his organization can build a case for the project. Kenna reminded the roundtable that other regions in the state have committed to the commuter rail line, even though metro Atlanta has thus far failed to do so.

“My question is: Does it matter to Atlanta that an adjacent region has invested in this line but can’t do so, if Atlanta does not pursue the developmental line?”

The roundtable has thus far collected input from more than 200,000 metro Atlanta residents over the course of the last 6 months in an unprecedented effort to get citizen input for a final project list that will shape the region’s transportation future.

And, according to Norcross Mayor and roundtable chairman Bucky Johnson, the 12 public meetings present an opportunity for the roundtable “to hear from our neighbors one more time and make sure we’re putting list on the ballot that voters can support.”

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