Proposed transit line neither ‘seamless’ nor cheap

By Ron Sifen

Recently, Tad Leithead, chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission and chairman of the Cumberland Community Improvement District, had a column in the Atlanta newspaper supporting the TSPLOST. His main point was that the Atlanta region needs transit to promote economic development. He also glorified a transit “plan” called Concept 3. Not much on alleviating traffic congestion.

Most of the TSPLOST money is being allocated to economic development projects that will do little or nothing to alleviate traffic congestion.

Mr. Leithead said, “As the Atlanta region grows … residents will expect a seamless transit system that efficiently delivers them to work or other destinations. A myriad of separate systems do not promise what is needed for our future.”

Apparently, Mr. Leithead is defining “seamless” as meaning that we need to consolidate all of the region’s transit operating systems into one.

“Seamless” is supposed to mean that transit allows a person to travel efficiently from the Point A of the rider’s choice, to the Point B of the rider’s choice. “Efficiently” means the most time-effective route with the fewest possible changes of vehicles.

Concept 3 fails to put together a realistic, cost-effective, transit network focused only on “seamless” connectivity along potential high-ridership routes. Concept 3 is a bunch of politicians’ pet projects, using numerous different modes of transportation. Concept 3 is a blueprint for non-seamlessness.

Regardless of whether there is a unified regional transit operator, if a potential transit rider has to ride 3 different transit vehicles just to travel from Douglasville to Perimeter Center, then the transit is not “seamless.“

Light rail is incredibly expensive to build, and typically costs about $2 million per mile per year to operate. The region is proposing a light rail line into Cobb, which would connect to heavy rail at the Arts Center MARTA station (change of vehicles). Various transit will intersect the light rail line, but none of the intersecting transit is likely to be light rail (change of vehicles). The region cannot come up with a fraction of enough money to build a regional light rail network.

By definition, a few scattered unconnected light rail lines are not going to lead to a “seamless” transit system. And it is not financially realistic. And it is not cost-effective.

The only point on which I would agree with Mr. Leithead is that if the Atlanta region is going to implement a regional transit system, it needs to be seamless. However, I would add that it also needs to be financially realistic, and should not have huge operating costs that will burden taxpayers with even more large future tax increases.

In another recent Atlanta newspaper column, transportation professional, Wendell Cox points out that “Transit, on average, takes 70 percent longer than commuting by car … and the roundtable plan will not change that.” And as I have previously pointed out, if you extrapolate travel times from the Northwest Connectivity Study to evaluate the proposed Cobb light rail line, total door-to-door travel times for a typical north Cobb commuter would more than double. This will not help to alleviate traffic congestion, because commuters who currently drive will continue to drive, rather than endure unacceptably long trip times.

Over the last 25 years, some cities have had some success implementing light rail, and some have faced huge problems with out-of-control construction costs, and staggering delays in getting the system completed.

In general, those cities that have been able to implement light rail at a reasonable cost did so by purchasing abandoned or under-utilized existing rail lines at extremely low prices, and then converted these already existing rail lines to light rail.

In general, most cities that attempted to build light rail from scratch wound up with staggering cost overruns and huge construction delays.

Atlanta is proposing a course that typically has resulted in failure. Special interests want their light rail line because they want their light rail line. And they want taxpayers to build and operate their extravagance. They insist they are going to build the Fulton County portion of the light rail in the I-75 corridor, despite the fact that the Northwest Connectivity Study has already discovered that the right-of-way is maxed out, and that all of the options to overcome this obstacle would be incredibly expensive. The special interests don’t care how much it costs, as long as they can manipulate taxpayers into paying for it.

Taxpayers need to demand some fiscal responsibility.

Article Printed in the Marietta Daily Journal on December 9, 2011

Categories: TSPLOST | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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