TSPLOST-related transit study seems aimed at avoiding inconvenient results

By Ron Sifen

If the TSPLOST is approved, and after the projects are built, will you have a shorter commute time? The ARC recently admitted that the answer is NO.

Instead, the ARC says that “alleviating traffic congestion” is defined as increasing the number of people who can hypothetically reach a given point within 45 minutes. Paying $6.14 billion of your tax dollars for this projects list equals no reduction of commute times.

Light rail typically provides a much longer commute time, compared to driving. Here are links to two articles to support this point: publicpurpose.com/charlotte.htm#_ftn14, and ajc.com/opinion/the-real-issue-is-1236560.html

Among the conclusions from the PublicPurpose study is “On average, during peak travel periods, light rail operates only slightly faster than buses and barely one-half as fast as automobiles.”

In the early 2000s GRTA conducted an alternatives analysis study, called the Northwest Connectivity Study (NWCS). That study was expected to recommend light rail. However, GRTA concluded that light rail was not the best answer for this corridor.

The NWCS reached some conclusions that are “inconvenient” for light rail proponents.

* The NWCS clearly documents that GRTA did, in fact, eliminate the I-75 route in Fulton County for light rail, and continued to evaluate other routes.

I am not going to say that there were major environmental and community impacts that would be ridiculously expensive to overcome, because I do not have documents in my possession to prove that point. I will just say that GRTA did eliminate that route, and I believe that GRTA had substantive reasons for eliminating the I-75 route at that time.

* Several months later the NWCS concluded that light rail was the wrong answer for this corridor.

I am not going to say that GRTA presented substantive reasons to the public for concluding that light rail was the wrong answer, because I do not have documents in my possession on this point. I will just say that I believe that GRTA actually had substantive reasons for concluding that light rail was the wrong answer.

“Alternatives Analysis” studies are supposed to evaluate all possible alternatives. They are also supposed to honestly and objectively identify all problematic obstacles. That is what GRTA did. By contrast, the current study appears to be trying to avoid exposing the reasons why light rail is still the wrong answer for the Northwest Corridor.

The new study is not considering any route other than the one that GRTA eliminated. Is the new study attempting to avoid “discovering” known obstacles until the project is approved and under way, and then deal with these known obstacles as cost overruns?

The new study is also refusing to evaluate:

* “Express Bus operating in the soon-to-be-built managed lanes on I-75 and I-575” as an independent alternative.

* Total door-to-door trip times for each form of transit compared to driving.

* For each alternative, how many suburban commuters who currently drive would be likely to get out of their cars and use transit for their commute.

Would evaluation of these items result in “inconvenient” results for light rail? Would evaluation of these items expose that light rail would do a worse job of alleviating traffic congestion than “express bus operating in the managed lanes” and that light rail would carry an insanely higher cost?

* In 2004, GRTA also completed the “Regional Transit Action Plan” (RTAP). GRTA described the RTAP as a “blueprint for a seamless, integrated public transportation network in the Atlanta region.” The purpose of the RTAP was to provide a financially realistic transit plan that could contribute to improved mobility throughout the Atlanta region.

The RTAP did not recommend adding any light rail. Again, I don’t have documents to prove that GRTA attempted to maximize cost-effectiveness, while also effectively addressing improved mobility, so I will just say that I had the impression that those were GRTA’s objectives at the time.

Not only is light rail extremely expensive to build, it is also extremely expensive to operate and maintain. I have previously said that light rail typically costs $2 million per mile per year for M&O. Further research suggests that there are systems that cost that much, but it is not typical. So, I will revise that to say that the cost per passenger mile for light rail is drastically higher than the cost per passenger mile for express bus, and the cost for taxpayers to subsidize express bus is drastically less than light rail.

If government is going to provide transit services that have to be subsidized by taxpayers, I think government has an obligation to taxpayers to provide reasonable service at a reasonable cost. It does not appear that fiscal responsibility is part of the current considerations.

Plan B is written into the Transportation Investment Act. Vote down this projects list, and demand that the region come back in two years with a projects list that will reduce your commute time.

Ron Sifen of Vinings is president of the Cobb County Civic Coalition. His views are his own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCCC.

Article Printed in the Marietta Daily Journal on May 27, 2012

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

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