Do We Really Need More Transportation Investment? Absolutely.

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Over the past few weeks, three publications that have crossed my desk provide some interesting information to ponder regarding our transportation future.  The first is a report from the American Automobile Association (AAA) titled “Crashes vs. Congestion: What’s the Cost to Society?”  For this report, Cambridge Systematics did a statistical analysis of data collected by the Federal Highway Administration and by the Texas Transportation Institute to determine and compare costs of automobile accidents and costs of congestion for urban areas in the United States.  The second is an article in the Nov. 8, 2011, Wall Street Journal, called The Hidden Toll of Traffic Jams.  In this article, the reporter examines the link between traffic fumes and health, particularly brain health.  The third is an Atlanta Regional Commission publication, the “November/December 2011 Regional Snapshot,” which takes a look at the Atlanta region through the eyes of the 2010 Census.

Here is what I have learned from reading these three reports:

  • In 2009, the total costs of crashes in the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta metropolitan area were estimated to be $10.8 billion.  This is the fifth highest cost among all metropolitan areas in the U.S.  The elements that were considered in deriving the total cost included property damage, lost earnings, lost household production (non-market activities occurring in the home), medical costs, emergency services, travel delay, vocational rehabilitation, workplace costs, administrative costs, legal costs and pain and lost quality of life.  The cost of congestion for our region was estimated to be just over $2.7 billion for the same one-year period.  This is the tenth highest among all metropolitan areas.  This cost was based on delay estimates combined with value of time and fuel costs.
  • Now consider what is coming out of the tailpipes of our automobiles as they sit in congestion caused by bottlenecks and accidents.  Scientists are becoming increasingly concerned about apparent linkages between tailpipe emissions and public health – specifically decreased mental capacity, intelligence and emotional stability, all from brain-cell damage caused by exposure to vehicle emissions.  Many recent studies from around the world are providing evidence of this direct linkage.
  • Finally, the Atlanta region’s population continues to experience dramatic change.  And the demographic trends we are experiencing today should continue for the next quarter century.  The region is one of the fastest growing in the country, and we are getting older and more diverse.  The needs and wants of our changing population will be different than they have been up to now, and we must be prepared to respond to that demand.

Considering each of these reports, I come to the following conclusions:

  • Transform AtlantaFirst, in order to address the concerns above, we absolutely must increase our investment in transportation infrastructure in the Atlanta region (click here to visit Transform Metro Atlanta’s website to learn more).  The transportation referendum we will vote on next July 31, 2012, will give us the chance to pump approximately $8 billion over a 10-year period into the region’s transportation portfolio.  Consider that this is approximately what the state will collect in motor fuel taxes state-wide.    Now subtract 30 percent to cover current debt service, and more dollars to cover the costs of the state Department of Transportation.  What is left over must be balanced across Georgia’s 13 Congressional Districts.  A relatively small fraction is, therefore, spent in the Atlanta region, almost all of which must be spent on roads and bridges.  The July transportation referendum would dwarf what we get from the state and federal governments.
  • My second conclusion is that we must begin to invest more in public transportation and in making our region more walk-able and bike-able, providing more choices to a choice-starved population that will want and require more options going forward.  The project list that the transportation referendum would fund does just that.  As I heard Richard Florida, best-selling author of The Rise of the Creative Class and The Great Reset, proclaim in his keynote address at the American Public Transportation Association’s annual meeting last month, public transportation, biking and walking are fundamental for priming and sustaining our future economic prosperity.  As Edward R. Murrow coined it 60 years ago, “this I believe.”

Jim Durrett

– Jim Durrett, executive director

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