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On TSPLOST and transit cost effectiveness is not a dirty word

Posted by on August 22, 2011
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By Ron Sifen

In 2012, voters in the 10-county Atlanta region will have to decide whether to approve a new one-cent sales tax for transportation projects throughout the Atlanta region.
Yes, that means that Cobb voters have yet another tax increase coming at us.

The degree to which taxpayers get $6 billion of traffic congestion relief for their $6 billion in taxes is the degree to which the TSPLOST has merit. Transit projects that are designed to effectively improve traffic congestion should be included. Economic development projects should not be included in the projects list.

I am going to wait for the projects list to be finalized before making a recommendation on the TSPLOST. However, the tentative list recommended by the Executive Committee allocates a lot of money for projects that will not alleviate traffic congestion. Taxpayers deserve better.

Cobb Parkway light rail is now being called Northwest Corridor Fixed Guideway Transit. It is project #TIA-CO-035. As currently conceptualized, Northwest Corridor Fixed Guideway Transit is an economic development project that will do almost nothing to alleviate traffic congestion. In addition, it has other unique issues that should disqualify this project from the projects list.

* Other projects that will be on the TSPLOST projects list have already had a completed objective study that supports the proposed project. Those projects are fully defined and we know what they are. No projects should be included in the projects list if they are so premature that we cannot be sure what the project is.

* The only objective Alternatives Analysis (AA) that has been conducted for the Northwest Corridor was the Georgia Rail Transit Authority’s Northwest Corridor Study. It concluded that Bus Rapid Transit was the best answer for this corridor, for several very good reasons.

* There is no new AA yet that specifies a different conclusion. A new AA is supposed to get underway soon. The purpose of the new AA is not to objectively and impartially identify the best solution for alleviating traffic congestion in this corridor. Politicians decided they did not like the best answer from the NWCS study. The purpose of the new study is to manufacture a justification for their preferred conclusion.

* The description of project #TIA-CO-035 admits that the study has not been conducted yet, and admits that they don’t know the transit mode, the route, the station locations or the number of stations.

* TSPLOST proponents will try to “educate” you that ridership will be 92,600 boardings per day, even though it is impossible to calculate the number of boardings until we know the mode, the route, the station locations, projected trip times and other factors. They will avoid “educating” you that this number was extracted from an old study that used formulas that were more optimistic than the Federal Transit Authority directed GRTA to use. They will also avoid “educating” you that this number was dependant on a circulator system that may never get built, and without which the number of boardings would be drastically lower, regardless of which formulas they use.

* As currently conceptualized, not only will this project fail to provide competitive trip times for suburban commuters, it will likely obstruct traffic flow and potentially make traffic congestion worse.

* T-SPLOST criteria states that projects need to be completed within the 10 years of this SPLOST. If an exception is going to be made, it should only be a situation where there is a completed objective Alternatives Analysis.

* GDOT is projecting that the Cumberland to Atlanta portion of this project will not likely be completed before 2026. Any additional transit north of Cumberland would come much later.

* If Republicans win the 2012 elections, criteria for federal funds could become more similar to Bush-era criteria, and federal funding for projects like this one could be dramatically reduced. Bush-era criteria for federal funding put a high weighting on cost-effectiveness and relief of traffic congestion. If this project eventually has to get approved under criteria similar to the Bush criteria, this project could be in trouble.

Any major fixed guideway transit in Cobb should not be funded until we at least know what the project is and what we are funding and how much traffic congestion relief it can deliver. We also need to have conducted an objective AA, that would consider whether commuter rail operating on existing tracks, or other possible alternatives, could deliver greater traffic congestion relief and a lower cost to build.

Message to the Atlanta Region: Cost-effectiveness is not a dirty word.

Another message to the Atlanta Region: The only possible justification for the TSPLOST is alleviating traffic congestion.

Article Printed in the Marietta Daily Journal on August 22, 2011

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