What $1 billion looks like

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What do we get for our money?

That may be the No. 1 question voiced by skeptics of a House plan to increase state transportation funding by about $1 billion a year. The plan deals only with how much should be raised, and by which means. It would be up to state DOT planners to decide how to spend it.

Much of the money would go to routine maintenance: repaving roads and repairing or replacing bridges. But as much as half of it would go to add lane capacity on interstates and other state routes, rebuild congested interchanges, or other new construction.

All of that can be found in long-range plans written by the DOT and metro planning agencies, such as the Atlanta Regional Commission. But another group has put forth a vision of what $1 billion a year of road building — and, yes, transit — could look like.

The Georgia Public Policy Foundation, in tandem with the Reason Foundation, has updated an earlier study of ways to reduce congestion in metro Atlanta and beyond. Importantly, the latest version of these free-marketeers’ plan underscores the state’s need to allocate more money for transportation in the ways found in the House bill, including: convert existing gas taxes to an excise tax and index it for inflation and fuel-efficiency improvements; ensure all gas-tax revenues are used for transportation; and add fees for alternative-fueled vehicles that use the roads but wouldn’t pay the excise tax.

Here’s some of what the bill’s revenues could bring about, according to study author Baruch Feigenbaum:

  • New capacity on every interstate in metro Atlanta as well as state routes 316 and 400. Some of this capacity would be in managed lanes that are tolled, and some would be untolled general-purpose lanes.
  • An enhanced series of arterial roads (what Feigenbaum calls “the critical backbone of the transportation network”) encircling 285 and connecting other key parts of the region, such as a Woodstock-Alpharetta-Johns Creek-Duluth-Lawrenceville route.
  • A vast network of express buses and bus rapid transit on these improved highways and roads, part of a call for the state to spend $120 million a year on transit.
  • New freeways that would let passengers and freight bypass metro Atlanta altogether. Think of routes running alongside U.S. 27 from Chattanooga to I-85 near LaGrange to the west of Atlanta; a new road from near there across to I-16 at Macon to the south; to the east, from Macon along U.S. 129 and 441 to I-85 at Commerce; and a northern bypass running from there across to I-985 at Gainesville and I-75 near Cartersville.
  • Targeted capacity additions to interstates serving cities such as Augusta, Columbus, Macon and Savannah.

Feigenbaum highlights the wisdom of using private financing tools to help leverage state dollars, from bonds to public-private partnerships. But his plan does not depend on private money for projects besides the managed lanes. Any use of these financing tools would allow DOT to expand its project list, perhaps to include some items on the agency’s list that Feigenbaum would defer.

Most, but not all, of these projects are in the plans already sitting on the shelves at the DOT and ARC. Altogether, they would expand access and mobility for drivers and transit users inside and outside metro Atlanta.

Reader Comments 0

40 comments
JAKilgoreBrunswick
JAKilgoreBrunswick

@Kyle_Wingfield I never said that YOU said $ 1 Billion.  What I wrote is that the Joint Study Committee in their Final Report said that GDOT needed an ADDITIONAL $ 1 to $ 1.5 Billion PER YEAR to simply maintain the existing road system.  See page 14 of the Final Report.  I know you know that because you wrote about that number when you covered the Joint Study Committee ("JSC").   I understand that you say that the number is REALLY only $ 600 Million and you cite GDOT as the source.  The problem is that the JSC and HNTB ALSO cite GDOT as the source.  That is the point that I am attempting to get clarified.

Further, I am confused by your explanation that GPPF "assumes" that some money would be "moved over" to fund maintenance, and that somehow increases the funds for capital projects.  That is illogical.  You cannot spend the money twice.  If GDOT reallocates money to maintenance, then that would have to come from somewhere in the budget.  Josh Waller testified last week that there are three main categories in the GDOT budget - Routine Maintenance, Capital Maintenance and Capital Construction.  If you reallocate any money WITHIN the budget, it does NOT increase the amount of funds available overall.  In other words, if, as you say, GPPF assumed a reallocation, then the section of the budget from which the funds are being reallocated would be "short" or underfunded. 

Fundamentally, reallocating money does NOT increase the total funding.  In fact, what you have written below is exactly the opposite of what would happen.  You wrote the following :

  The GPPF plan assumes some current GDOT money is moved over to maintenance, and the new money allows for growing the state construction budget (i.e. not including federal or local money) by about $1B a year.


That arithmetic does not work Kyle.


Current budget for GDOT is approximately $ 2.3 Billion.  The JSC says that is $ 1 Billion short of what is required, with ALL $ 1 Billion required for ADDITIONAL maintenance, according to their Final Report. 


There is NO ADDITIONAL funds available for capital construction if it is all needed for maintenance.  So either the Joint Study Committee is WRONG, or the GPPF assumptions are in error.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@JAKilgoreBrunswick Your confusion seems to hinge on the word "maintain." GDOT never said it would take $1B-$1.5B just for maintenance such as repaving and bridge repair. "Maintain" in that sense of the word also means things such as expanding and rebuilding interchanges and adding lane capacity to existing roads.

Also, GPPF's construction budget is more like $1.4B. But of that, about $400M is what we already spend on construction. They would reallocate that money to maintenance, hence we are talking about $1B in new money for construction.

Jackalope
Jackalope

Well, let's see.  First off, we take half the money and build a massive network of high-speed rail lines to the Jimmy Carter Library, the MLK memorial and "Sweet Auburn"...you know, where the jobs are and where people work like MARTA has always done.  Second, we completely ignore traffic congestion and make sure that we take care of the needs of low income people.  We make all these improvements starting at Hollowell Parkway and Memorial Drive....you know, use the tried and true successful method of MARTA.  Then you use the construction schedules from MARTA and you finish all the improvements in 2095 where it'll really do taxpayers some good.  And while you're at it, you ask everyone you talk to why they don't support the way Georgia improves transit.

JAKilgoreBrunswick
JAKilgoreBrunswick

Thank you Logical Dude.  You, like me, want to know how to reconcile the $ 1 BILLION with what the "PREVIOUS" narrative was that it would take $ 1 Billion "just to maintain", versus the Wingfield piece that says that there are going to be all of these fantastic new CAPITAL projects funded from the $ 1 Billion.


Apparently it is too tough a question because Kyle will respond to everyone else except you and me.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@JAKilgoreBrunswick I have never said it would take $1B "just to maintain." GDOT's number for roads and bridges maintenance is about $600M a year. That's assuming we go all the way in that direction, which doesn't necessarily have to happen. (You could add, say, $400M for maintenance and speed things up considerably vs. today.) The GPPF plan assumes some current GDOT money is moved over to maintenance, and the new money allows for growing the state construction budget (i.e. not including federal or local money) by about $1B a year.

I don't always have time to respond immediately to comments; I do try to publish as many as possible. I usually don't take time to answer yours in particular, because you've falsely and maliciously accused me of being on the take. In the future, you might count yourself lucky just to have your comments published.

stogiefogey
stogiefogey

Ditto the earlier comment about fixing existing roadways first. Repainting/restriping (on some streets the yellow & white lines are completely gone), filling potholes (dodging holes in some of our streets is like playing Frogger), and synchronizing traffic signals (I wonder if our traffic people even know how) comes first, then spend $ millions on new stuff.

lvg
lvg

AJC reported in 2014 that cost of new 400/285  interchange would be 1.05 billion. Do these guys know how to do math or are they just pretending to solve the problem?

Starik
Starik

Maybe we could apply the money we spend to subsidize stadium-building for the owners of professional sports teams. 

PaperbakWriter
PaperbakWriter

This plan seems to leave out my private road that runs under the interstate and takes me right to my parking spot at work.

ATLAquarius
ATLAquarius

Arterials are most important....why all the bridges over the Hooch north of 285 have taken so long to expand beyond 2 lanes is mind boggling with all the Gwinnett to Alpharetta/N Fulton traffic....some sort of truck bypass is also essential....as far as transit even if it is BRT which I don't believe is an adequate solution needs to be managed by a central authority that has MARTA under its umbrella and state funding....until that element has not been taken care of then it's all talk on the transit front.

Plumb Krazy
Plumb Krazy

That all sounds wonderful. Shall the kooks in charge index wages also on some bs inflation type creation for taxing the common folk or is CPI type bs just for taxation? Surely corporate tax rates must go up with fuel prices to compensate on government cost as well. Gag.

LogicalDude
LogicalDude

What?? A Northern ARC??  

Why, that's just not politically feasible!!!  (well, okay, maybe it is now) :) 


Since all of these are above and beyond the "maintain and repair" did the study mention funding (other than the limited funds available from HOT lanes)? 

I may have missed that part of the article. (distracted by a more solid case for the Northern Arc, plus bypass routes for trucks)

TicTacs
TicTacs

They should fix the existing roads before they start new ones.  Atlanta congestion will not be solved by building more roads.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Jefferson1776 The plan assumes a $400-500M increase in the maintenance budget. This was simply designed to show what $1B in new construction spending could buy.

JAKilgoreBrunswick
JAKilgoreBrunswick

The only problem with this article is that according to the Joint Study Committee, that after all, spent ONE FULL YEAR of intensive study of the issue, on Page 14 of the Final Report, said the following :


  ...to merely preserve the current transportation system, namely the maintenance of roads and bridges at

    acceptable levels, the state has a funding gap of $ 1.0 billion to $ 1.5 billion annually.


I recognize that you reference Baruch Feigenbaum in the article, so there may be a miscommunication between how much money he is assuming will be available and how you interpreted his assumptions.  I presume you are referencing the Practical Strategies for Increasing Mobility in Atlanta and the Brookings Institute, which was written in August of 2013.  If I am wrong, then I would sure be interested in knowing what the source is for the conclusion that $ 1 Billion is going to provide all of those added lanes and new roads that are detailed in your article.


In south Georgia, we can only spend $ 1 Billion once.  So if the Joint Study Committee, having assiduously studied this conundrum for over one full year, concluded that $ 1 Billion ONLY covers routine maintenance, how can you reconcile the capital construction projects that are going to be funded by that same $ 1 Billion ?

lvg
lvg

@JAKilgoreBrunswick -they do not get to the circus under the Gold Dome because they are good at math.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@JAKilgoreBrunswick Baruch actually assumes spending of about $1.4B a year. But he also assumes about $400M is moved from the current construction budget to the maintenance budget. Thus, he assumes $1B a year in new construction money, which is what I wrote about.

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

Not addressed in Kyle's summary is the impact of new by-pass roads.  It's a lot more than relieving traffic in Atlanta.


There would be fueling stations and hotels pop up along the new roads.  That brings additional development which could be good or bad depending on impact to existing homes, farms and infrastructure.


Less traffic along existing roads means a decline in fueling station and hotel use which could put some places out of business with the decline in surrounding neighborhoods, jobs, etc.


Someone wrote downstream about the same people who handled TSPLOST are to handle the new plans?  I agree with severely questioning their abilities.


My first question to them would be, did you support The Beltway in TSPLOST?  If yes, throw them out.  

eddie.e
eddie.e

Kyle,


As you mentioned, $1BN/yr for 30 years. Why is there no mention of rail networks in addition to roads?? Why is there this Georgian fixation on building more and more and more roads as the tried, trusted and preferred means to solve traffic woes? Seriously...what harm can possibly come from a joint rail and road solution?? 


The problem with roads is that they seem cute, until 5 years after they were built and then there are more people using the roads than anticipated...then its back to the drawing board to BUILD more roads...I live in Cherokee county and can say this based on firsthand experience...

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@eddie.e There is, in this plan (which was produced by a think tank, not the DOT), $120M a year for expanding express bus/BRT service throughout the metro region. The idea is that this is more cost-effective than building separate infrastructure for rail.

LilBarryBailout
LilBarryBailout

@eddie.e

We know from thirty years experience that Atlantans prefer roads to rails.

That's why.

MANGLER
MANGLER

I worry that most of the talk about congestion focuses on highways and over looks (or forgets) all the roads we take to get to and from the highways. More heavily traveled suburban arterial roads should be modified to reduce intersections or eliminate them where possible as well.  Many commuters never set tires on a highway, they use arteries to bounce from town to town.  It is frustrating to be in backups at a red light on a smaller secondary road very nearby a large intersection where the light is green but will be red by the time you get to it.  Eliminating a handful of arterial bottlenecks could completely transform those areas and general commute times in the less dense areas or the metro.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@MANGLER I agree with that. You have to maintain them as the types of roads they're supposed to be.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@MANGLER Arterials are definitely addressed in this plan. See the comment about their being the backbone of the transportation network.

MANGLER
MANGLER

@Kyle_Wingfield The routes that are further out would be fine for now, until urbanization encroached closer to them.  You get neighborhoods and shopping centers that each demand a red light in front of them and before long, what once was a viable alternative for a highway turns into an annoying and congested string of lights.

straker
straker

"it would be up to state DOT planners to decide how to spend it"


No, it would be up to the most powerful Republicans in the State Legislature to decide.


There's no telling where some of that money will go.

SmartAleck
SmartAleck

If anybody remembers the "Northern ARC" proposal, one of the major reasons it was killed was when is was revealed key insiders and politicians started lining up to suck from the gravy train.  The route was chosen based on who owned rights to the land and where major intersections were to be placed---NOT what was good for moving traffic.  


The Northern ARC turned into a project that had NOTHING to do providing an alternate East-West route, but whose palms were being greased. 


The lack of specifics and clear projects for all this transportation money is RIPE for corruption and magnet for graft.  

Just watch...there is too much money involved for this to not turn into a sickening trough for a feeding frenzy for the well connected.  

332-206
332-206

Doing the frequent miles-long I-75N Henry county jam last night, a link from there to I-20 east of Conyers would be worth a look...

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@332-206 They call for one route (enhancing current arterials) closer in than that, maybe 6-8 miles outside 285, and one route (new road) further out than that (Macon to Athens). As well as one new free lane in each direction on 75 and 675, and up to four new tolled lanes there (including what's under construction now, I think).

I would expect all that to help a great deal.

332-206
332-206

@Kyle_Wingfield @332-206

"As well as one new free lane in each direction on 75 and 675, and up to four new tolled lanes there (including what's under construction now, I think).

I would expect all that to help a great deal."


Yeah buddy, I'll vote for that.

Pushing my luck here, anything on I-85N, from I-985 to the SC line?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@332-206 I don't know how far up it goes, but the plan calls for two tolled lanes and four free lanes on 85 north of the 985 split.

IReportYouWhine#1
IReportYouWhine#1

What is the time frame for the list of projects, is that considered something that the 1st billion will buy or is that spread out over 5 years and would cost 5 billion? Tampa's "downtown connector," for example, has a total cost of 2.2 billion.

RafeHollister
RafeHollister

Having made the mistake of trying to travel through Atlanta one recent weekend only to discover a road improvement project about every 10 miles on 285, I'm thinking, just how awful is traffic going to be when they get "some money".   The temporary pain for long term gain can be awfully trying at times and I just can't imagine how the city will operate under full blown road construction congestion.  Gotta be done, as they say.  


I really like the roads to bypass Atlanta, think that makes a huge amount of sense.  The alternative road system if done right, like in Texas, where there is a parallel access road alongside each interstate that helps carry short distance traffic,  so those folks need not congest the interstate is wonderful, if that is what they are anticipating.



BurroughstonBroch
BurroughstonBroch

"northern bypass running from there across to I-985 at Gainesville and I-75 near Cartersville"


In other words, the once mooted Northern Arc (State Route 500) and part of the earlier Outer Perimeter. Gov. Perdue killed the Northern Arc 12 years ago, although some legislators tried to resuscitate it in 2007.


And the same folks who botched the TSPLOST are going to make this happen? LOL