Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Problem is Not Just in Atlanta

Jay Bookman always has great columns in the AJC about how messed up things are in Atlanta and Georgia in general. But after reading it, it just sounds like every other MPO or State issue in the country. Too much money gets political and not data driven attention and that means a lot of money generated by Metro areas gets funneled into the less urban parts of the state. Even within metro areas the funding goes to the suburbs rather than urban areas. This is why I'm worried that in most places, even funding the MPOs by bypassing the state won't be good enough to step the tide of urban underinvestment.

If transportation funds were instead allocated on the basis of data, need and transportation impact, metro Atlanta would fare much better. This is where the need is greatest; this is where the impact would be most noticeable. But that’s not how things work.

State leaders are now trying to muscle through a “reform” of the system. But rather than make our transportation planning more professional and data-driven, the goal is to make it even it more political. For example, it is supposedly “reform” to give the Legislature the power to spend up to 20 percent of transportation money on projects it gets to approve. Now, how many professional transportation planners sit in the General Assembly? Do you think that money will be allocated to where it would do the most good for Georgia, or to where it would do the most good for powerful legislators?

In Texas, they are deciding on a bill to allow regions to tax themselves, and in recent years it's been state legislators who have cut it down for what I can see because they just are against taxes. It's not about letting people decide for themselves that they need more local funding. In fact, this need to raise taxes is a direct function of funding not being allocated correctly in the first place.

I do have to disagree with Jay on one thing, traffic isn't the issue. They've had more than enough money to build roads that are rediculously huge and part of the reason why traffic is so bad is because of Metro Atlanta's land use problem. They have let developers go nuts wherever they want and subsequently people are living in one place and driving everywhere to get there. I highly suggest A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe for some real estate fiction based on Atlanta.


Faith said...

Are there any places where the system actually functions somewhat well?

The Twin Cities Counties Transit Improvement Board at least has the vote partially weighted by population. It also benefits from strong leadership but unfortunately it is not the MPO.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

Well in California more money gets filtered from the feds to the MPOs. It allows them to keep more money they create. I don't know if there is anywhere that does it right. Too much tax base is exported to the areas that shouldn't get as much as they do, but its a part of the political system being geared towards states and suburbs in terms of representation.

Cap'n Transit said...

Data-driven? You mean like the cost-effectiveness measure? ;-)

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

I know you're kind of kidding but its different to calculate a funky number by dividing travel time savings per new rider divised from another huge travel demand model versus giving money to an area based on population share.