Georgia Governor Comes Around on Commuter Rail

welcome.jpg
Display of Georgia progress at the Welcome Center on I-85, near the South Carolina border

Big news out of Georgia. Governor Sonny Perdue, who in the past would have been about as likely to advocate for transit as to take his iced tea without sugar, is suddenly interested in commuter rail links between Atlanta and the ‘burbs. Very interested, it seems. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:

Until now, no amount of begging or pleading seemed to get Gov. Perdue’s attention, much less his leadership.

Yet, last Thursday, there was the governor holding a news conference
with all the transportation players in his office, speaking words that
regional and state leaders have wanted to hear throughout his
administration.

“Let’s move out aggressively,” Perdue said. “Once I’ve made up my mind, I’m usually impatient.”

How out of it was Perdue? This is the same man who, when Hurricane Katrina briefly interrupted fuel supplies in 2005, leading panicked drivers to line up at convenience store pumps all over the state, shut down the public schools for two days in order to save gas.

Until now, the solution to congestion in Georgia has been pavement, pavement and — yes, more pavement please. But $4.00-per-gallon gas appears to have finally changed that. In January, according to the AJC, Georgia Department of Transportation officials checked out (for the first time?) rail facilities in New York, Chicago and Boston, leading one board member to remark to another: "We are 100 years behind." And they visited cities more akin to Atlanta, like Charlotte, NC, and Denver, CO, where rail has taken off. Perdue was also reportedly convinced by a friend, Congressman David Scott, that passing up a $90 million rail funding pledge from the feds would be bad form and could jeopardize future grants.

“When he left my office, he told me, ‘David, I’m going to see what
we can do as a result of our conversation,’ ” Scott said. “He left with
a very good understanding of the issue.”

Maybe that was the moment Perdue decided he would finally take action to support commuter rail and more transit.

Maybe Perdue finally understood the true benefits.

He said at his news conference he was particularly impressed when he
saw a graphic showing that one bus could remove 57 cars from our roads
(those numbers are much higher for rail).

Maybe, as DOT board member Robert Brown said, it was a just confluence of events that came together “at the right time.”

The proof will be in the peach pudding, but as a former Georgia resident I can’t begin to convey what a shock it is just to see this conversation happening. With Perdue on board, the time may have finally arrived for one of the most auto-addicted populations in the country to take to the rails. That would be big news for all of us.

Photo: Brad Aaron

  • Joseph Aqua

    I lived in the Atlanta area in the mid-1980s when the entire freeway infrastructure was being rebuilt. Common thought in the area, at that time, was that when construction was completed there would be an end to traffic congestion forever. The MARTA heavy rail was nearly completed, however because it was rejected by Clayton, Cobb, and Gwinett counties, the system was largely incomplete. What a difference it would have made if the system were completed.

    I believe that was a defining moment in not to expand the heavy rail system to entire Atlanta metropolitan area at that time. Three major changes have occured since then: (1) it is much more expensive to build a heavy rail system; (2) the Federal government has no interest in funding heavy rail systems (with the exception of Washington’s Metro system), and (3) many more metropolitan areas are applying for a limited amount of Federal funding for their systems. The best thing that the Atlanta area can hope for is commuter rail and light rail (with at grade crossings).

    In a way, the Atlanta area population deserve the transpiration mess that they have created by opposing heavy rail expansion. Perhaps the four buck a gallon gasoline cost is a wakeup call. However, as long as the people in that region continue to be in a state of denial about their transportation choices, it is only going to get worse.

  • Wad

    Joseph, racism played a role — perhaps the defining role — in preventing MARTA from expanding to the whiter suburbs.

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