Friday, October 16, 2009

Careful, LaHood is Watching

Last month, Ray LaHood, America's new, popular Secretary of Transportation spoke in Atlanta. When asked if high-speed rail would be coming to the Big Peach, he responded:

It’ll come to Atlanta if Georgia gets its act together.

Wow. Tough words. In my native Georgia, we'd call them 'fightin' words.' When I heard Mr. LaHood had been so direct, I was happy. Finally someone was telling Georgia what they needed to have heard decades ago.

But his words didn't sink in.

Yesterday, the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation released a memo about the department's pending reorganization. And the Intermodal Division is getting a demotion.

The federal government gave Georgia $87 Million toward a starter line for an Atlanta commuter rail system. But the state has continued to hold off on setting aside the small requisite match. Now the federal government is starting to think about getting its money back.

With Charlotte's new Lynx light rail and Nashville's first commuter rail line, Atlanta's place at the front of the pack is no longer assured. Other southern cities are starting to get behind transit. Atlanta is just getting stuck in traffic.

Despite ambitious plans in the 1960s and 1970s, the MARTA heavy rail system was never finished. It was also never made regional. The suburbs still haven't voted to let trains run. The last new rail stations to open in the Atlanta area were Sandy Springs and North Springs, in December 2000, almost a decade ago.

Neighboring North Carolina subsidises Amtrak service, and gets extra trains because of it. To the south, Florida seems intent on reactivating old lines and working toward a high-speed rail network.

But Georgia, the center of the (slightly) more progressive New South, is falling behind the times. It has long seemed that GDOT felt insecure in its newer role managing transportation. After all, the Department of Highways by any other name still stinks to high heaven.

While the rest of America is getting on board with plans to build transit and high-speed rail, to reinvest in our urban areas, to grow smarter, Georgia seems content to be left at the station.

It seems that if Georgia has anything to say about it, and southern extension of the Northeast Corridor can stop at Charlotte. And the Secretary of Transportation is watching.

Georgia just keeps doing things that remind me why I left. But I still hope Georgia succeeds.


cobollives said...

I liked living in the Atlanta area in the mid-1980 and it was sad to move away because of job transfer. I still have relatives living there and had considered retiring in northern Georgia to be close to relatives. But with the conditions of surface transportation (both highways and rail) and only a few nibbles for tax brakes for retirees, I decided to move to another (nameless)southern state.

More than anything it is the transpiration mess that bothers me the most and it is that Georgia attitude that leads me to believe that Georgians are getting what they deserve when commuting to and from work.

Anonymous said...

"Georgia just keeps doing things that remind me why I left. But I still hope Georgia succeeds."

Perhaps it's because those who express the wish that [insert home state's name here] succeed and complain of what said state does instead, but pull up from their roots and re-settle elsewhere that [insert home state's name here] continues to do things that "remind [you] why [you] left".