Posts Tagged ‘Marta’

Rail Transit Can No Longer Be Ignored by Georgia Legislators

April 20, 2009

For a lot of my childhood, I lived a block  from the Central of Georgia Depot on 6th Avenue in Columbus.  That depot was a very busy place, especially during World War two.  Not only were there major passenger trains like the Seminole and the City of Miami, which connected Chicago to Florida,  that made a stop in Columbus, but local passenger trains to Macon,  Montgomery, and Atlanta.  During the war,  my mother and I went by train from Columbus to Joplin, Missouri to visit with my brother who would soon be sent to England and Germany.  I was about 13-years-old at the time.   Railroads put every passenger car they had into service,  including some very old ones,  and the train that took us from Birmingham to Springfield, Missouri was so long it was pulled by not one, but two steam engines. 

After the war,  the emphasis  on automobiles and highways,  and the rapid growth of airlines, just about killed the passenger train business.   Well, for those who believe there are cycles to history, the train cycle is here.  Trains are the most economical and fuel efficient way to transport masses of people.  Finally, national leaders, including Presdient Obama,  are recognising this. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Sunday,  “President Barack Obama announced plans Thursday for a national high-speed rail network that would include lines crisscrossing Georgia connected through a hub in Atlanta.

“The plan would create a European-like system with trains that could run at more than 100 mph. Obama is pledging $8 billion toward development of the system as part of the economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act.”

Finland Passenger Train Car (Courtesy: Jonic)

Finland Passenger Train Car, upper deck (Courtesy: Jonic, Wikipedia)

Our leaders at the Georgia state capitol, however,  have been in love with highways and cars to the extent they, for the most part, ignored rail,  and critics say this could  hamper Georgia in taking advantage of the federal funding for rapid rail.

The legilsature left the Marta system in Atlanta hanging out to dry by not taking action that would allow the system, which is more popular than ever,  to use funds it already has to keep it up and running.  There is a 40-year-old state law that says Marta can’t spend reserve funds on operating expenses.  That made sense 40 years ago when Marta first started, but now that it is a mature system, it makes no sense at all.

As I reported earlier, Columbus Representative Calvin Smyre and State Senators Seth Harp and Ed Harbison say that situation will have to be faced and corrected when the legislature goes into a predicted special session in July to come up with a new budget.  Let’s hope they and other legislators come to grips with this problem because it is critical.

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Muscogee Legislators “Tell It Like It IS’

April 8, 2009

The state budget crisis,  the transportation fiasco,  a July session of the Georgia Legislature,  Sen. Harp’s plans to run for statewide office, billboards highlight the town hall meeting at the Columbus Public Library.

Muscogee County legislators made no attempt to sugarcoat what was not a satisfying session of the Georgia Legislature.

Muscogee County democratic Party Town Hall Meeting, Columbus Public Library, Columbus GA

Muscogee County Democratic Party Town Hall Meeting, Columbus Public Library, Columbus GA

Both state senators,  and the dean of the delegation,  all were not happy that the legislature failed to come up with a transportation plan.

Rep. Calvin Smyre, (D), Georgia House

Rep. Calvin Smyre, (D), Georgia House

Rep. Calvin Smyre said,  “It was irresponsible.  It cannot stand. It will not stand.  I am going to make this clear in a news conference Thursday.   It will be addressed this year. ”

He predicted the legislature will be going back into session in three months to deal with the state budget,  and,  he seemed to be saying it will also deal with transportation plan.

“It is wrong for the state to tell the people of Atlanta what they can do with the penny tax they approved at the polls to expand Marta.”

Marta,  the Atlanta area public transit system whose ridership has soared,  cannot access it’s own money to improve and expand the system without the state’s approval.

“That’s wrong.  It has to be changed.”

The audience at the Muscogee County Democratic Party town hall meeting at the Columbus Library applauded enthusiastically.

Sen. Seth Harp, (R), Georgia Senate

Sen. Seth Harp, (R), Georgia Senate

And the Republican state senator who was at the Democratic meeting also got a few big hands, himself.  Sen. Seth Harp, said he would have voted for either of the plans, the one favored by the House or the Senate plan, but he didn’t think either would get taxpayer support.

“They waited too late.  They should have passed it last year. Now, with the recession causing pain in the pocketbook,  it is doubtful that people will vote a penny tax regionally or statewide,” Senator Harp said.  The tax is necessary to fund the plan, which advocates say is urgently needed.  All you have to do is drive to Atlanta to know that the situation is critical.

Sen. Harp might not have pleased his Republican following with one remark he made.  He joined Rep. Smyre in thanking President Obama for sending $1.6 billion in stimulus money to Georgia.  He said with the critical budget problem facing Georgia, the federal money does help. 

“I agree with Calvin.  The legislature will be going back into session in July.  The budget just approved by the legislature banks on the economy getting better. I hope it will, but I am not confident about that.  We will be making more cuts.  For instanceteachers will probably have tobe  furloughed.

“And if we have to do that, say for ten days.  I – and I hope my fellow legislators will join me – will not accept my pay as a senator for those ten days.”

That one elicited a big round of applause. 

Sen. Seth Harp, (R), Sen. Ed Harbison, (D) Georgia State Senate

Sen. Seth Harp, (R), Sen. Ed Harbison, (D) Georgia State Senate

Sen. Harp looked over at Sen. Ed Harbison,  a Democrat,  and said the two of them work together probably better than any two lawmakers in the Senate.  He also let everyone know that he recently learned that he and Harbison served in the same unit in the Vietnam War.  More applause.

Rep. Debbie Buckner, (D), Georgia House

Rep. Debbie Buckner, (D), Georgia House

And Rep.  Debbie Buckner, also a Democrat,  drew a round of applause when she said that, though some things she supported weren’t approved,  the effort that she and other lawmakers to kill the bill that would allow billboard companies to cut more trees on public property was successful.  The crowd like that one, too.

Rep. Carolyn Hugley, (D), Georgia House

Rep. Carolyn Hugley, (D), Georgia House

Rep. Carolyn Hugley was the first to point out that the state is in dire straights over the econ0my and that the cuts that will accompany the budget will cause pain for a lot of people.

When Sen. Harp confirmed he is not running for again for the seat he now holds,  but instead will run for either insurance commissioner and attorney general,  and will make an announcement next week on which one,  Rep. Hugley said, “Oh, go ahead and announce it tonight.”  Sen. Harp said he would wait.

All in all, I have to say I was impressed with the candor of the legislators at the town hall meeting.   They didn’t try to spin the truth about the state of the state or the legislative session that just ended.  The one they predict for  July will, no doubt,  will be a stem-winder.

Georgia Transportation Folks, The Way You’re Doing It Now Doesn’t Work

December 1, 2008

  Why oh why doesn’t the Georgia legislature stop stalling development of commuter trains in the state?  My Friday night nightmare trip on rainy I-85 from Atlanta to Columbus made me once again reflect on how frustrated I get over the never-ending lane construction on I-85, and how difficult it is to get politicians to accept inevitable change. Trains are coming back because there are simply too many automobiles clogging the highways. The solution is not to continue to pour millions and millions of tons of more concrete and asphalt. The solution is mass transit.

  They learned this a very long time ago in New York City, London, Paris, Berlin and other major cities in the world. Atlanta is working on it, but is a long ways from providing enough mass transit service to come near to solving the problems of gridlock.

Wikipedia)

Baltimore-Washington International commuter Train (Courtesy: Wikipedia)

  The highway arteries leading in and out of densely populated areas are a part of the problem and that can only be solved with commuter trains. Every time I drive to Atlanta on I-85 I reflect on the astronomical costs and unsafe travel conditions caused by construction for adding more lanes. Running two rail lines up the center of I-85 would seem a lot simpler, less costly and saner policy.

  The state does have a plan to develop rail transportation, but the legislature won’t fund it. They talk about it, but when it actually comes to switching funding priorities, they back off. Why? So far, I haven’t seen a good answer to that question. I did read where Governor Sonny Perdue is backing implementation of a the Lovejoy to Atlanta commuter train because it is practical to get it up and running on existing tracks soon.  But, I’ll believe something is actually being done when I see it.