Is The Current MARTA Vision Worth The Chase?

The article below was written by Mayor David Belle Isle, the mayor of Alpharetta, who gave me permission to share it with you here.

 

Is The Current MARTA Vision Worth The Chase?

I’m a vision guy. I love looking at something and imagining what it could be; what it could be like; and how to get there. I love chasing a vision and seeing the pieces fall into place. But, for a vision to be worth the chase, the promise of “what could be” has to be better than “what is.”

Last week, I found myself in a makeshift room midway up the interior back stairs of the State Capitol. The room was packed. The air was hot. I was there to testify on behalf of Alpharetta at a committee hearing on the proposed MARTA expansion bill, SB 330. To my surprise, the room was not full of concerned every day citizens seeking faster commute times to home and work. Rather, it was filled with developers, lobbyists, and employees of chamber and public policy groups. Indeed, a total of 7 lobbying firms have been retained to make sure this MARTA bill gets passed and that you vote for it. Big money. Big stakes. Big supporters.

Among others, two developers spoke of how wonderful the MARTA expansion would be for the economy, specifically their economy. They introduced a new phrase: “transit premium.” This is the concept by which the properties serviced by the rail will increase in value by 50%. This is fantastic! Fantastic, that is, if you’re a property owner or developer near a proposed new transit station.

On the whole, I firmly believe that the expansion of public transit is part of the solution as we look to shorten our drive times to home and to work. But, the current $8 Billion proposal has me scratching my head:

  1. What About the 97%ers? Only 3% of commuters within reach of the current rail use MARTA and ridership is down over the past 10 years.
  2. Convenience Factor. For most, using rail involves a six-part process: a drive to the station, a wait for the train, a ride on the rail, a wait for a bus, a ride to a bus stop, and a walk to their building. Real people will weigh that time and hassle against driving straight to work.
  3. Transit for Everyone… Else. Many who support the expansion of MARTA rail are laboring under the hope that others will take the train so that their drive downtown won’t take so long.
  4. Until Death Do It Tax. 43 years is a long time to pay a tax on everything you purchase. This puts the full payment outside my life expectancy. I’m 40.
  5. Bait and Switch. The MARTA project list is disposable. MARTA is not obligated to build the projects the voters are being asked to fund. They should be.
  6. Hadn’t Thought of That. No one has thought to measure the expected improvement, if any, along Georgia 400. For an informed vote, we need to know how much quicker our drives will be.
  7. Federal Match? The proposed expansion is dependent on federal matching funds of $4 Billion. There is no obligation by the Fed to commit these funds. Before MARTA expansion hits a ballot, there should be.
  8. I’m Against What? The ballot question is worded in a way that a “No” vote implies you oppose traffic relief and economic development. The question should be neutral.
  9. Stacked Deck for Alpharetta. If successful, 3 new transit stations will attract 3 new streams of traffic from surrounding areas and require 3 new 2,500-car parking decks constructed MARTA-style.

I truly want to see us, as a region, take on traffic and develop a comprehensive plan. I can see it. That’s my vision. It is imprinted on my mind. Yet, we need to look at all the options openly: heavy rail, new roads, light rail, additional lanes, bus-rapid-transit, managed lanes, bus circulator programs, intersection improvements, signal timing, adaptive traffic, Uber, driverless cars. If we’re not careful, we’ll spend more than half of our transportation dollars on 3% of our commuters. “What could be” will be no better than “what is,” except we’ll have the pleasure of paying for “what should never have been.” The best answer probably lies in some combination of travel methods. We don’t know. But before we vote, let’s find out if this vision is worth the chase.

 

 

Campaign season picking up steam in Alpharetta

Alpharetta’s local elections are starting to heat up now that there is only a week remaining before the qualifying deadline.

So far we only have two contested races, the mayoral race and the City Council post 1 seat. That leaves two incumbents and one neophyte running unopposed for City Council but with a week to go a lot can happen.

Below is a snapshot of how things look right now.

Alpharetta Mayor’s Race

David Belle Isle

Doug Derito

Jim Paine

City Council Post 1

Ron Carter

Don Mitchell

City Council Post 5

Hans Appen

City Council Post 4

Cheryl Oakes

City Council Post 6

D.C. Aiken

Stay tuned because the fun should begin in earnest next week!

The Beacon’s first salvo in Alpharetta’s mayoral election

As I mentioned in an earlier post, this year’s Alpharetta mayoral race kicked off when perennial politico, David Belle Isle, officially announced that he was running for that office. That announcement last week served as the starters bell for the race to begin and I knew it wouldn’t take long for candidates to come out of their corners and take a few swings at each other. This week’s first round begins with a few salvos courtesy of the local weekly The Beacon.

If you are unfamiliar with the Beacon it might help to view the weekly as the New York Post of the North Fulton area. The Beacon typically focuses on local sports and politics with incendiary headlines and aggressive verbiage like, “Current Alpharetta Councilman Jim Paine, fresh off an Election Day pummeling of Belle Isle’s political ally Monson”. The Beacon offers political reportage based on large doses of pure gossip and is often more humorous than accurate but it is always good for a chuckle. Unfortunately much of their content is only for subscribers so it doesn’t get much web exposure but this week’s political article is an exception to that rule so I recommend you check it out.

All three of the assumed candidates: David Belle Isle, Jim Paine and  Doug Derito are quoted. In the article Mr. Belle Isle makes typical statements about his platform and support but councilmen Derito and Paine do seize the opportunity to take a few shots at Mr. Belle Isle. Here are a couple of money quotes:

“He ran his last campaign [for state senate] for 18 months and finished third – or last – however you want to classify it. So long-winded losing campaigns is what he’s used to”

and

“this is the same guy who campaigned for a taxpayer funded $26 million plus city center boondoggle for a year, until the majority of the city council reigned him in with simple facts”

That is just a couple of highlights so if you are a hopeless political geek (like me) you really need to read the whole thing here. I know I shouldn’t get such a kick out of this silly stuff but it does help relieve the frustration of watching all three of these guys support another  high density mixed use project in our little town.