Growth and Traffic in Fulton County

 

Transportation funding will be a crucial issue for Fulton County in 2016 as mentioned in this previous article. Transportation can often be a complex issue to discuss but in Fulton County it is further complicated because it involves a million people stretched over 90 miles including the high density urban areas of Atlanta, medium density suburban areas and extremely low density rural areas concentrated at either end of the county.

The county’s demographics are as varied as the geography as well. Over the last 40 years Fulton County has become a true melting pot with people from all over the world representing every economic background imaginable.

Given these characteristics it is important to understand that there is no universal solution to solving transportation issues. Expecting a single solution that would allow a million people from varied geographic, cultural and economic backgrounds to reach unanimous consent would be unreasonable. But it is reasonable to believe that an objective evaluation of current options could result in a reasonable proposal that an overwhelming majority of residents can agree on.

The first step of that process is to objectively assess our current situation so let’s take a look at the numbers. The largest city in Fulton County is Atlanta and our metropolitan area was one of the fastest growing metro areas in the nation from the year 2000 to 2010.

As you can see in the charts below the Atlanta metro population increased by more than 1.1 million people between the last two censuses taken. The population of Atlanta actually decreased slightly over that decade but the population of Fulton county as a whole increased by more than 100,000 people.

Fulton growth 00-10Atlanta-MSA comparison

In the year 2000 Roswell and Alpharetta were the only cities which existed in North Fulton county but they only accounted for 130,000 of the 297,000 people who lived in the area. The other 167,000 residents lived in areas of unincorporated Fulton County until the municipalities of Sandy Springs, Johns Creek and Milton were formed.

The formation of the new cities took place before the 2010 Census which showed the population of North Fulton to be over 347,000. So over ten years there was a total increase of approximately 50,000 residents in the region which equals a 17% growth rate.

That means North Fulton County has been one of the fastest growing areas in one of the most rapidly growing metropolitan regions in the United States over the last 15 years. So it is only natural an area experiencing such growth would also experience growing pains. In North Fulton the growing pain most often complained about is rush hour traffic.

And while traffic is definitely an issue most areas only experience congestion for a few hours a week. In Alpharetta we generally have complete mobility for about 20 hours a day during the week and any time on the weekend. During the summer when schools are out there is hardly any rush hour at all in most areas.

For example on an average Tuesday morning at 11:00 a.m. a person can drive anywhere in Alpharetta in about 20 minutes. They could get to I-285 on GA 400 in about thirty minutes or even reach Hartsfield Airport in less than an hour.

So as we assess infrastructure needs in North Fulton county it is important to realize that most roads flow freely except for about 4 hours a day, five days a week. The other 88% of the time we already have an abundance of transportation capacity.

The issue North Fulton faces isn’t really a lack of road capacity but rather a problem of poor traffic flows during peak hours. The distinction won’t make you feel better when you’re  sitting through 3 cycles of a red light to get through an intersection during rush hour… but we have to identify the right problem if we want to find the right solution.

However as we discuss what to do about traffic in 2016 let us not lose sight of the fact that it is only an issue because North Fulton provides one of the most attractive places in the world to live, raise a family and do business. As a region we have successfully created a place where people and companies from all over the world want to be. That is a good thing and we should not take it for granted.

Success does bring challenges but they are the challenges we should welcome as we work to resolve them.

 

 

 

North Fulton Transportation Funding 2016

The year 2016 promises to be a defining one for the City of Alpharetta and our neighbors in North Fulton County. In Alpharetta we expect to see construction begin on the land in front of City Hall as well as hundreds of homes and townhomes in the surrounding area. Construction of the second phase in Avalon has begun and we expect to see a new convention center take shape along with the hotel, stores, restaurants and apartments also planned on the site.

Around North Fulton our neighbors are also expecting great things. Sandy Springs has begun construction of its own town center and is welcoming the North American Headquarters for Mercedes to town. Roswell is working hard to reinvigorate their beautiful historic areas with new growth while the relative newbies of Johns Creek and Milton are in various stages of creating their own visions of their future.

These are exciting times to live and do business in North Fulton. We are blessed.

And as all of these great things are going on there is an underlying discussion taking place that will affect us all. How will we work as a region to build and maintain the roads and infrastructure needed to accommodate this growth and development?

For the past two decades North Fulton has experienced tremendous growth but the network of roads and infrastructure have not grown accordingly. Anyone who has driven in other metropolitan areas knows that traffic in North Fulton is not as bad as most other comparable cities but it is still an important issue.

That is why the Georgia state legislature passed House Bill 170 last year which raised taxes to fund infrastructure projects at the state level. The bill was heavily publicized after its passage but many people in North Fulton County still don’t know about a seldom discussed feature of the legislation.

HB 170 allows Fulton County to hold a county wide referendum to authorize an additional 1% sales tax increase for funding local transportation projects. There has been media coverage about this lately but many people still don’t realize how this discussion will impact our region for decades to come.

Current projections show that a 1% sales tax increase for 5 years could raise more than $83 million to be used for transportation projects in the city of Alpharetta alone. The total amount projected for all of North Fulton would be more than $500 million. That would approximately double the amount cities currently have to address transportation projects and could make a huge dent in the backlog of projects which have accumulated as fast growing cities struggled to keep up.

But will residents vote for a large tax increase if it’s for transportation? Would the money go to fund road improvements or will some of it go to pay even more than the current 1% MARTA sales tax subsidy? Would the tax increase be limited to 5 years as proposed in the legislation? Or will the county and cities agree to extend the tax for 40 years to allow bonds for expanding MARTA?

These are all questions that have yet to be answered. However if the referendum is going to be placed on the November ballot these questions and many others will have to be answered soon. And those answers will go a long way in determining what the City of Alpharetta and North Fulton County look like for the next 10, 20, even 50 years.

So over the next few months I intend to explore many of the questions posed by the proposed Tsplost tax increase proposal. Hopefully this will be a constructive forum for us to discuss what promises to be the most important issue of 2016, North Fulton Transportation funding.

 

 

 

 

North Fulton mayors vote to trade MARTA funds for roads

This morning I noticed an article on NorthFulton.com which reports the mayors of North Fulton county have voted to sacrifice extending MARTA into their communities in exchange for more road money:

The North Fulton Municipal Association decided to try to trade $37 million in MARTA engineering funds for the restoration of road projects to be funded by the 2012 transportation-improvement sales tax.

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He said Fulton is a net donor to the tax while Cobb County and DeKalb County get a 120 percent return on their investment.

Bodker then criticized the Beltline streetcar project in Atlanta. He said it is an Atlanta project, not a regional one, but it is slated to receive $600 million in funds intended for regional transportation development. He said Atlanta is getting more than its fair share of the revenues and this money is being taken from North Fulton’s hide.

“If Atlanta wants to fund it, they have 15 percent off the top of this thing,” he said.

He said Atlanta would be paying for the project using other people’s money.

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Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos suggested heavy rail would never come to North Fulton, so the $37 million was money wasted.

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The representatives of Alpharetta, Milton and Johns Creek voted in favor; Wood, representing Roswell, voted against it. No representative from Mountain Park was present.

While the shift of $37 million of a $8 Billion dollar tax is a small gesture it does show that the mayors of North Fulton are finally yielding to the political realities in their communities. The strange thing is that just one week earlier the same newspaper published a story from the same reporter which lead readers to believe the mayors unanimously suppported the MARTA funds: 

Bodker said all the mayors support transit, but are concerned there is no regional transit system that all participating governments support. As far as the projects are concerned, the mayors support extending MARTA to Holcomb Bridge Road and eventually Windward Parkway. At the very least, the tax should pay for the necessary engineering, which would cost $37 million. The mayors also unanimously supported completing the proposed Clifton Corridor that would connect MARTA to Emory University, Atlanta’s largest employer, and extending MARTA up I-75 to at least Cumberland Mall.

A complete reversal of the North Fulton Municipal Association’s position in one week? How curious.

Where High-Income and Low-Income Workers Live in Atlanta

In 2009 the Atlanta Regional Commission published an interesting report called Where High Income and Low-Income Workers Live in Atlanta. The study’s basic conclusion was that,” Low-income workers, for example, tend to live south of I-20, while high-income workers live north of I-20 along the GA 400 corridor”. Of course anyone casually familiar with Atlanta could have told you that but the maps used to illustrate the conclusion are worth seeing. (You can click on the images to enlarge)

The difference is stark. And if you notice how many of the high wage earners live in the proposed Milton County you can see why the rest of Fulton County and the City of Atlanta are desperate to make sure it never happens.