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Dead end, danger ahead

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POSTED: September 19, 2007 5:05 a.m.
This summer we have watched Gov. Sonny Perdue and other Georgia political leaders fight about health care and the state tax code, as well as engage in personality conflicts that come from stuffing too many oversized egos in one building, even if the building is as big as the state Capitol. One thing we have not heard anyone address in any meaningful way, however, is our growing transportation problem.
During the past few weeks, the true magnitude of Georgia’s transportation mess has been on display. The crisis is certainly centered in metro Atlanta, but it is without question of statewide import. Even if you live hours outside I-285 and never venture into the city save for a trip to the airport or an occasional Braves game, metro Atlanta’s traffic gridlock and the dirty air that comes with it should concern you greatly. Metro Atlanta draws employers offering high-wage jobs to the state, and the taxes that the employees of those companies pay have fed an ever-growing state budget that funds needs from the North Georgia mountains to the Florida border.
A new study by the Center for Transportation and the Environment showed that, unlike everywhere else in the nation, the length of commute is the most common factor determining where metro Atlantans decide to work or live. That differs dramatically from almost any other place in the nation, where people are able to make those choices based on other factors, like career advancement and the type of neighborhood they prefer.
As the metro area’s worsening gridlock dictates its residents’ fundamental life decisions, the air quality continues to decline dramatically. August has been the worst month for air quality in Atlanta since 2000. Studies show children in metro Atlanta are more likely to develop asthma because of the filthy air produced by tailpipes idling in the gridlock.
All of this means our leaders’ cowardice in dealing with metro Atlanta’s transportation crisis is putting the future of the entire state at serious risk. If snarled traffic continues to dictate life for residents of the metro area, the companies that would move their high-paying jobs to the region will decide to go to a city where gridlock is not the dominant feature of life.
If you are a corporate executive tasked with relocating your company headquarters, why would you choose a city where the air quality is so bad it threatens the health of your own children? Beyond the missed opportunities for new corporate offices, how long will it take before current Atlanta employers decide that Charlotte or Nashville or any of a multitude of other cities without our problems are better places to locate? What happens to the state tax base when these companies pull up stakes and head out of town?
Our leaders are doing nothing about this problem. We are not even having the age-old debate between road builders and mass transit proponents. Part of the wave Perdue rode into office in 2002 was the Atlanta newspaper’s virulent opposition to then-Gov. Roy Barnes’ proposed Northern Arc highway that would have created a new artery in the jammed outer northern exurbs. After grandstanding on the issue during his campaign against Barnes, Perdue has not proposed any alternatives to it.    
Neither has Perdue pursued any other plan to reduce our gridlock. Even his modest proposals to synchronize traffic lights and encourage telecommuting have been abandoned. Not surprisingly, he’s done nothing to expand Atlantans’ mass transit options. That topic is, as always, fraught with political danger because it raises racial fears among the white exurban voters who make up the core of the Georgia GOP’s electoral base.
And so nothing is done as more and more people pour into metro Atlanta and attempt to use a transportation system that was designed and built for a region with a fraction of its current population. All I can conclude is that our transportation plan is to hope that so many people get fed up with our traffic jams and smog that they leave for greener pastures, taking their cars and tax dollars with them.
* * *
PORTER: “NOT ME!”
House Minority Leader DuBose Porter, (D-Dublin), objects to our report he had a tacit agreement earlier this year not to bring up an ethics charge against House Speaker Glenn Richardson. An ethics complaint filed by then-Democratic chairman Bobby Kahn charged the Speaker had an “improper relationship” with a female lobbyist pushing a bill to build a taxpayer-subsidized gas pipeline.
Rep. Porter says he decided to challenge Rep. Richardson, R-Hiram, for speaker after “women members” of his Democratic caucus expressed anger regarding Richardson’s conduct.
As expected, Richardson clobbered Porter in the Speaker’s election. And the House Democratic leadership closed ranks with Republicans to elect by acclamation the GOP Speaker Pro Tem, Mark Burkhalter of Alpharetta.  

Contact Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, or e-mail: shipp1@bellsouth.net
 

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