Friday, October 17, 2014

Some Thoughts on MARTA, Infrastructure, and Keynesian Economics

I was perusing some articles from magazines published by a company I've been working for since midsummer and that got me thinking about transportation, Atlanta's mass-transit system MARTA, and related topics. Here goes...

MARTA has historically not functioned very well for a number of reasons, including a lack of support from the state, state meddling in how it spends its money, opposition to expanding it from its core territories (for various reasons--although a lot of opposition is driven by excessive fear of crime and even outright racism, there're better reasons like not wanting to pay extra taxes and the fact the train doesn't go to places like Turner Field), etc. However, under new management, it has undergone a major turnaround. The possibility of extending MARTA buses and even rail (although they really should stop being so vague about doing this "in the future") to Clayton County is on the table, while 2012's failed TSPLOST (which would have passed if it had been limited to a more truncated area instead of including counties like Cherokee) included proposals to extend MARTA rail to Emory and even up Ga. 400 into North Fulton or up I-75 into Cobb. As the Governing article notes, there's a lot more support for expanding MARTA due to people moving in-town, high gas prices, etc.

And now for the Keynesianism. This article here describes how in many places, growth and employment are low but so are borrowing costs. That would be a good time for infrastructure investment, since it would employ people and get them spending money ("priming the pump" if you will) and low interest rates mean that it's safer for a government to borrow money to fund the project. And given the dilapidated state of much of U.S. infrastructure (here's a specific example of where things can go very wrong), we wouldn't be talking about stupid make-work projects like paying people to dig holes and paying others to fill them, but stuff that is in legitimate government purview. Here's some evidence that this can kick in the "money multiplier" effect.

As far as Atlanta is concerned, Georgia recently had the highest unemployment rate in the nation, although things have gotten better now. MARTA has a bunch of projects under consideration already. I'm not a transit expert, but I can see some areas where expanding MARTA rail in-town and out-of-town would merit further investigation and, if built, would provide lots of construction/infrastructure-type jobs.

*Although the stereotype of MARTA opponents is white people from the northern suburbs, there was opposition to the TSPLOST based on how it wouldn't have extended heavy rail to Stonecrest Mall. Residents don't want to wait decades to get rail out the I-20 East corridor. This would be pretty pricey based on that article--according to these specifics here, it'd be 12 miles of heavy rail, some transit centers (presumably for buses), and a bunch of other stuff, at a cost of $2 billion. That's billion with a B. Still, if it would clear out the traffic in the area, it would reduce air pollution and improve quality of life for area residents on top of the obvious "reduce traffic" parts.

*The Clifton Corridor project would extend MARTA to Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control facility in Atlanta. This is the main reason I advocated in favor of the TSPLOST, since I've visited friends out there and the place is a traffic black hole at certain periods of the day. Someone I knew online opposed TSPLOST funding for the project by saying that Emory and the CDC should contribute and that's not a bad argument. I'm not sure about using light rail vs. heavy rail--a lot of the times light rail isn't separated from car traffic and if the trains get snarled among cars like a streetcar would, people won't use them.

*A direct rail connection to Atlantic Station would help remedy the "doesn't go anywhere" problem inside the Perimeter. I've seen movies like Ender's Game with friends from Alpharetta and it was easier to drive than take the train because then we'd have to use a shuttle bus to actually get to Atlantic Station. This would be even more convenient for people already in-town, since they wouldn't need to make the long trip down from North Springs into Atlanta proper. Thing is, with all the development already there, it would be more expensive to build a rail connection (even a cheaper light rail one) and according to the MARTA site, it's not that far of a walk.

*Assuming Clayton votes for MARTA this November, go to page 2-11 to see where rail stops can go. I used to live in the Lovejoy/Jonesboro area (back when I was a reporter for The Griffin Daily News) and I would have loved this for DragonCon and even for church (I go to a church in-town near a MARTA stop). Although rail wouldn't go as far south as Lovejoy (at first), it would have been much better to get on the train at the Jonesboro Justice Center than drive all the way up to Lakewood/Ft. McPherson.

*Extending MARTA rail to Turner Field (which would allow the buses used for the Braves shuttle to be deployed elsewhere) was on the initial TSPLOST project list, but was ultimately removed. The lack of transit options was one reason the Braves gave for leaving Atlanta, although the fact they're moving to Cobb (where the transit situation is even worse) makes them look dumb at best and dishonest at worst. Still, given the possible uses Turner Field could be put to--Mayor Kasim Reed wants a middle-class housing development and Georgia State University wants to transform it into a combination of sports, retail, and student housing--extending MARTA rail to the site anyway would be a good idea.

*As far as extending MARTA outside the Perimeter is concerned, back when I was a reporter in North Fulton I heard all about various proposals to extend MARTA into Alpharetta. That particular line would begin in the Perimeter area and extend all the way to Windward Parkway, with stops in Roswell along the way. That has faced some opposition from people who think it would "urbanize" Alpharetta (in context they're talking about dense development, not using "urban" as a synonym for "black"), but others have pointed out that there's a whole lot of office space in the area. If you work in the same office all day, you won't need a car like more mobile workers (such as journalists like me), so if a lot of office workers commute to Alpharetta from elsewhere, rail service might be a boon for them.

*If we go through with bringing the Braves Stadium to the Cumberland area (gag me with a spoon), it's going to create a traffic nightmare in the area. Extending MARTA up I-75 will connect the system to in-town fans and fans from the south who could take MARTA through Atlanta to Cobb, but one reason the Braves moved is because, based on ticket sales, they figured most of the fan base lived in the northern suburbs. However nice building a MARTA line connecting Cumberland to the rest of Atlanta would be in and of itself, it won't help "northern arc" people get there any faster and, as the following article points out, the politically-easiest route would also be quite expensive. Here's a transportation proposal that should make things easier and would create jobs to boot.

*This is an odd proposal that I'm not aware anybody has even studied, but some kind cross-Perimeter line connecting Doraville (Gold Line) to Dunwoody (Red Line) would be interesting. The distance is relatively short and it would allow much easier transit between the Red and Gold lines if somebody wants to go from the Northside to Lenox or Brookhaven rather than having to go all the way to Lindbergh Center and then change trains. If someone is heading up from downtown to the Northside and wants to detour to Lenox for whatever reason, they could keep going on the Gold Line and get back on the Red at Doraville.

No comments:

Post a Comment