Transportation in suburbia

Posted: March 24, 2008 in MARTA gwinnett county atlanta

A recent survey indicated that most residents in Gwinnett County, (a large suburban county north of Atlanta)view MARTA (Atlanta’s transit system) favorably. The majority of my fellow county residents say that we have had it with traffic.

Who can blame us? Roads called Ronald Reagan Parkway are choked with SUVs, Hummers and minivan. With few alternative routes, bike paths and sidewalks, we are stuck in a maze of traffic headaches that have become a major migraine with no end in sight.

While the positive results of the survey are good, I’m convinced that if a vote were held today, the measure to bring good public transportation to the county would be defeated for the third time. Yes, my fellow county residents have defeated this measure in the past because they felt that a transit system would bring crime to the county. Even with gridlock and rising gas prices, many hardworking taxpayers are willing to put up with these problems instead of paying for a MARTA-like system.

Aside from the funding dilemma, recent setbacks have tarnished MARTA’s image with news of trains that break down, buses that are late and escalators that malfunction. It is no surprise that bringing MARTA to Gwinnett is a tough sell to residents.

Whether it’s MARTA or not, the county needs an improved public transportation system created through some type of middle-of-the-road approach. Perhaps a MARTA-like expansion/improvement plan funded through a combination of private and public initiatives is needed. OK, more taxes are an unpopular idea in Gwinnett where low taxes have attracted business and housing for well over three decades. Since it is obvious that the FAIRTax is popular in the county, how about trying something similar to it to make alternative transportation a reality?

Fuel prices are expected to go even higher soon due to an $18 billion repeal of tax breaks for petroleum companies. While those extra funds will be earmarked for future alternative-transportation research, it is most likely the oil companies will pass the costs on to the consumer. We might see gas hit $4 a gallon soon.

Higher fuel costs might slow the local economy, but their impact will not be felt equally across Gwinnett’s general population. The effects will be felt most strongly by those who live paycheck to paycheck. They are the folks who rely more on public transportation to get them to their jobs and to buy necessities. They are the folks who run the check-out line at Wal-Mart or serve you at Denny’s. It’s a tough choice for them. Will they deal with the costs of operating a vehicle or accept public transportation fare increases and continue using these existing systems?

The county can alleviate our traffic woes with more roads, but it is a Band-Aid approach. The county couldn’t add roads fast enough to accommodate the number of cars coming to the area. More roads also lead to more gridlock, stress and poor air quality.

The county has added more roads and buildings, which are expected with a growing economy and tax base, but county legislators should have been thinking about public transportation funding all of these years. The results of not doing anything can be found on roads like Buford Highway, which features gridlocked intersections, too few sidewalks and plenty of congested strip malls. There is hope with live-work-play communities around the county, but one has to deal with the traffic to get to them.

Imagine a county with trains, streetcars, continuous sidewalks and bike paths. With bold leadership and creative thinking, it can be possible.

Just think if the county made this happen, we could not only attract more quality residents, but perhaps tourists as well.

A tax plan to fund an expanded transportation system might be unrealistic to our legislators and skeptical citizens, but doing nothing is the worst option. Gwinnett must find a balance. Something must be done.

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