Transportation is a unity ticket of sorts. Candidates may have nuanced disagreements about how to tackle Georgia’s - and namely, Metro Atlanta’s - transportation and traffic issues, but their views are largely similar. This is why transportation, for as big as the problem is, isn’t a centerpiece in most campaigns.
Clay Tippins’ ill-fated gubernatorial campaign was one exception to this strategy, with his transportation-fueled attack on former Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. The primary race didn’t work out well for either.
AJC transportation reporter David Wickert did a great piece on where both Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams stand on transportation. At the time of the deadline, the governor’s race is technically undecided, though Kemp has an almost certain clear path to victory. But whoever takes the governor’s mansion will change the trajectory that outgoing Governor Nathan Deal has set.
“In one-on-one conversations with Secretary Kemp, I think he is planning to continue existing GDOT plans for greater use of reversible lanes,” CSI Crane principal and WSB Radio political analyst Bill Crane said. “And though he sees the benefits of greater connectivity between Georgia's population centers, I'm not sure he is sold that we need more than 'good roads' to do that.”
Wickert’s piece explained how some of the state’s long term plans received approval, but not very transparently, something both Kemp and Abrams said they would change.
Kemp also wants to see more public-private partnerships on projects, particularly mass transit. Abrams, meanwhile, wants to set aside $150 million in government bonds for transit.
“[To] ensure that the state remains a key investor in transit through our bonding capacity; general fund incentives where appropriate; and inclusion of transit as a permitted use of motor fuel taxes, without sacrificing our current efforts on roads, bridges and economic development projects,” Abrams told the AJC.
Former state representative Geoff Duncan won the Lieutenant Governorship, succeeding Cagle, and Crane said this could impact transportation legislation going forward. “The Senate has a new L.G., who isn't Lieutenant Governor Cagle on these issues. That may as a result be new committee chairs, though I know Senator Brandon Beach would prefer to remain in his position, he was among the most visible Cagle supporters.” Crane said the Lieutenant Governor chooses the committee chairs in the state Senate and Cagle was very much a proponent of expanding transportation funding.
With Republicans maintaining state House control, not much should change. “House leadership will be changing less, and it may sound odd, but we may end up with House Speaker David Ralston as the most visible spokesperson for further state investment in transit and transportation in the near term,” Crane said.
Outgoing Representative Meagan Hanson, R-Brookhaven, centered her campaign on transportation, in hopes of winning some purple votes. Her TV ads focused almost solely on mass transit expansion. But despite that popular stance, she lost her seat to Democrat Matthew Wilson.
This election is (mostly) in the books, but another special one on the horizon may do much more to shape the Atlanta transportation landscape.
“The Gwinnett MARTA referendum in March rises significantly in importance. There are clearly some watershed changes in demographics and voting patterns underway there. But very little has been done to promote the referendum or benefits of expanding connectivity/transit into Gwinnett,” Crane explained. “We are now just under 120 days from that special election. My concern, as an advocate of transit options, connectivity and being competitive with the other great cities of the world, is that ifthe referendum fails in Gwinnett, MARTA may become landlocked in its current footprint for another decade or so. We are already behind the eight ball in terms of system size, expansion, etc...on that front.”
In a few short paragraphs, Crane encapsulates very well how subtle changes after elections can sway Atlanta and Georgia’s traffic trajectory. Big questions on mass transit expansion, for example, get answered as low as the county commission level, where those leaders decide what happens in their areas. County commissioners are also stakeholders in the Atlanta Regional Commission, which works cooperatively to plan Atlanta’s traffic plan for decades down the road.
Most people agree that Atlanta’s traffic absolutely must improve. But the path to get there may take some different turns in the coming months.
Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@coxinc.com.