Arguably, there has been nothing more highly debated than Gwinnett County’s transportation issues. However, citizens can all agree that no one likes waiting in bumper-to-bumper traffic every morning and afternoon. Yet, in a region of nearly 5.6 million people with as many as 78 percent of working adults commuting in car, one would expect some serious traffic problems. The reality is that our society is calling for their representatives in government to hear their voices.
Primarily, the options local and regional governments for Gwinnett County have been considering are 1) Build more roads and 2) Invest into light-rail transit options. Here are some clarifications on recent myths circulating around that may affect your ideas on Gwinnett County transportation improvements.
1. Myth: The current automobile dominance is a free-market outcome.
As early as 1921, the government was pouring $1.4 billion into highways. By the 1960s, that number was $11.5 billion. Public transit did not receive any subsidies until 1964. Thus, the government, not the people, induced and continues to induce the American demand for cars. Society understands that taxing one competitor while subsidizing another one is not a free-market economy.
2. Myth: Trains and transit are subsidized, while highways pay for themselves.
The 2008 Federal Highway Administration numbers show that the gas tax, which is supposed to be the integral part of paying for our country’s roads, covers for only 51.72 percent of the government’s highway budget. Amtrak, a privately-owned company, reported that 67 percent of its operating expenses come from user fees. On a nationwide scale, rail transit covers 53 percent of its costs from user-fees, while urban buses cover only 28 percent.
3. Myth: Where public transportation is necessary, buses are always better.
Unlike bus transit, rail has a positive effect on development and property values. In Denver, Colo., one housing report showed that value of homes with-in one mile of a light-rail station rose by 17.6 percent between 2006 and 2008. While the upfront capital cost of the rail transit is higher, the operating cost per passenger is much lower (approximately $0.50 for rail compared to $0.90 for bus).
4. Myth: No one in Gwinnett supports light-rail.
In fact, the Atlanta Regional Commission, a bipartisan committee of local experts, have examined the numbers and light rail extending to the Gwinnett Arena would attract a ridership of at least 13,000 commuters. Historically, these number tend to be very conservative. The debate continues on whether light rail has enough support from Gwinnett County at-large. “You’re either for light rail or you’re against light rail,” said Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson, chairman of the regional transportation “roundtable,” which will pull together a final project list. “It’s one of those polarizing projects.” Although, Gwinnett citizens defeated a tax for rail projects in 1971 and again in 1990, these were decades ago and the county is beginning to reflect a more politically diverse populace.
The debate continues in Gwinnett County. We are continuing to explore ways to solve our local transportation problems but whatever we do we have to ask ourselves: What happens in 10 years? 20 years?
Some pro-transit residents argue that light rail is not the only things to solve this issue, but perhaps a holistic approach. Foremost, streets should be designed for all types of travelers—cyclists and pedestrians included. Moreover, instead of giving the oil industry $4 billion in tax breaks, the government could provide incentives for people to drive less. Some states may consider supporting a pay-as-you-go car insurance policy like California.
Whatever happens, we must recognize that change in our local transportation options starts with citizens like you and me. Check out who’s representing you on the Regional Transportation Roundtable and let them know how you feel by visiting Greening Forward’s Take Action webpage and scrolling down to “Curbing Carbon & Green Transportation.”