Can Concept 3 Be Funded?
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Problem: Atlanta, Georgia faces significant transportation challenges. The city and surrounding region have grown rapidly. This rapid growth has produced traffic congestion and air pollution. Quality of life has suffered. Some people believe that Atlanta’s transportation-related problems are making it hard to attract businesses to locate in the region. Public transportation could help solve these problems, but expanding public transportation is costly. Investment in public transportation has been constrained over the years, following a period of relatively healthy levels of spending in the 1970s and 1980s. MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Regional Transit Authority), the region’s public transportation system, has been struggling financially. The state provides little support to public transportation. The Atlanta Regional Commission has proposed a plan to improve and greatly extend the existing public transportation system. The plan is very ambitious. It addresses many of the region’s public transportation needs. But it also is costly. At a time of high unemployment, falling tax revenues, and many demands on public budgets, the challenge of finding funding for Concept 3 is very great. Purpose: This study seeks to evaluate the prospects for funding Concept 3 and recommend what proponents of the plan might do to enhance the chances of success. Methods: This analysis surveys the factors that may come into play in determining whether or not Concept 3 might be implemented. It examines traffic congestion and air quality considerations, assesses public and opinion leader support for public transportation investment, considers possible funding approaches, and looks at the successes and failures of expansion in other transit systems in other major metropolitan areas. The analysis flows out of consideration of a wide range of materials, including studies by planners, think tanks, and public agencies and a wide range of other publicly available material. Results and Conclusions: Funding Concept 3 is an uphill climb. The scale of the investments required, the unmet financial needs of the existing public transportation in the Atlanta region, and the economic hard times argue against it. On the other hand, more public transportation could benefit much of the region’s population, both in terms of quality of life and in terms of jobs and economic growth. Also, while financial support for the existing system has not been at the level it needs to be, a new law passed in 2010 by the state legislature could be a vehicle for acquiring more transportation funding. In addition, support for more investment in public transportation comes from many quarters, so there are proponents who could if organized and committed for the long haul build broad support for new spending on public transportation. Most likely at least some part of Concept 3 will be implemented, but what parts and on what schedule remain uncertain. Takeaway for Practice: The business of planning is a long-term enterprise and involves more than producing creative, logical solutions to planning issues. It must also take into account getting the funding to put plans in motion. And that itself is probably far more complicated and difficult than producing a plan concept. Ultimately, a lot of people must agree that implementation makes sense, and the public as well as the politicians must be willing to provide the funding. Figuring out how to help make that happen and then having the commitment to work to make it happen over what might be a large part of a planner’s career can be – and usually are – tremendous challenges.