Commuter rail in Georgia and a bad case of burying the leadAugust 5, 2009
By Stephen Lee Davis
The Georgia Department of Transportation has been (finally) moving towards plans for a commuter rail line south from downtown through the southern suburbs to the city of Lovejoy. This week, they got some bad news from the Federal Transit Administration, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
At a moment when mass transit is taking center stage as a solution to transportation problems nationwide, a federal report has concluded that the Georgia Department of Transportation’s transit program is riddled with financial management problems, according to a report obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The problems were so severe that the federal government has frozen DOT’s transit grants, which average about $28 million a year, including some from the federal stimulus program. The report cast doubt on whether DOT could manage grants for the commuter rail line proposed to go south through Lovejoy.
But the most alarming nugget in the story was completely buried in the closing paragraphs of the story.
Meyer said he didn’t know whether the problems were only due to sparse resources — DOT’s Intermodal Division has 23 employees handling rail, transit, aviation and waterways, in an agency of 5,400 — or if there was a culture of sloppiness. [emphasis ours]
Only 23 people out of 5,400 employees at Georgia’s DOT? It’s hard to imagine that the state could plan and implement a large-scale model railroad with only 23 people — much less their first true commuter rail line in decades.
Transportation advocates in Georgia have been working for decades to bring commuter rail to the capital city of Atlanta. It would seem like a no-brainer in a congested metro region with multiple existing railroad lines into the city — a city with deep roots as a railroad town — but it has taken decades to get a planned commuter rail line into Atlanta anywhere close to reality. It’s been a long slog, even as other cities have gone back to their past as railroad towns and opened new, successful commuter rail lines
If Georgia is ever going to follow the lead of numerous other states that are investing in commuter rail or other options for getting around their congested region, they’re probably going to need a few more than 23 people to get it done.