The Town of Lookout Mountain is a suburb of Chattanooga. The wealthiest residents in the area reside there. In Florida, the rich have a beach address. In Chattanooga, it is a “brow” address, a house on the edge of Lookout Mountain.
During the civil war the pro-slavery forces were defeated by the pro-democracy forces in the Battle of Lookout Mountain, known as the “Battle above the Clouds.” Tourism grew on the mountain because of its historical significance and scenic view.
About 100 years ago, the Incline Railway was built on the very steep side of Lookout Mountain to accommodate tourists wishing to get to the top. It is an engineering marvel built on a 72.7 percent grade.
The residents of the mountain can drive up the mountain in their cars faster than the train when the weather is good. When it snows or gets icy, they take the Incline Railway.
I can imagine a future Georgia politician or politicians going to Lookout Mountain on a high school field trip. For example, a chubby young Sonny Perdue, with a bushy flat top hair cut, might have had an experience totally different from his classmates.
Like many future Republicans, young Sonny had been planning his whole life to become rich and powerful. However, being rich and powerful in Bonaire, Georgia or any place in Georgia wasn’t all that attractive. Commodore Vanderbilt had The Biltmore Estate in North Carolina.
The richest Georgians had little in comparison. Georgia was like a thousand little ponds with a big fish in each little pond but no big pond with huge fish, not until moderate Democrats turned Atlanta into the biggest pond in the South.
Sonny planned for the takeover of Georgia all his life, first as a Democrat then as a Republican, but what would he do with his conquest? If he got bored, like Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan, he couldn’t continue his conquests in Alabama or South Carolina.
Sonny had to have a legacy, a big legacy. As he pondered this dilemma his whole life, he frequently thought of the Incline Railway. It was a transportation system for the rich and powerful but on a small scale and only during bad weather.
Sonny decided to take the Incline Railway formula and reverse it. He would make a transportation system mostly for the rich and powerful and a little for average folks. Sonny thought that average folks having “theoretically equal access” would make his plan acceptable to the legislature and to the public too.
Under closer scrutiny, even his Republican-controlled legislature would have none it, so Sonny created the Georgia State Road and Tollway Authority, funded it with gas taxes, and retained exclusive power in the hands of the governor. As the ultimate irony, it was called the Even Sonny had a sense of humor.
Sonny’s legacy and now Nathan Deal’s too, is a rapid transportation system for the rich and gridlock for the rest.
How did the worst transportation idea in the history of our planet become a reality? Blame it on the Incline Railway? This makes as much sense as any other idea.