My family’s humble home sits less than a half mile from Interstate 75. Late at night when a hush settles over the neighborhood, I can walk out onto the deck and listen and hear the faint rumbling of the trucks and cars rushing nearby.
Most days my routine consists of an East Cobb to West End commute, traveling roughly 23 miles each way on I-75, I-285, and I-20. My commute probably averages 40 minutes each way, which makes mine a little worse than Atlanta’s average, which Forbes recently ranked as the sixth-worst in the country.
But it’s a routine I bear without white knuckles and a minimum of road rage. I came of age and learned to drive in Atlanta in the 1970s and have become a battle hardened road warrior of our city’s streets and highways in the decades since. I speak fluent Herb Emory.
I am also a veteran observer of how state and local government works, in particular how “transportation” initiatives work in Georgia. It’s much simpler than the policy wonks and elite-media pundits like to portray it.
The Governor and his fixers under the Gold Dome and appointed to the DOT Board split up the state and federal “road” money and dole it out to their friends in the paving and road-building business, making sure that we widen existing roads and build new ones designed to increase the speculative property values of their friends and relatives.
It’s a strategy that has created jobs, graft and political power bases for decades all across the land. Just ask the people who lived in Atlanta’s Grant Park Neighborhood before I-20 cut it in two for the sake of progress. Ask the old folks back in Brooklyn and The Bronx about the Robert Moses Effect.
And for all of those futuristic wonky holograms in the sky about light rail lines and monorails, roundabouts and robot cars that drive you there while you log on to your twitter account in the back seat, the only new wrinkle lately that appears likely to see the light of day is what Nathan Deal is calling the Northwest Corridor Project.
That’s a progressive sounding name for building toll lanes in place of free lanes on I-575 and I-75, to do for me and you what he’s already done to the poor souls unable to pay for the 1% lanes on I-85.
Traffic wonks claim these lanes do increase traffic flow. Rapidly graying Gwinnettians stuck on I-85 beg to differ, but once it starts costing in upwards of $5.00 a drive during my twice daily high exhaust tide on I-75 I’ll be forced into the ‘drive in the free lane sucker you're late’ demographic.
Georgia's traditional transportation strategy works perfectly for the politicians and the politically connected, while enforcing the 1950s American ideal of a full tank of gasoline and the pedal to the metal, our worth and our freedom tied to our level of auto purchase and the ability to burn as many hydrocarbons as we can, speeding down the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System.
When transit or other logical alternatives to more asphalt, cars, and traffic jams are put forth for long-term planning or funding we slap them down for reasons ranging from racial fears to insistence that “I’ll never take a train.”
Between now and the July 31 TSPLOST vote we will continue to be targeted by a full range of robo-calls, billboards and electronic media campaigns designed to convince us that we must take control of our future by carving an additional penny out of every dollar spent to make way for the brave new future of shorter commutes and economic viability.
Some say it’s better than doing nothing while others scream that it’s a socialist plot. But it’s more than traffic that is jammed. It’s a community mindset stuck in our outmoded great frontier, fill ‘er up and go American past, where the cost of suburbia always seems as though it should be pennies a gallon, not the unsustainable mass hamster wheel it’s become.
And a penny more on the dollar for more of the same is not going to change that.