Mayor: State leaders key to local transportation

CONYERS - A transportation plan for the metro area presented by the Metro Atlanta Transit Planning Board may have many good proposals, but according to Conyers Mayor Randy Mills, there continues to be one glaring problem: no money.

The long-term plans of the transportation planning board call for incorporating a variety of transit options - ranging from high-occupancy vehicle, or HOV lanes, and express bus lanes on interstates to commuter rail systems and bus systems in suburban areas - into a coordinated plan to fight gridlock. The initial proposal shows that Rockdale County is on tap to receive HOV and rapid bus lanes on Interstate 20, along with a regional suburban bus system to the north metro area.

Mills, who also serves as vice-chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission, said the absence of leadership in finding ways to fund transportation problems in the Atlanta area means, however, that the best plans will never be more than just plans.

"The main thing will be to find ways to fund these projects and the state must take the lead," Mills said Friday. "The General Assembly must pass legislation that can provide for ways to access money or nothing will happen."

Mills said the lack of strong leadership at the state level regarding transportation leads to political anarchy.

"We have to have leadership from the top and transportation needs to be a priority concern," the mayor said. "We need a funding mechanism bill to come out of the General Assembly this year and be on the November 2008 ballot."

Mills also noted that congestion can be a nebulous term and may not define a problem, but rather represents the result of a problem.

"We all know about traffic woes, but we tend to think of transportation issues in terms of the metro Atlanta area; but there are communities throughout the state that face serious problems that are just as critical to that community as are any in Atlanta," Mills said. "That's why attacking a problem on a regional basis makes sense, and if something does or doesn't work in one region, another can use that as a guide. The main thing is, the time has come for politics to take a back seat to dealing with transportation problems."

Mills noted that regional funding plans for regional transportation projects have been advanced numerous times by officials in local government but have yet to make it through the legislature.

"It is always a matter of where the money is coming from and what the final division of the funds will be," he said. "Regional funding mechanisms allow the voters in those communities to look at the proposed projects and determine if it is something they believe is worth their money. If the voters say "no' to funding a project, so be it, but at least they have an option, and right now that's what is lacking."

Ric Latarski can be reached at ric.latarski@rockdalecitizen.com.