Friday, January 8, 2010

Tunnel Vision

On Wednesday our city paper had an interesting article about a proposed tunnel under east Atlanta. My first reaction upon reading it: Typical, just typical.

This wasn't the first time I had heard of this idea. Or the second. AJC writer Jim Wooten thinks it’s a "cracker-jack idea". I disagree - let me count the ways:

  1. This is another way to direct funds away from public transportation (i.e. MARTA, GRTA, the Beltline) that could handle higher loads of traffic in a more efficient way than building even more highway miles.
  2. This is a band-aid idea (and an expensive one at that) for our current growth woes. (We should not have allowed such rampant growth to tax our infrastructure in the first place, but hindsight is 20/20.)
  3. I'm sure the folks in charge here are smart people. But they do know that cars produce carbon monoxide, right? Where is that going to come out of the ground? Are there going to be vents near the Carter Center and Grant Park?
  4. Can someone name me any "successful" tunnel projects in the US over the past few decades? By successful I mean completed relatively close to budget and on schedule. I can do the opposite easily - Boston and Seattle would start off the list.
  5. Do we really want to run more highways through established neighborhoods (under or over ground)? The Downtown Connector pretty much killed the thriving black communities it went through in the 50's.
Flower Sample
Proposed tunnel (courtesy of GADOT)

I could go on but let's talk a bit about what lies beneath the surface of this proposal.

This is just typical "Atlanta versus Georgia" politics at play. There's a reason why our state legislators have let any community leave the city of Atlanta (Dunwoody, Milton, Alpharetta, Sandy Springs….) and sided with the suburbs over the city on almost every political issue for decades (its not just a race thing either.) If the state could get a new capital building in Milledgeville for free I'm sure most of them would be happy to avoid Braves traffic in the summer. Surely they know they'll get a big fight on this from the neighborhoods this tunnel would go under or the connecting toll road would go through - history will repeat itself for the most part.

I suspect the official stance from the DOT and the Atlanta Regional Commission will remain the same on this until they can find the right amount of funds (and I'm sure private interests will give it to them for the chance to make billions off of metro residents in tolls) despite new leadership coming in for the city and the state in the near future. Hopefully this idea ends up being as successful as the Northern Arc (I'm sure the DOT still flinches whenever someone brings that political bomb up.) 

I'll bring more updates on this project in future posts - its just too fascinating a story for me not to say something about it in this venue. Let me know what you think in the Comments section. (Don't worry, I won't blast you for liking the project, just some healthy debate. We all know the problem is a tricky one to solve.)

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