Georgians call ‘All aboard’ for Brain Train
In the quiet confines of Atlanta’s Commerce Club, a group of Georgia officials and business people gathered to “make noise about commuter rail.” The event, held Wednesday, aimed to increase support for two proposed rail projects in the state.
The topic of the night was the “Brain Train,” a plan to provide commuter rail transportation from the University of Georgia in Athens to the Atlanta area, and a long-standing plan for commuter rail between Macon and Atlanta. A panel comprised of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and representatives from groups including the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) fielded questions from the audience.
Funding for the projects remains a primary obstacle, former GDOT Commissioner Wayne Shackleford told the audience. “We’re far too compartmentalized in our revenues to do multi-modal or inter-modal transportation,” he said. “We haven’t had a dedicated source of revenue for rail, and we haven’t done a very good job of advancing rail.”
Audience members, particularly city and county officials, asked if the state would encourage the use of tax allocation districts (TADs). Tad Leithead, a member of ARC’s executive committee, said TADs could help provide money for initial investments in infrastructure projects by borrowing on expected tax revenue from the project.
Cagle said there is some political will behind transportation projects, but the state legislature remained divided over some funding issues. “I will tell you that there are bold steps being made that include looking at some rail,” Cagle said. However, when the six-member panel was asked to raise their hands if they believed there would be a new rail system in place in the next five years, Cagle was among three panelists who kept their hands down.