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Georgia Governor Comes Around on Commuter Rail

12:49 PM EDT on June 20, 2008


Display of Georgia progress at the Welcome Center on I-85, near the South Carolina border

Big news out of Georgia. Governor Sonny Perdue, who in the past would have been about as likely to advocate for transit as to take his iced tea without sugar, is suddenly interested in commuter rail links between Atlanta and the 'burbs. Very interested, it seems. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:

Until now, no amount of begging or pleading seemed to get Gov. Perdue’s attention, much less his leadership.

Yet, last Thursday, there was the governor holding a news conferencewith all the transportation players in his office, speaking words thatregional and state leaders have wanted to hear throughout hisadministration.

“Let’s move out aggressively,” Perdue said. “Once I’ve made up my mind, I’m usually impatient.”

How out of it was Perdue? This is the same man who, when Hurricane Katrina briefly interrupted fuel supplies in 2005, leading panicked drivers to line up at convenience store pumps all over the state, shut down the public schools for two days in order to save gas.

Until now, the solution to congestion in Georgia has been pavement, pavement and -- yes, more pavement please. But $4.00-per-gallon gas appears to have finally changed that. In January, according to the AJC, Georgia Department of Transportation officials checked out (for the first time?) rail facilities in New York, Chicago and Boston, leading one board member to remark to another: "We are 100 years behind." And they visited cities more akin to Atlanta, like Charlotte, NC, and Denver, CO, where rail has taken off. Perdue was also reportedly convinced by a friend, Congressman David Scott, that passing up a $90 million rail funding pledge from the feds would be bad form and could jeopardize future grants.

“When he left my office, he told me, ‘David, I’m going to see whatwe can do as a result of our conversation,’ ” Scott said. “He left witha very good understanding of the issue.”

Maybe that was the moment Perdue decided he would finally take action to support commuter rail and more transit.

Maybe Perdue finally understood the true benefits.

He said at his news conference he was particularly impressed when hesaw a graphic showing that one bus could remove 57 cars from our roads(those numbers are much higher for rail).

Maybe, as DOT board member Robert Brown said, it was a just confluence of events that came together “at the right time.”

The proof will be in the peach pudding, but as a former Georgia resident I can't begin to convey what a shock it is just to see this conversation happening. With Perdue on board, the time may have finally arrived for one of the most auto-addicted populations in the country to take to the rails. That would be big news for all of us.

Photo: Brad Aaron

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