Supporting the Citizens for Transportation Mobility whose Untie Atlanta campaign advertises “less traffic, more jobs and a stronger economy,” chamber Public Policy Director Bernie Tokarz advocated a $450 million renovation of Ga. 400 and Interstate 285 in north Fulton County, to be paid for from the $8.5 billion T-SPLOST.
“We need an alternative funding mechanism for transportation,” Tokarz said, referring to current gas taxes which will likely render $980 million this year for Georgia roads and bridges, down from $1.2 billion in 2008. “If we do not, projects like 400 and 285 where 340,000 vehicles a day go through — it’s the busiest interchange in the Southeast — will not be able to be completed in the next 15 or 20 years. It will be a 30- to 50-year project.”
Al Nash, executive director of the chamber’s economic development initiative Progress Partners of North Fulton Atlanta, said the interchange is overdue for refurbishment.
“There’s been no upgrade to those ramps since 1971, when it opened,” he said.
Nash said business owners he talks to don’t want to wait for traffic congestion relief.
“One of the main questions asked is commute times,” he said. “It’s not only about companies that we’re trying to get here, it’s about the existing companies that are making decisions about whether or not they want to grow and expand here.”
UPS CFO Kurt Kuehn said the Fortune 50 company is happy with its global headquarters in Sandy Springs but needs to move goods more efficiently.
“We send out 1,100 drivers every day in metro Atlanta,” the former driver said. “Just a five-minute delay in traffic for those 1,100 drivers costs us $3,000 in direct expenses or about $800,000 a year.”
Kuehn said traffic congestion is a tax itself, only one not levied by the taxpayers.
“If the same thing happens to all our drivers across the U.S., that’s a hidden tax just to UPS of more than $100 million a year,” he said. “None of us like taxes but there’s a hidden tax in the Atlanta economy today. The choice is you make an investment to address that or you continue to suffer in silence.”