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Transportation board sets sight on implementation

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Atlanta's Transportation Planning Board is scheduled to end its existence in December, but is considering becoming an implementation organization instead.

At the TPB's meeting in Atlanta on Thursday, members reviewed the rough draft of a resolution to turn the planning board into an implementation board, renaming itself the Transportation Implementation Board rather than the Transportation Planning Board, now that the planning process is under control.

The TPB was created as a joint venture of the Atlanta Regional Commission, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority and the Georgia Regional Transit Authority. It includes representatives from the region's county governments, gubernatorial appointees, and people from the ARC, MARTA, GRTA and the Georgia Department of Transportation.

It was commissioned to come up with a transportation plan, and given an expiration date of December 2008. The board has come up with, and approved a plan, called "Concept 3."

But the TPB members don't want it to "sunset." In the process of putting together the transit plan, they found there is a need for region-wide governance, a body bigger than individual counties, but smaller than the state legislature. Transit, board members said, is a regional issue and needs regional governance.

The resolution didn't pass on Thursday, but the remaining issues were about the "wordsmithing" of the resolution, according to consultant Michael Halicki, and about the "details of architecture," according to Eldrin Bell, chairman of the TPB and of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners.

The resolution is expected to pass at the next meeting.

"We have to keep this group of people together," Bell said. "What we have done here is unprecedented in the history of regional thinking and that's coming together, like we have, at this table."

Others echoed the sentiment that the accomplishment of coming together to form the board was so significant, that eventhough the board's job was completed, it should be continued in another form.

Walter Deriso, chairman of the GRTA board, said he was proud to see what the TPB had become. "We've come to this point from where, when we started, we wouldn't even meet together," Deriso said.

Some, who have worked on and with, the TPB, see it as an answer to the Balkanization of transportation, which has stalled and stopped significant developments. Bell, in an interview with the Clayton News Daily, said transportation has traditionally been hyper-political, but the TPB was able to de-politicize the issue, bringing everyone in, and governing by inclusion.

"We created a cohesive group of leaders from across the region to champion the cause," Bell said. "There was a great deal of suspicion! A great deal! The region does not want to be told what to do by the state, and it's based on over-politicizing the decision-making process. There's a real fear that, because of political considerations, more will be given to this section, versus the other section. But we, at the TPB ... led the way in making transportation a regional issue."

The board members, having submitted and gotten approval for their regional plan, want to see it implemented. They believe the decision-making process used to create the plan may be the best one to implement the plan.

In the end, though, the proposed regional implementation board might be sunk by the biggest problem in transit development, bigger than politics or "sunset" deadlines -- funding.

Though embryonic, the Transportation Implementation Board concept has already been scaled back because of the question of who would pay for its staff and materials.

The draft of the resolution to transform the current body into the implementation organization, at this point, proposes merely an "interim TIB," which would be a subcommittee over at the ARC.

The agencies paying for the planning board, Bell said, haven't all agreed to fund a permanent implementation board, and the funding stops at the end of December.

"We don't know where the funding is coming from, yet," Bell said. "We're considering going to the General Assembly."

The TPB's last meeting is scheduled for Dec. 18, at the GRTA offices in Atlanta.