Originally created 08/14/04

Agency predicts worse traffic in Atlanta



ATLANTA - Despite expanded roads and public transit, traffic in Atlanta will only get worse as the metro area adds 2 million people during the next 25 years, the Atlanta Regional Commission says.

The planning agency released a study Thursday saying rush-hour drive times will continue to lengthen, as will gridlock regionwide. For example, an afternoon trip from Marietta to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is projected to grow from 48 minutes to 70 minutes.

Regional leaders who heard the analysis seemed frustrated.

"What I've heard is that if we spend $50 billion, we'll only be a little worse than if we do nothing. As a politician, I can't take that back to my constituents," Roswell Mayor Jere Wood said.

But commission executives defended the plan.

"When you realize there's not enough money, what (the plan) does is a lot," director Charles Krautler said.

The $50 billion in local, state and federal money was all the agency could predict would be available between now and 2030.

Bryan Hager, sprawl director for the Sierra Club's Georgia Chapter, said the failure to make significant headway against gridlock cried out for a new approach to transportation.

"It's amazing that the ARC will put out a plan that says things are going to continue to get worse," Mr. Hager said.

Agency officials countered that the plan meets federal air quality requirements and helps keep the growth of residents and cars from worsening gridlock even more. They concede that a number of "challenges" remain, such as generating more money to build and maintain an adequate urban transportation system.

"This is helping us keep track of growth, but this is not enough," ARC transportation planning director Jane Hayse said.

Another study released Thursday indicated that population growth in the Atlanta area slowed considerably in the past year as the number of jobs in the region declined during the national economic slowdown.

The agency estimated the population in the 10-county region at 3.7 million in April. That's up 46,800 from the previous April, but the region added an average 87,200 residents a year through the 1990s and 66,000 a year through the 1980s.

"We certainly don't think this is a long-term trend," Mr. Krautler said.