Monday, March 16, 2009

State Ownership of Transit

Our own State Rep. Bob Smith is proposing that the state have some control Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Watkinsville native Scott Trubey reports here for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Dan Matthews thinks it's a terrible idea, but doesn't say why.

I think it is interesting, at least. While the day-to-day operations of Hartsfield are generally well run, its approach to capital projects is often disastrous.
  • Example 1: the planned International Terminal, which is sorely needed as passengers arriving in Atlanta from foreign destinations not only have to deplane but have to collect and re-check all luggage (even if you are not changing flights!), which is a tremendous inconveinience. This project has doubled in cost since its conception. Recently Delta requested $400 million in budget cuts to the project (as an added bonus, the project is now three years behind schedule).
  • A new people mover to transport passengers to the rental car areas dubbed "CONRAC" has seen its budget spike by at least $30 million since inception as well.
  • See also the infamous "new runway" built several years ago where the contractor who provided the dirt was convicted of corruption (he was allegedly "required" to raise $100,000 for then Mayor Bill Campbell's campaign as a condition for getting the bid).
  • Until recent years, it was also always understood there was a certain level of corruption just below the surface at the airport, especially during the Maynard Jackson and Bill Campbell eras. Respected former Airport Manager Angela Gittens said essentially that as she left.
So the idea that there should be some level of state input on the future of this statewide asset makes sense to me, although state management of any profitable, successful asset gives me pause. I do believe that Ben DeCosta is a good manager (the airport has good retail choices, is clean, efficient, etc.), but it is obvious there is something that constantly gums up the works on big projects at Hartsfield, and I'd love to know what that is.

However, the real transportation asset that should be taken over by the state is MARTA. If there is one asset that needs new management, new capital, and new ideas, that is it. Limiting both our rail and air transportation assets -- which are of critical importance to the state's future economic health -- to the revenues and skill sets available in Atlanta and/or DeKalb counties, doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me.

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