Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Rail Lines, Roads Will Compete for State Funding

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Rail Lines, Roads Will Compete for State Funding

Article excerpt

Byline: WALTER C. JONES

ATLANTA -- In the cities, the issue is traffic congestion.

In the rural areas, it's market access.

In every corner of the state, voters in this highly mobile society are interested in solutions to the transportation problems they face.

So far, the two candidates for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor and Secretary of State Cathy Cox, haven't focused on transportation with specific proposals on what they would do differently from Gov. Sonny Perdue. Their campaigns say details will come soon.

In the meantime, voters like Richard Swan in Evans are waiting.

"I wish we had a good route from Augusta to Savannah, and also from Augusta to Athens," he said. ". . . I can remember that the people have complained 30 or 40 years."

Swan said from his perspective, roads linking the state's smaller cities should be the top priority.

And what does he think about passenger rail lines into Atlanta?

"I think that would be a waste of good money," he said.

Across the state in Jackson County, Richard Young sees it the other way around. He would favor a candidate who puts spending on passenger rail ahead of road construction.

"If one of them would say he is going to spend some time trying to improve mass transit, that would probably be a good idea," he said. "With the price of gas and all, getting some cars off the road just seems like a good idea."

The differing opinions of Swan and Young show the challenge candidates face in taking a stance on a divisive issue like transportation.

Rarely do voters choose a candidate solely on a transportation platform, said Mike Digby, political science professor at Georgia College & State University. But positions can contribute to a voter's choice and may exhibit the quality of a candidate's leadership or grasp of complex details.

Such was the case in the last gubernatorial election in 2002. Former Gov. Roy Barnes championed a controversial regional transportation authority that would overrule local road-building programs. He also supported a "northern arc" highway north of Atlanta, two positions that were factors in a loss of votes in Metro Atlanta, which had been his stronghold, according to Digby.

"Something like transportation, just about every voter has an opinion about it because it's something they encounter every day," Digby said.

Taylor and Cox camps say planning and public input would be hallmarks of any transportation program they would pursue. Both have also been sympathetic to passenger rail service. Their stance won't distinguish them from one another, but it does distance them from Perdue, who has tilted toward roads over rail.

"We can't just pave our way out of the transportation situation we're in," said Cox spokesman Peter Jackson.

Cox is opposed to a proposal to halt work on commuter rail lines until a ballot referendum is held. …

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