The traffic around Atlanta is bad? Have those people ever been on Highway 280 at rush hour? After years of continued urban sprawl, areas surrounding Birmingham have grown to take on a life of their own. With shopping centers sprouting up along the 280 corridor, growing numbers of neighborhoods being built South, and an increasing number of businesses locating in the 280 area, no one questions whether or not the area has outgrown itself.
Proposals have flown around city hall from expanding roads to divert traffic from 280 to develop a boondoggle $800 million fly-over toll way. Thousands of tax payer dollars have been spent on consultants to develop ideas, but to date nothing has been proven a viable solution. Mayor William Bell has consistently stated he wants to see a light-rail component added into the fly-over plan.
On average, rail costs $35 million dollars a mile. The $800 million dollar price tag on the fly-over would quickly top $1 billion in a county that is facing bankruptcy. It does not seem fiscally prudent to add to the current debt crisis with a plan that has no guarantee of success.
What seems to escape the city hall and ALDOT, is the solution currently sits on Morris Ave. The Birmingham Jefferson City Transit Authority (BJCTA) runs 83 buses that run on clean burning compressed Natural Gas. Currently, BJCTA operates what is known as a “reverse commute”. This means that people ride from downtown to the suburbs in the morning and back into the city in the afternoon. This discourages community use of mass transportation, and puts a financial strain on the transit department due to low ridership. More effort needs to be put into increasing ridership North in the morning and South in the afternoon.
BJCTA is roughly one-third the size it should be for a city the size of Birmingham. However, the ridership currently does not support the buses that are run. The city council, chamber of commerce, and local governments would benefit from full cooperation on this issue. The crux is trying to get residents that live, work, or commute on Highway 280 to commute on mass transportation that is seen as a commuting tool for a lower pay scale.
For a fraction of the cost of the fly-over, a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system can be established. Commuters could park in designate parking lots, commute in buses along Highway 280 into downtown, and spend less time in traffic. This would ease the traffic congestion, but not enough to discourage people from using mass transit. The BRT lane can be used as an High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane to encourage carpools. All of this decreases the amount of carbon pollution, noise pollution, wasted time in traffic, and saves money on fuel. This could also change current public sentiment on using mass transportation.
The buses at BJCTA use locally produced CNG, which has the lowest carbon footprint of any viable alternative fuel. With new advancements in technology, buses are able to be outfitted with wireless internet access streaming into the buses. This would allow commuters to access e-mail and begin their work day sooner, while leaving their homes later.
If businesses would offer incentives as an encouragement for workers to commute, it would promote increased ridership and increased productivity. The buses and parking spaces would generate revenue for the transit system, allowing them to rely less on local government for funding. By people parking cars at designated lots, it will increase business to the retailers located within those areas.
This is a viable solution, and fiscally responsible. By looking towards using current assets to solve this problem, it will not create greater debt within the ailing economy. However, it remains to be seen if local governments and agencies let this ride on by.