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The Middle-Class Squeeze

Georgia lawmakers get set to turn the screws

by and

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Transportation

We're driving in our cars

Dan Fox is a 45-year-old handyman and former computer professional who lives in Austell with his wife Janet. The costs associated with their cars are equivalent to a second mortgage. Then there's the time factor.

I have to drive all over the place. All of my work is for homeowners. I've painted houses. I've done plumbing. I seal all of the windows and doors to make sure none of the heat gets out. It's a rarity to get a job where you can refurbish a kitchen because folks just don't have the money to put into it. Ninety-nine percent of my business is word of mouth, or they're repeat customers. And so most of the calls I get now are, "Something's broke, I need help now. Can you do it?"

My wife works in the health care field and she has gone to carpooling. She goes into work two hours earlier and leaves work an hour and a half later. She leaves the house at 6:30 a.m. and leaves work between 7 and 7:30 p.m. She has to be there at 8:30 a.m. She rides in with someone who has to be there at 7 a.m.

We have two cars. Before the gas prices went up we paid $30 to $40 a week for gas. Then it went up to $200 a week. That's when she started carpooling. She and her partners split the price. Now we pay $100 a week. That's $400 a month in gas.

GAS GUZZLERS: Dan Fox and his wife, Janet, spend so much time in their car that he wakes up early to see her in the morning  then he takes a nap. - JOEFF DAVIS
  • Joeff Davis
  • GAS GUZZLERS: Dan Fox and his wife, Janet, spend so much time in their car that he wakes up early to see her in the morning then he takes a nap.

Auto insurance costs us $130 per month. We don't have any accidents. There's no way to get it down. We're very good at shopping for a good deal. We've been with the same auto insurance provider for a number of years. There are no discounts or breaks for longevity. The cost is so high simply because we have to drive so far to go to work. The car payment is $300 a month; the truck is $360 a month.

I have stenosis in my back. My back has a bad curve, which is causing my hips to go out of socket, causing my knees to not line up right. Every time I bend my knee it pops. I can't walk upright. This is something you're born with. My hip has lost two-thirds rotation. I can't get my left sock and shoe on. I get up when my wife gets up to go to work, and she does it for me. Then I take a nap with my shoe on until it's time for me to go to work.

The issue: Adequate public transportation is virtually nonexistent, so Atlantans drive. Metro commuters, on average, live about 12 miles from work and spend 60 minutes a day in their cars. The lack of effective land-use planning has created a vacuum, allowing developers and road builders to shape the region into an endless landscape of sprawl. The increased miles that more and more vehicles are traveling on the region's roads have made us one of the nation's most-congested cities.

Telling facts: Nearly 5 million people now live in metro Atlanta, and the region's projected to increase by at least 3 million over the next 20 years. Some experts say metro Atlanta already is the nation's most spread-out metro area.

Georgia jerk-around: Many rural and even suburban legislators exult when they can play a role in derailing metro Atlanta's mass-transit plans. In his Eggs and Issues address last week to lawmakers and lobbyists, Gov. Sonny Perdue decried Georgia's transportation mess -- and proceeded to talk exclusively about building more roads. Rep. Steve Davis of McDonough has gained support from Republican leaders in his effort to block spending on commuter-rail projects. With lawmakers' close ties to developers, improving land-use planning this session is out of the question.

There will be a big push in the Legislature to replace the gas tax, which pays for the bulk of Georgia's road projects, with a $1.6 billion sales-tax hike. The tax hike would hit the pocketbooks of people who don't drive, while giving the DOT more money to finance ... you guessed it, more roads.

Compare it: Other metro areas, including many of our southern competitors, are moving ahead of Atlanta when it comes to transit. Charlotte is preparing to open a 9.6-mile light rail line in the spring. Dallas is planning to open 28 miles of rail expansion by 2010, and an additional 18.5 miles by 2013.


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