Robbie Ashe, chairman of the MARTA board, just sent over a photo that he said was bouncing around late last night as lobbyists, lawmakers and other denizens of the state Capitol were figuring out how their way home would be crippled by an interstate on fire.
The image showed a locomotive and cars with human beings hanging from every square inch, plus the caption: “MARTA tomorrow.”
More on this later, but MARTA is far more important today than metro Atlanta’s northern suburbs thought it was yesterday.
Some were already there. In the early scramble to deal with the crisis, we asked Gov. Nathan Deal if the north MARTA line linking downtown with north Fulton and DeKalb counties, which parallels that portion of I-85 that was in flames, had been damaged.
He said he didn’t know. “I hope it was not,” Deal added. (And it wasn’t. MARTA is adding more trains and cars to the red and gold lines to accommodate an increase in riders it anticipates this morning.)
There’s no escaping that, once again, the basics of getting around has become the dominant political issue in metro Atlanta. “If I can get there” is our new daily slogan. Our current situation is rather like the Snowjams of the past. Except there’s no waiting for the ice to melt.
You can expect to see the issue jump up into talking points across the region. Our AJC colleague Jennifer Brett reports this:
In a 2:35 a.m. email to supporters, Fulton County Commission Chair John Eaves, a candidate in the crowded Atlanta mayoral race, called the traffic misery staring Atlanta in the face in the aftermath of the massive I-85 fire and collapse a crisis that “exposes the underlying issue of the lack of a cohesive and comprehensive transportation plan.”
But the I-85 collapse really isn’t a city of Atlanta issue. Interstates are a state and regional concern. Which is why the fiery debacle could have a serious impact in the race for the Sixth District congressional seat of Tom Price. This is the geographic quadrant most affected by the elimination of I-85 as a commuter path.
It is also an area where the topic of commuter rail has been bubbling. Then there’s Gwinnett County, which is as dependent on I-85 as Cobb County is on I-75.
We’ve made progress. Witness Cobb County’s recent change of heart. But overall, we have been slow to catch on to the need to diversify our transportation options. An excellent example of our neglect occurred last night. Two bills were before the Legislature on its final day. Both HB 160 and SB 6 would have established state-sanctioned, GOP-dominated panels to chart out the funding and structure of a regional transit system.
So far as we can tell, both bills went up in flames with I-85.
An income tax cut, fantasy sports legalization, a campus rape measure and a scaled-back redistricting plan were among the proposals that failed to reach final approval by the General Assembly last night.
But the biggest was an update to Georgia’s adoption law that both Gov. Nathan Deal and House Speaker David Ralston said were a top priority. The bill was hamstrung after the Senate added legal protections for child placement agencies that refused to deal with some some would-be parents, such as same-sex couples, seeking to adopt a child.
“I have to be honest with you and tell you that I hoped the Senate would do the right thing. They went another direction,” said Ralston. “That’s their prerogative and we’ll try again next year.”
The speaker was asked if he felt betrayed by Senate leaders, who waited until midnight neared to usher out a new adoption bill and then failed to cobble together the votes for it.
“No, I don’t feel betrayed. I feel disappointed. But I don’t feel betrayed.”
But Ralston rejected complaints from the Senate floor that more time was required to study the bill. “We work for two years on an issue. And we worked out in the open on it so they knew what we were doing,” Ralston said. “We passed the measure many weeks ago. So they knew it was coming. I am disappointed.”
University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball changed its projection yesterday for Georgia’s 6th District House race from “likely Republican” to “toss-up.”
In a series of tweets, Crystal Ball Manager Editor Kyle Kondik explains why:
Speaking of the Sixth District race, national Republicans are becoming increasingly anxious that a spread-out Republican field could lead to an upset victory for Democrat Jon Ossoff on April 18. From Politico:
Mounting worries have led the GOP’s House campaign arm to set up its independent expenditure operation, part of a “battle plan” to get involved “in short order,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers of Ohio [said].
“Special elections are special, and the Democrats and some independents are excited, so we need to make sure Republicans are just as excited about voting. I feel confident that we’ll get there,” Stivers said, noting that the party’s involvement is designed to motivate turnout, not back one of the nearly dozen GOP candidates seeking the seat. “But we know that Ossoff is real.”
Claire Sims over at WAGA-TV captured state Sen. Renee Unterman’s Thursday morning response to yet another hit by TBS’ “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” on her initial, 2016 opposition to legislation demanding the processing of rape kits that were being ignored by law enforcement authorities: