The following is an editorial from the June 7, 2001 issue of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution


ROY BARNES is one tough cookie in the courtroom.

We knew it from his days as a trial lawyer. We saw it again as a witness.

The governor testified Wednesday in a federal hearing where environmental activists lost an attempt to block the region's 25-year transportation plan. It was a masterful performance. Barnes deftly fielded questions from attorneys for environmental interest groups, proclaiming the injunction they sought to be not only illegal but also disastrous for metro Atlanta and for the state's economy.

"You cannot pick and choose projects you don't like through litigation," he lectured the lawyers. "They are throwing a grenade into the entire process until they get their way," he said of the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Southern Organizing Committee for Economic and Social Justice and the Georgia Coalition for the People's Agenda.

"If you cut these funds off, it is going to create chaos even worse than we have today," Barnes said. "It stops many projects that are absolutely necessary. This would be a disaster transportation-wise and a disaster politically."

U.S. District Court Judge Beverly Martin readily agreed. Within minutes of the close of testimony, she rejected the injunction request.

The judge had hinted at her view during proceedings. "I don't fancy myself as a highway planner," she said. "When I went through confirmation hearings in the (U.S.) Senate, a lot of attention was put on me not interfering with the executive branch. When you ask me to pick and choose projects, I get a little nervous."

The plaintiffs, long opposed to road construction and determined to force people out of their cars, have filed suit challenging the region's transportation plan. The suit was filed after they failed to force the state through negotiations to change its plan to their worldview.

Barnes testified that if the courts intervened, "There would never be an end game. The courts should not be involved in the administrative weighing and balancing of a plan. There would be no end to it."

During two days of hearings, the plaintiffs argued that the region is not meeting air quality goals and that roads are the culprit.

The governor testified that the transportation plan is probably too heavy with non-highway projects that don't improve mobility. Some 55 percent of the $36 billion proposal is dedicated to mass transit. Only a tiny fraction of the money will be spent improving highway mobility with additional lanes or new roads. Thus, at the end of the plan's $36 billion expenditure, traffic congestion will actually be worse.

"It's not much of a balance concerning highways," said the governor. "The amount of capacity it adds is almost nothing. I'm frustrated having to sit up here having to defend something that part of the political establishment thinks is too transit-heavy."

We agree, governor. These anti-road groups can be awfully extreme in their views. We're with you, buddy.

Barnes espoused his transportation philosophy: "A transportation plan has to take into consideration congestion. You cannot just throw a rail system in up front and expect everybody to park and ride. Unless you feed it with an HOV and bus system, there isn't going to be anyone on it. This is not an instantaneous thing."

The governor warned that if an injunction were issued, the General Assembly would take that dedicated road money and spend it elsewhere in Georgia, making Atlanta's congestion worse. And the state's economy would suffer because the Atlanta region produces 59 percent of the state's gross domestic product.

Barnes took his toughest stance yet when lawyers suggested he could do more to get people out of their cars. "You cannot enforce that by some fiat. This is still America and people can make choices."

That's what we've been arguing for months.


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