Good guy on GRTA gone

On Friday, July 30, Eric Hovdesven learned in a letter that Gov. Sonny Perdue no longer needed his services as a board member of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, which oversees all major transportation problems in metro Atlanta.

Hovdesven, whose five-year term had expired June 1, was replaced by Kessel Stelling Jr., chairman and CEO of Riverside Bancshares Inc. and Riverside Bank. By the end of the year, Perdue will have replaced or reappointed all 14 members of the original GRTA board that ex-Gov. Roy Barnes established. Two of Perdue's last three appointments to the GRTA board have been bankers.

For Hovdesven, the letter wasn't much of a surprise. After all, it's Perdue's prerogative to pick people who think as he does. And Hovdesven, more than any other GRTA board member, pushed the agency to incorporate land-use planning when making transportation decisions — a concept that has been around in some fashion for decades, but has been slow to catch on here.

But that Hovdesven half-expected the letter doesn't lessen the blow to GRTA. The transit super-agency needs forward-thinking people on board if it ever wants to lift Atlanta out of its traffic and air pollution quagmire. Land-use planning, Hovdesven's pet project, boils down to getting developers to put higher density projects near mass transit, thereby giving residents the option of commuting to work without getting in their cars. GRTA has the authority to require this kind of so-called smart growth but has so far ducked the land-use issue.

"That was my big frustration," says Hovdesven, a securities lawyer in DeKalb County and a grassroots transportation activist. "We never really made much headway. All we were doing was sitting there and seeing presentations about what we can do in the future. It's like we were having that conversation five years ago, and we're still having that conversation."

The governor's office did not return requests for comments by press time.

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