By Maria Saporta
The Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club, after being on the fence for months, is announcing its opposition to the July 31 vote for a regional transportation sales tax (also called the T-SPLOST).
Colleen Kiernan, director of the Sierra Club’s Georgia Chapter, said in a release that the $6.14 billion list of projects would primarily generate more sprawl rather than encourage more sustainable development patterns in metro Atlanta.
“This project list is primarily a business-as-usual sprawl-inducing road program,” Kiernan said in a statement that was released Monday morning. “We support Plan B — a fix-it-first road strategy and a project list that emphasizes transit expansion and improvement.”
Her comment flies in the face of most people and organizations who support the one-percent sales tax that would be levied in the 10 metro counties. Proponents have said this tax must pass because “there is no Plan B.”
The Sierra Club statement when on to say:
The Georgia Chapter has a long history of opposing sprawl-inducing highways like the Northern Arc and supporting increased funding for sustainable transportation including MARTA, Beltline transit, and commuter rail.
While much discussion has focused on the transit component of the project list, the T-SPLOST is first and foremost a road building initiative.
Claims by pro-transit supporters that 52 percent of revenues would go to transit do not account for the 15 percent local set-aside, which is expected to go primarily to roads; the final total for transit would be closer to 40 percent.
Given that existing transportation funding already overwhelmingly favors roads, passage of the T-SPLOST would only further entrench that divide. Even the transit expansion projects that Sierra Club supports in concept, including the Northwest corridor, are vaguely defined and underfunded.
Other transit projects, like the continuation of GRTA bus service, reward the state for not coming to the table to continue commuter bus service, instead electing to rely on the region step in and assume responsibility.
Other supporters of the regional T-SPLOST argue it will be make-or-break for MARTA, but passage would not address MARTA’s most pressing need, which is to raise service up from the skeletal current levels.
Because the legislature didn’t suspend or remove the 50/50 split this year, further deterioration of MARTA service remains a real and unacceptable possibility. The current suspension expires just after regional T-SPLOST revenue would flow, so the supplemental capital funding would have limited impact on MARTA’s operational budget.
Sierra Club hoped that the 2012 legislature would make the regional T-SPLOST more palatable to transit supporters by creating equitable and representative regional transit governance, but unfortunately the 2012 session was the worst in recent memory for transit.
“We hope Atlanta can follow the example of Seattle, defeat the current proposal and get right to work on Plan B,” Kiernan added. “Other funding options that should be considered include restructuring the gas tax, charging more for parking, and an expanded regional transit agency. If our leaders fully embrace transit as the centerpiece of a transformative vision for the region’s future, Atlanta can take its place among other forward-looking metropolitan areas that have positioned themselves for enduring success in the 21st century.”
For more information on the Sierra Club’s position, please visit: www.georgia.sierraclub.org/TSPLOST.