Note to Readers: Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and his administration wanted an opportunity to respond to my Maria’s Metro column this week. In the interest of fairness, I am running the city’s response in full.
By Tom Weyandt, senior policy advisor for transportation for Mayor
With two critical weeks until the July 31 transportation referendum, Maria Saporta has decided to lead the pack among her journalism cohorts and pen a column that already assigns blame for the initiative’s defeat. As senior policy advisor for Transportation for Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, I disagree with Ms. Saporta’s assertion that he is at fault because the project list didn’t include enough money for rail, particularly in South DeKalb County.
Ms. Saporta writes that Mayor Reed should have allocated half of the $600 million for the Atlanta BeltLine project for a South DeKalb MARTA line, for a total of $525 million. She conveniently ignores the fact that he negotiated a series of compromises that helped to achieve unanimous consent for the TIA project list and heavily advocated for the $225 million in funding that DeKalb County will receive for rail line planning.
Because of Mayor Reed’s commitment to a transportation project list that benefits the entire region, DeKalb County will receive nearly $1 billion of the $6.14 billion in projects if voters approve the measure, and MARTA is slated for its fair share of $600 million.
Mayor Reed’s first priority, however, is always to the residents of the City of Atlanta. He should not apologize for standing firm and negotiating $600 million for the Atlanta BeltLine. If the City of Atlanta had given up $300 million to DeKalb County, our residents would have been – by far – the biggest net contributor to the region with less than a 55 percent return on investment.
As it stands, City of Atlanta projects are valued at about $896 million, and taxpayers will contribute about $915 million over 10 years, a 98 percent return in investment. In addition, the City of Atlanta is expected to receive about $94 million for local projects such as multi-use paths and trails, bicycle and pedestrian improvements, increased street lighting, and sidewalk and ADA ramp installations and repairs.
Despite the naysayers, the Atlanta Beltline was identified as a regional project by the Atlanta Regional Commission as early as 2004 and scored highest among transit projects in the evaluation. The project received the highest overall score, notably first in land use impact, second in environmental benefit and third in travel demands. When completed, the Atlanta BeltLine/Streetcar network will provide critical last-mile connectivity for residents and visitors to get to major downtown destinations from the regional network of heavy rail, regional rail, commuter rail and express bus networks. T
The Atlanta BeltLine also has been identified by GRTA as the major transit project which can be implemented almost immediately and completed within seven years – well before any of the others – and will include direct connection to at least three MARTA stations.
Mayor Reed began working on the transportation referendum initiative as a state senator and then continued tirelessly advocating for passage of House Bill 277 during his first year in office. Anyone with a scintilla of political acumen knows that achieving enough bipartisan support in the Georgia General Assembly to pass the measure was a Herculean task.
Over the next two years, he served as the chairman of the Regional Transit Committee of the Atlanta Regional Commission and worked hard to sustain a minimum of 50 percent of funding for rail. The elected leaders put aside partisan politics, whittled down a $23 billion project wish list to $6 billion, and then unanimously approved it – a signature moment for the region.
Yet, for weeks, we have read stories that tear apart the work and the effort that went into getting the metropolitan Atlanta region to this point around the transportation initiative. Ms. Saporta’s column is simply the latest attempt to throw stones at an effort that would create jobs, keep our region competitive and safeguard Atlanta’s position as the leading city in the Southeast.
I am confident our voters will continue to educate themselves, not be misled by deliberately negative stories and go to the polls on July 31.