An infrastructure puzzle — Atlanta leaders keep working on solutions

By Maria Saporta

Last March, we learned that the City of Atlanta estimated that it had a $922 million backlog in fixing its infrastructure — its roads, its bridges and its sidewalks.

At the time there were numerous ways the city might be able to address that backlog.

First, there was the upcoming regional local option sales tax that if approved by voters would have generated about $9 million a year for the City of Atlanta to improve its streets and sidewalks.

But that tax failed on July 31 among the 10 counties in the region. It is worth noting that the tax passed decisively within the City of Atlanta.

Then there was the hope that the City of Atlanta would end up getting a greater share of the Fulton County sales taxes that are returned to the county’s cities. But the county and its 14 cities have not yet reached an agreement of how to distribute those revenues over the next 10 years.

Depending on the outcome of those two initiatives, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said last March that he was contemplating a bond package between $250 million and $750 million that would go toward reducing the city’s infrastructure backlog.

The hope was that by the end of the year (meaning now), the city would have a much better idea of how it would be able to address its existing infrastructure needs.

During an interview with a couple of reporters on Dec. 10 following the quarterly meeting with the Atlanta Committee for Progress, Reed said the city is taking its time deciding how to approach its infrastructure backlog.

“If we don’t do anything, the infrastructure backlog will be about $1 billion to $3 billion in 15 years,” Reed said. “We have been looking at everything.”

Asked about whether there might be a bond referendum, Reed said it was still on the table, but he added that the timing was “open-ended.”

Why? Reed is waiting to see what might happen in Washington, D.C.

“I believe in the next six to nine months, you will get an infrastructure bank deal, which I think will be able to provide funding at a much more attractive rate,” Reed said. “It would make sense to wait for the infrastructure bank.”

Reed said that he believes there is bi-partisan support for an infrastructure bank that could get a $50 billion appropriation that would help stimulate economic growth in communities across the country.

“I like our chances in participating in that,” Reed said. “To the extent I can move something to the other side of the ledger, I want to do that. I feel like our chances at the federal level are good.”

Reed also said that the City is still considering a bond package of between $250 million and $300 million — depending on how much more debt the city’s budget can absorb.

But Reed also is eyeing another possibility — Underground Atlanta.

“We pay off the debt on Underground — $8.1 million a year — in 36 months,” Reed said. “An $8 million bill goes away in 2016.”

There also is the possibility that the city could pay off the remaining $33 million debt it owes for Underground earlier than 2016. The city also is looking at ways to reduce the interest payments it has on existing debt, which could save the city between $1 million to $3 million a year.

The issue is “how do you cobble together $15 million to $20 million in cash (each year) just for infrastructure,” Reed said.

Assuming Reed is re-elected as mayor in 2013, he said his goal will be to reduce the city’s infrastructure $1 billion backlog by about a third by the time his successor takes office in January, 2018.

Meanwhile, for City of Atlanta residents, the value of investing in our infrastructure can not be underestimated.

In the past few months, we have seen the BeltLine trail open on the eastside, transforming the quality of life for people living in its surrounding communities.

Street and sidewalk improvements on Ponce de Leon Avenue between Piedmont Avenue and Peachtree Street are making the area much more pedestrian-friendly.

The transformation of North Avenue along the Georgia Tech campus has changed the perception of the street from a thoroughfare to a street welcoming to college students.

The improvements along Peachtree Road in Buckhead has turned what had been one of the most dangerous corridors for people on two feet and two wheels to an inviting street with wide sidewalks, bicycle paths, safer crosswalks and attractive landscaping.

These are not massive interchanges or megaprojects. Quite the contrary. These are human-scale projects that make Atlanta and its communities more attractive places to live, work, visit and enjoy.

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The puzzle, and its myriad interconnects, is not unlike the conundrum unfolding with transportation development in Atlanta. Take a proposed MMPT in the gulch area(for Amtrak, Greyhound, Marta?,H-S-R, regional commuter rail, and trolley) add the proposed beltline transit operation, a Marta subway system, another Amtrak  stop at Northside Drive near Atlantic Station, and whatever may develop(other than Marta bus service) for transit connectivity near Porcheville(across from the Dwarf House),and you have an unmitigated cluster-fest. It is readily apparent that the disperate entities a-building this conglomeration of transportation dis-connectivity in the metro area do so in a  most awesome bunker mentality mode. If you think that sitting stuck in your automobile for hours on end in the first decade of the 21st century was infuriating, wait until all these differing modes aim for your bidness and tax(payer dollar)support merrily attempting to run this circus of transit "options." P.T. Barnum had it figured out over a century ago - "This way to the egress!" And I digress.


And it sounds to me as if you have absolutely nothing to contribute as ususal, Burroughston Broch. Your constant negativity on any and all subjects to do with the City and region have grown beyond tiresome. You come accross as a bitter malcontent hell-bent on squashing any and all things positive. Even the suggestion of possible ideas seem to send you on a negative bent. Perhaps you would be happier in a less dynamic environment. Perhaps a ranch in Wyoming? 

Lee Biola
Lee Biola

No one is talking about taking out a $1 billion loan up front.  According to the story, the city was considering $250 to $750 million last March.  Now it is only considering $250 million to $300 million.


That means most of the $922 million backlog will not get done.  Anyone who owns a house knows about backlogs.   You do what you can when you can.


It sounds like the Mayor is being realistic about how much money is available.  Next will be hard choices about what parts of the backlog get addressed and what parts don't.  


Making those decisions will require us all to be adults and not misrepresent the facts.

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

"How do you cobble together $15million-$20million in cash each year for infrastructure?"

When you have a backlog of $922million (and growing), $15-$20million/year is nothing. $20million/year won't pay the interest on $1billion, much less repay the principal.

It sounds to me like the Mayor isn't serious.

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

 @atlantaguy  I am no Pollyanna, as you seem to want everyone to be. I prefer to look at things as they are, not as politicians and Chamber types would like them to be. When I am proved wrong, I am content to admit it. You haven't proved me wrong.

I have been in and around the City since the mid-1960s and feel betrayed by how far it has fallen. Government is always corrupt because the bureaucrats spending someone else's money and believe they can always raise more. Under the old Mayors (Ivan Allen and prior), City government was corrupt but it worked. Since Mayor Allen, City government is monumentally corrupt and nothing works.

So, clean off your rose-colored glasses and enjoy the Season.

Burroughston Broch
Burroughston Broch

Given the Mayor's resounding success in prioritizing projects for the recent TSPLOST referendum, this should be easy. It will be interesting to watch.


Assuming 3% interest and a 30 year term, the City could borrow about $294million while repaying $15million/year. Sounds OK - get $294million today and repay $450million. That will pay for about 30% of the $922million (and growing) backlog. When would the remaining backlog ever be addressed? Remember, the available $15million cash flow is tapped for 30 years to pay for the first 30% of the backlog. Wonder what the backlog will be 30 years from now? Hint - if the backlog grows by more than $15million/year, the City can never catch up.