By Jeff DuFresne, CCIM, CPM, LEED AP
DuFresne is executive director of the Urban Land Institute – Atlanta District Council, which covers Georgia, Alabama, and eastern Tennessee.
On July 31, 2012, residents across the 10-county Atlanta region have the opportunity to vote on a referendum that would fund $8.5 billion in transportation improvements through a regional one percent sales tax. All eyes are on the outcome of this Transportation Referendum and how metro Atlanta handles its infrastructure needs in the new economy.
Many believe that metro Atlanta must invest in its transportation to confront our serious traffic problem and that improved transportation throughout our region is the key to our future economic health and competitiveness. The need to invest the dollars that are available on projects that have the greatest effect on economic productivity, real estate demand, and global competitive position has never been more urgent.
According to Infrastructure 2012: Spotlight on Leadership, the newly-released report by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and Ernst & Young LLP, voters across the country are approving local and state ballots that support infrastructure improvement. Leaders recognize the potential for ballot measures to rally popular support for infrastructure investments that might otherwise languish unfunded. When given the opportunity, voters are saying yes to increased sales taxes, property taxes, and vehicle fees for investments that provide a clear benefit for their communities.
From 2008 to 2011, ballots that allocated funds to transit capital or operations had a 73 percent success rate. The notable transportation votes that passed in 2011were the Grand Rapids Michigan BRT system; the Cincinnati Ohio street car system; and the State of Washington highway tolls. Other metro areas that have recently passed referendums (on the first vote) to maintain/upgrade their transit systems through a sales tax increase include Charlotte; Dallas; Los Angeles; Phoenix; Seattle; St. Louis; and St. Paul-Minneapolis.
We can no longer count on the Federal government to fund local infrastructure projects. Beginning three decades ago, the federal government began de-emphasizing new project infrastructure funding after a spending spree that built some of the world’s most modern transportation networks, including 50,000 miles of interstate highways, other roads, sewer treatment plants, and water lines across the country.
Constrained public budgets and a growing recognition at the local level of the importance of infrastructure— combined with lack of action at the federal level—are causing states, regions and cities across the U.S. to seek innovative infrastructure approaches and solutions. On July 31, all eyes will be on Atlanta and how we handle our traffic problem through the Transportation Referendum.