Atlanta BeltLine’s Brian Leary says we must pass regional transportation sales tax

By Maria Saporta

The regional transportation sales tax “can not NOT pass,” according to Brian Leary, president and CEO of Atlanta BeltLine Inc.

Leary spoke at a luncheon meeting Wednesday, Aug. 10 of the Urban Land Institute’s Atlanta chapter about how the BeltLine belongs on the list of big ideas that has guided the growth of Atlanta.

The Atlanta BeltLine, a 22-mile circular rail corridor that envelops the central city, has emerged as one of the top priorities of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration.

In fact, Reed has been lobbying hard to make sure the BeltLine will receive substantial funding if the referendum passes in 2012. Under various scenarios, the BeltLine stands to receive between $500 million and $700 million in funds to build a rail transit system along key sections of the corridor.

“This is our chance to make something happen,” Leary said in response to a question about the importance of the referendum. “We have been deferring our investment in mobility for a number of years.”

Leary explained that a draft list of projects is being put together by the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable’s executive committee, which is meeting Thursday morning Aug. 11. A draft list is due Aug. 15, and the full roundtable will vote on the list of projects on Oct. 15.

“The Atlanta BeltLine is the city’s No. 1 transit priority,” Leary said, explaining that the funding would permit the linkage of the streetcar to the BeltLine, provide transit on the Northeast Corridor between DeKalb Avenue and Piedmont Park, as well as portions of the BeltLine along West End and West View.

The city also is planning to have another east-west connector — either along North Avenue or 10th Street.

“If the regional sales tax passes, all that transit will be under construction in the next five years,” Leary said. “With the mayor’s leadership, we are extremely blessed. We can’t miss this opportunity.”

The BeltLine originally was envisioned as a 25-year plan to build parks, trails, transit and new economic development along the 22-mile corridor. Reed has stated several times he would like to have the BeltLine completed within 10 years.

To put the Beltline in context, Leary talked about major moments in Atlanta’s development — such as the designation of Atlanta as a stop for federal air-mail nearly 90 years ago, the development of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the “City Too Busy to Hate” in the 1960s, the approval of the MARTA sales tax in the 1970s, getting the Democratic National Convention in 1988, and the Summer Olympic Games in 1996.

“The Atlanta BeltLine has the opportunity to be our next ‘Olympics’ moment,” Leary said. Currently, Leary described Atlanta as a “place where we drive to walk,” be it in a city park or in one of walkable neighborhoods like Virginia-Highland.

But Leary said that once the BeltLine is fully developed, that could change. The BeltLine opens up the opportunity to connect Atlanta’s key parks with multi-purpose trails and transit — changing the way our city will grow in the future.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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