Campaign begins to get Atlantans to vote on $250 million in bonds for infrastructure improvements

By Saba Long

In one week, Atlanta voters will decide if the City will borrow $250 million in long-overdue infrastructure repair and upgrades via a bond referendum.

For context, last November, Forsyth County voters approved a $200 million to fund critical transportation infrastructure improvements. That vote likely will require a slight property tax increase.

Atlanta officials have stated that the March 17 bond referendum will not raise taxes.

infrastructure

Ad to get voters to vote for infrastructure bond on March 17

Early voting ends Friday, March 13, and Election Day is Tuesday, March 17.

The referendum will put a minor, but respectable dent in its billion-dollar infrastructure backlog, the majority of which is transportation related.

After community meetings in all quadrants of the city, a draft list of potential projects has been drafted, with a final list to be selected upon approval of the referendum. It also will provide funding for much needed maintenance of a number of government buildings and parks.

The breakdown of citywide transportation projects include:

  • Traffic signals: $40.8 million
  • Americans with Disabilities (ADA) compliance: $5.2 million
  • Roadway resurfacing: $25.7 million
  • Complete Streets: $33.6 million
  • Bridges: $29.1 million

While the project list is yet to be finalized (the Atlanta City Council will vote on the final list following the referendum vote), priority will be given to certain projects.

Those include projects that are part of the Connect Atlanta plan; projects that are part of a specific neighborhood’s development plan; projects that provide an opportunity for a match in state or federal funds; projects that are close to transit; and projects that improve connectivity to other projects.

Public information meetings conducted in 2014 resulted in more than 300 comments that mentioned “bikes” and “sidewalk” – a clear sign Complete Streets should be the norm.

Many of these projects were selected by the City of Atlanta for its 2012 T-SPLOST local funding bucket. One such project is DeKalb Avenue, which runs parallel to I-20 and is riddled with potholes, covered with metal plates and is one of the most confusing roads in the region.

The bond referendum will not cover the entire scope outlined in 2012; but it will alleviate concerns for every travel mode.

Atlanta resident Wendy Darling wrote in a change.org petition generated by the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition: “DeKalb Avenue would be a very convenient route between neighborhoods, especially as a way to reach Downtown Atlanta, but no matter how you are traveling it — car, bike, walking – it’s full of hazards. Potholes rattle cars and bikers alike. The sidewalks are crumbling and sometimes non-existent. The way the lanes are set up presents dangerous to cyclists. I personally walk on this street and am always on the lookout for traffic, even when I’m on the sidewalk, because it never feels like I’m safe as I am on sidewalks on other major thoroughfares.”

Rebecca Serna, executive director of the bicycle advocacy group said, “DeKalb Avenue is broken. The reversible lane is also known as a suicide lane for a reason – it’s unsafe and doesn’t perform the way it was intended. Converting the suicide lane into turn lanes at intersections and adding bike lanes would unclog backups, make it safer and improve traffic flow for everyone.”

These shovel ready projects should be completed within five years, although delays are to be expected.

Separate from the draft project list, each city councilperson will receive $5.4 million to fund district specific projects not included in the citywide list.

However, in a recent action alert to its members, pedestrian advocacy group PEDS urged the councilmembers to allocate funds to pedestrian safety projects.

“Residents in some parts of the city complained that too few projects were located in their districts,” said Sally Flocks, president of PEDS, the pedestrian advocacy organization, in an email. “In response, city officials shifted over $60 million to ‘local’ projects, with over $5 million allocated divided evenly between each of the 12 City Council districts.”

Originally pedestrian projects were not clearly earmarked. Instead they were lumped into a generic funding bucket for sidewalk repairs.

The city’s sidewalk infrastructure is grossly underfunded, to the tune of more than $100 million.

Just as the state legislature sorts through its transportation funding priorities, the city also faces a quandary when determining what makes the final cut.

The local projects are surely a source of frustration at the community level, even while there are larger, citywide projects that provide more pain for daily commuters.

The good news is folks are ready for these improvements to take place.

Citizens for Better Infrastructure, Mayor Kasim Reed’s get-out-the vote campaign is in full swing.

“Early voting is already underway and we’ve received positive feedback from across the city,” said Justin Giboney, manager of the campaign. “Everyone is excited about fixing the streets and making this a better city.”

Giboney also managed the 2012 Municipal Option Sales Tax (MOST) campaign, which extended the one-percent sales tax for sewer upgrades.

The turnout model is based on the 2012 MOST campaign as well as other elections. We’re going to touch these core voters at least seven times, said Fred Hicks, who is also with the campaign. In addition to mailers and robo calls, radio ads will begin Monday with TV spots airing throughout the week.

For more information about the referendum and your polling location, visit Fulton County’s government website.

Saba Long is a communications and political professional who lives in downtown Atlanta. She serves as the senior council aide and communications liaison for Post 2 At-Large Atlanta City Councilman Aaron Watson. Most recently, Saba was the press secretary for MAVEN and Untie Atlanta -- the Metro Chamber’s education and advocacy campaigns in supportive of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Referendum. She has consulted with H.E.G. an analytics and evaluation firm where she lent strategic marketing and social media expertise to numerous political campaigns, including that of Fulton County Chairman John Eaves and the 2010 Clayton County transportation referendum. In 2009, Saba served as the deputy campaign manager for the campaign of City Council President Ceasar Mitchell. Previously, Saba was a Junior Account Executive at iFusion Marketing, where she lent fractional marketing strategy to various ATDC technology startups operating out of the Georgia Tech incubator, ATDC. For the past two years, Saba has presented on online marketing and politics to the incoming fellows of the Atlanta chapter of the New Leaders Council.

9 replies
  1. Guest says:

    Saba, as a matter of journalistic integrity shouldn’t you disclose in your bio that you presently serve on the board of the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition?Report

    Reply
  2. JerryChau says:

    Saba,
    Our well-intentioned, Mayor Kasim Reed’s promise not to
    raise taxes means, diddly-squat when he leaves office — and possibly before
    that. His words conflict with reality since these are general obligation bonds
    and the city will have no choice is it runs short of cash. If the city does not
    have the money to pay, taxpayers will.
    Also, be aware that there are two different bond issues
    based upon the questions that voters will find when they go the poles. In both
    cases the precise use of the funds will rest with out bickering politicians.
    Even so, the first bond issue to repair of infrastructure
    and help control traffic is critical and worth taking the chance that the city
    will do the right thing. The second, however, includes improving government
    buildings without telling us if the tax commissioner, for example, will use it
    to mahogany-panel his office.
    In any even, based upon the paltry turnout for early voting
    so far, Atlantans seem disinterested about the outcome.
    JerryReport

    Reply
  3. writes_of_weigh says:

    Ms. Long: The amount may need to be raised to include construction of the MMPT in the gulch, now that the Supremes [http://bit.ly/1Mo7e84] have weighed in, perhaps 40 years late(r) that Amtrak is, indeed, a passenger train operating instrumentality of the U.S. Government, and along with the need for it’s member railroads to operate it’s trains( presumably full, at times, of the U.S. taxed), as on-time, first-class(by operating rights), trains which, when so operated, may eventually, break even, and perhaps, even turn a small profit. Along with operating it’s trains, Amtrak is likely to need modern, centrally (to the existing  interstate rail network) located stations ( in Atlanta, i.e. the proposed MMPT). It’s not too late to plan for (and bond indebit)  the FUTURE!Report

    Reply
  4. Guest says:

    Saba’s continued presence at Saporta Report baffles me. Her bio is out of date, as Aaron Watson was not re-elected, and her journalistic integrity is compromised by her entanglement with Fulton County and Metro Chamber.Report

    Reply
  5. Burroughston Broch says:

    writes_of_weigh  You sound like a one trick pony.
    The City can only come up with enough money to pay for a $250 million bond issue. The MMPT cost estimate was $1.5 billion. Where is the money to come from? Your answer should not be, “That’s not my department.”Report

    Reply
  6. writes_of_weigh says:

    Burroughston Broch writes_of_weigh Succinctly, either the French, Chinese or Japanese, as they would likely have truly vested interests in selling to the U.S. DOT in general and Georgians in particular, any high speed rail train sets and resulting connections, eventually, into Atlanta. It’s not likely we’d have the trains sans a modern “station”(er…MMPT) for typical depot “doings.” The trick, you see BB, is likely to occur with expenditures of the taxed enough already. It’s a strong potion, the tea, you see. Capable of launching independence, discolouring harbors, and even building viable national transportation assets, when managed expertly.Report

    Reply
  7. Burroughston Broch says:

    @Guest  According to her LinkedIn listing, her gig at Saporta Report is her only current experience. She calls herself a Communications and Public Affairs Professional/Management Consulting.Report

    Reply
  8. SaportaReport says:

    The list of projects is still being finalized. Separate from the draft project list, each city councilperson will receive $5.4 million to fund district specific projects not included in the citywide list. That’s an additional $65 million.Report

    Reply

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