Fair Share Initiative: Raises Request for Transit funding to $4 billion of possible sales tax

By David Pendered

Fair Share for Transit released Tuesday a $4 billion wish list of projects and a policy statement on what is says is the need to invest sales tax dollars in transit and other modes of alternative transportation.

The document was released in advance of a Thursday morning meeting of the five voting members of the executive committee of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable. The committee is to work on the draft list of projects to be put before voters for funding in 2012.

Fair Share’s document concludes with this chilling statement:

Fair Share logo

Fair Share logo

“If we do not advance viable alternatives now … we will mark the passage of half a century since our region took a significant step forward on permanent public transportation while cities like Dallas and Denver, Charlotte and Houston, Tampa and Phoenix celebrate what they have built.”

And the clock is ticking.

By Aug. 15, the executive committee must produce its draft list of transportation projects to be funded by the proposed penny sales tax. By mid October, the full roundtable must adopt a final list – one that will appear on the ballot.

Presumably, the voter education and political campaigns will begin in earnest after the list is finalized.

Fair Share calls for the roundtable to endorse what it calls three categories of investments:

  • Build new fixed guideway systems – $5 billion;
  • Invest in existing systems – $1 billion;
  • Support key ancillary/complementary projects – $200 million.

The report acknowledges that the cost of these projects exceed $4 billion. And $4 billion would be 60 percent of the sales tax projections, up from the 50 percent rate Fair Share sought in June.

Fair Share recommends starting with a total of $1.2 billion for the second and third items on the list. The first item – guideway systems – would be funded with any money that remains after the other two categories are addressed.

Fair Share says the Amtrak station should relocate to the bus/rail station planned in downtown Atlanta. Credit: David Pendered

Fair Share says the Amtrak station should relocate to the bus/rail station planned in downtown Atlanta. Credit: David Pendered

Investments outlined to support existing systems include:

  • $38 million to relocate the Amtrak station to the multimodal station to be built near MARTA’s Five Points Station. The site being considered by Amtrak and the state Department of Transportation, for the same sum would be at Atlantic Station;
  • $100 million to support Clayton’s bus service, pending development of a new regional transit governance system and funding structure;
  • $600 million to MARTA, to enable it to maintain “good repair.”

The allocation of support for key ancillary projects include:

  • $138 million for pedestrian and bicycle improvements;
  • $50 million for the construction of a multimodal station in downtown Atlanta;
  • $17 million for a regional mobility call center.

Finally, the fixed guideway systems should include at least two new rail projects. At least one should be in the urban core, and at least one should be in a growth suburban location.

The systems should serve “both the growing north and economically disadvantaged southern parts of the region,” the report states.

The list of fixed guideway systems includes:

  • The commuter rail line from Atlanta to Macon;
  • The Clifton corridor rail line;
  • Atlanta BeltLine;
  • Light rail to be built in the Northeast and Northwest corridors;
  • Several bus rapid transit routes, provided that they include a fixed guideway system.

The report actually is divided into two sections – the project list and the “white paper.” The white paper reinforces previous positions of Fair Share, including:

  • “ Build what cannot – or will not – otherwise be built. The stark reality facing the Roundtable is that the only way for the region to meaningfully invest in transit is through the [Transportation Investment Act] while there are other significant funding sources for roads.
  • “Leverage our local dollars. Atlanta built the original MARTA system by committing local dollars that could attract federal funding. In ensuing decades, however, other regions have skillfully exploited federal transit funding sources to help build systems that now threaten to outstrip Atlanta’s.

Fair Share for Transit is an initiative of the Livable Communities Coalition that now counts nearly 75 supporters. Their georgraphy spans from the Lilburn Community Improvement District to the Henry County Chamber of Commerce.

Fair Share was launched almost four months ago to promote the idea that transit, bike and pedestrian projects should get a big piece of the proposed penny sales tax for transportation.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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