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Groups prefer Senate version of new transportation funding bill

Up until now, proponents for new transportation funding were taking a neutral stand on which version of two bills they preferred.

There’s the Senate version, which would provide a regional two-step approach. First, voters would be asked whether they would favor changing the state constitution to permit a regional one-cent sales tax. Then the region would come up with list of transportation projects that would then be presented to the voters so they could decide whether to support that sales tax.

Then there’s the House version, which calls for a statewide one-cent sales tax with a list of projects already identified by the House. Voters would either approve the tax with those projects or not.

But now several groups are making their preferences known. And the verdict is that they much prefer the Senate Bill 39 rather than House Bill 277.

Why? The House version includes the possible construction of a large tunnel underneath Atlanta’s intown neighborhoods as well as a new Northern Arc and a long list of road widenings in the metro area.

Sally Flocks, executive director of the pedestrian advocacy group PEDs, said that the House bill provides no guarantee that transit, bicycle or pedestrian projects will get funded or built.

Park Pride, a group that promotes green space in the Atlanta region, is monitoring the bill to make sure the proposed tunnels would not adversely impact Piedmont Park or other parks in the region.

In addition, the Citizens for Progressive Transit has taken a stand against the House bill because it believes it favors road construction over transit and pedestrian access.

These groups have been reaching out to neighborhood and advocacy organizations to join the campaign against the House bill.

According to neighborhood activist Liz Coyle, the House bill “is a top-down, state-controlled approach. And as we know all too well in this community, the state sometimes ties to impose unwanted transportation projects on us.”

In an email to about 35 community leaders, Coyle wrote: “Yes, the state needs to increase revenue dedicated to transportation. Senate Bill 39 is a much better approach. It allows local voters to approve or reject specific projects. HB 277 does not.”

Of course, there is so much confusion right now at the state capitol on transportation issues. Gov. Sonny Perdue says he won’t support any new funding until his massive, far-reaching plan to reorganize the state’s transportation agencies is approved. The Georgia Department of Transportation is in a fight for its life.

And in the meantime, the hope for constructive action on new transportation funding fades with each passing day.

Maria Saporta

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.



  1. Maria Saporta February 27, 2009 11:40 am

    Atlanta Regional Commission Chairman Sam Olens read this post about the two different transportation funding bills. Here is the response that he emailed to me and gave me permission to post on the blog:

    The House bill has approx $4B in transit. With the constant fighting between the North Fulton cities, Atlanta and Fulton County and the proposed Milton County legislation, I would be hard-pressed to say a regional (Senate) bill is likely to lead to a ballot initiative for the Region. If I were a transit advocate, I would re-think the bills asap.Report

  2. Sally Flocks February 27, 2009 12:43 pm

    I could live with a statewide transportation sales tax if the bill provided that the money would be suballocated to metropolitan planning organizations and regional development centers so that they could program the funds.

    The IT3 report recommends improving the aligment between transportation investments and land use. MPO’s — including the Atlanta Regional Commission — have a far better understanding of local and regional land uses than state legislators. This is just one of many reasons why state legislators are not the right people to choose transportation projects for the state.

    Sally Flocks
    President & CEO, PEDSReport

  3. Mason Hicks February 27, 2009 1:10 pm

    The money for transit in the House Bill is a mirage. The statewide tax would last only ten years. With only ten years of funding, you can not build a dependable transit system. The federal government will not provide matching funds to any system with less than 20 years of operations funding. Minimum. A provision of the bill that allows operating money to be spread over 20 years is unlikely to be used under pressure from the road builders to spend now, spend now.Report

  4. Brian Brodrick February 27, 2009 1:34 pm

    Problem is, many areas in the rest of the state have no organizations like ARC to direct the funds. TSPLOST will work well for metro Atlanta, but be hard to implement for many other regions in the state without the sales tax revenue, resources or history of transportation planning. Agree with you Maria that all the turmoil makes the crystal ball rather foggy….Report

  5. Joeventures February 27, 2009 1:49 pm

    Sam is wrong. Transit funding in the bill is limited to ten years, which means there is effectively NO funding for transit.

    In order to even qualify for federal funding (and therefore even hold any hope for getting built), transit funding must receive a minimum 20 years of funding. But to be competitive for federal funding, the commitment would have to last much longer.

    Just because the bill “allows” any spending for transit or pedestrian projects doesn’t mean the bill “requires” spending for these project. This bill changes nothing for transit and further enriches the historically roads-only spending of the State.Report

  6. Sally Flocks February 27, 2009 1:53 pm

    In 1962, Congress passed legislation requiring all metropolitan areas with population greater than 50,000 to create MPO’s. More than a dozen exist in Georgia. The state also has 16 Regional Development Centers. No part of the state is outside the boundaries of either an MPO or a RDC.Report

  7. Brian Brodrick February 27, 2009 2:43 pm

    Yeah, the MPOs are there, but most aren’t nearly as effective or well funded as ARC, and are an outgrowth of the planning department of the large city in the area.

    I also don’t think the TSPLOST bill mandates that regions group themselves by the MPOs — in fact, it gives the regions a lot of flexibility, which is good and bad. And I don’t think RDCs have the capacity to run the process, but could be wrong.

    I agree that TSPLOST is a better idea in theory, but outside of Atlanta, there is a real fear that it will be hard to implement and I think there is some truth to that. That’s all I’m saying.Report

  8. Joeventures February 27, 2009 2:53 pm

    Whether inside or outside Atlanta, TSPLOST is more difficult to implement, but the end product is much better.

    What we don’t want in Atlanta is yet another project from the State government where the costs far outweigh the benefits. The State has a history of pouring money down the drain like that.

    Besides, how would you like to see one of these in your neighborhood?Report


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