Livable Communities Coalition gets $100,000 Rockefeller grant to promote transit

By Maria Saporta

A special appeal is being launched to get metro Atlanta’s transit advocates to vote on July 31 when a one percent regional transportation sales tax referendum will be on the ballot.

The “Fast Track Forward Initiative” is being spearheaded by the Livable Communities Coalition thanks to a “generous” $100,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, according to Jim Stokes, interim executive director of the Coalition.

In many ways this is a continuation of a relationship that was formed nearly two years ago when the Rockefeller Foundation gave a $100,000 grant to fund the successful Fair Share for Transit initiative.

Fair Share brought together 86 partner organizations, including most of the Coalition’s 54 members, to make sure the regional transportation project list had a healthy balance of transit projects.

The effort succeeded. The 21-member Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable unanimously passed a $6.14 billion list of transportation projects with 52 percent going towards several high profile transit investments.

Early in the roundtable process, several observers believed transit would only get a fourth or a third of the anticipated revenues from a regional transportation sales tax. But tanks to active campaigning by Fair Share and others, transit projects fared relatively well.

Now the real work begins.

The “Fast Track” effort is being managed by Howard Franklin, a political consultant, who said that while the initiative can’t tell prospective voters how they should vote on the transportation tax, it can educate various constituencies about what projects the tax would fund.

“The most important part of this process is making sure people know what’s at stake,” Franklin said. “We can let folks know that there’s an election that’s very important.”

It is widely believed that the tax will only pass if there’s a significant turnout in the “transit-friendly” counties of Fulton and DeKalb. There also are transit backers in Clayton, Cobb and Gwinnett, which all have or have had bus service.

“There has to be some organization that is a voice for transit,” Stokes said. “There are some people who may sit on their hands unless they know the extent that transit is included in the project list.”

Among the most significant transit projects:

$600 million for MARTA to bring infrastructure to a “state of good repair,”

$602 million for streetcars along the Atlanta BeltLine and city streets,

$700 million for a new MARTA rail corridor from the Lindbergh Station to Emory,

$689 million for transit service between the Arts Center Station and Cumberland Mall,

$100 million to restore bus service in Clayton County,

$225 million for premium bus service along I-20,

$95 million to continue funding Xpress bus service, and

$40 million for Gwinnett’s bus service.

Stokes said he is trying to raise another $100,000 for its transit campaign in advance of the referendum. But he added: “We can run a very good initiative with the resources that we have.”

One strategy will be to go to transit-friendly organizations and urge them to let their members know about the July 31 vote. Some of the target audiences will include transit riders, college students, city dwellers and environmentalists.

“We will be going to traditional under voters — those who vote in a general election, but not in the primaries,” Franklin said. “We believe we can play a part in getting 5,000 to 10,000 voters, who had not planned to vote, to go to the polls. That will change the model drastically.”

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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