Metro Atlanta faces ultimate test of whether we are a cohesive region

By Maria Saporta

The regional transportation sales tax vote on July 31 will define metro Atlanta.

For me, there are two prevailing issues. Are we as a region ready to act as a unified region? And are we enlightened enough to expand our skeletal mass transit system?

One of the most distressing outcomes of the whole debate for and against the regional transportation sales tax has been how it has polarized the region. Some days it actually feels as though we are two regions — a region within I-285 that embraces transit and a region outside of I-285 that wants to invest in roads.

And if one were to look at the 157 transportation projects on the $6.14 billion list with 52 percent being invested in transit and the balance in roads, it would reinforce that impression. Most of the transit projects are slated to be built within I-285 while most of the road projects would be outside I-285.

A simplistic view of the list would conclude that the various parts of the region are getting what they want.

But the nuance that has been lost in the campaign is how the different projects and areas in the region complement each other. For example, a stronger transit system that attracts more riders will mean fewer cars on the road.

Or if there are significant improvements made at the pivotal intersections of I-285 and Georgia 400, I-285 and I-85, and I-285 and I-20 west, it will help clear up our region’s clogged arteries, thereby helping improve the region’s air quality.

Also, many of the road projects are designed to become “complete streets” — including multiple modes of transportation such as sidewalks and bikeways that work well with bus and rail transit. Again, those kind of investments can unify our region by providing real options for all modes of travel.

For those who complain that the transportation projects were selected to please developers, that’s nothing new. There’s always been a relationship between transportation and development, and metro Atlanta has benefitted from that relationship in the past.

The question is what kind of transportation and what kind of development we want in the future.

Study after study has shown that the only way to make significant inroads on congestion is to create communities served by transit where people can walk and bike to key destinations. It really is about providing options — in the ways we get around and in the communities where we live, work and play.

Now if it were up to me, all of the sales tax revenue would be dedicated to transit because we are in dire need of implementing a critical mass of rail and bus service. To create a regional transit system, we need more transit — much more transit.

Beyond this regional sales tax, there currently is no pot of money in the state that can be invested in transit other than the MARTA sales tax in only two counties — Fulton and DeKalb.

And given the political climate and divisions within our state legislature, I do not see the state passing any plan to create new revenue sources for transit any time soon.

In short, if we as a region want to see our transit system expand, this regional transportation sales tax likely is the best deal we’re going to get for the foreseeable future.

Admittedly, I have been critical of the pro-tax campaign because it has been reticent to showcase the value of transit and because it has not provided a unified, inspirational vision for the region.

But the events of this past week show a reinvigorated and re-energized campaign with the passionate involvement of several champions including Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Gov. Nathan Deal and a host of business and civic leaders.

It seems as though this past week, pro-tax advocates have woken up — especially after polls showed that the tax was in trouble and after reports pointed out flaws in the campaign.

Asked if the tide was turning, Mayor Reed answered on Sunday: “I think it’s moving right now.”

Later the mayor elaborated.

“I sense an energy out there that we didn’t have five or 10 days ago,” Reed said. “What you are seeing right now is the passion on the other side being met with passion on our side.”

The challenge will be to get a majority of voters in the region to show the same kind of bi-partisan, regional spirit that the Regional Atlanta Transportation Roundtable showed when 21 urban, suburban, Democrat and Republican elected officials unanimously passed the $6.14 billion project list last October.

“On July 31, if we did all of that and still can’t get it done, then shame on us,” said Reed, adding that Atlanta has “always come out on the right side” of history.

So now the 10-county metro region faces its ultimate test — whether its residents realize that we are one region that must work as one region and must invest as one region.

“I think it’s a test with a very heavy weight on it,” said Reed, who recounted a recent conversation with former President Bill Clinton about how cities need to focus on the business of the future. “The question is whether we are going to be in the future business. I’m just confident that the region is going to come down on the right side.”

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.

45 replies
  1. RussellCampbell says:

    The regional aspect of the Transportation Referendum is the most important piece.  Many of the projects that will be completed will benefit multiple counties and will enable residents and businesses to move around more efficiently.  Being able to have an improved transportation infrastructure not only where you live but also where you work is vital.  We should not have to settle for a horrible transportation infrastructure.Report

    Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

       @RussellCampbell
       {{“We should not have to settle for a horrible transportation infrastructure.”}}
       
      We should not have to settle for horrendously incompetent political leadership that refuses to take responsibility for fixing that horrible transportation infrastructure that they are responsible for by law as prescribed in the Georgia Constitution.Report

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  2. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    Just because the powers-that-be finally decided to stop cowering in the dark behind a terrible advertising campaign and put their names and faces all over this initiative does not change the reality that this crudely put together “thing” that is falsely posing as a real transportation solution is rightfully still in really big trouble, not only here in Metro Atlanta but throughout much of the state.
     
    Conservative government-averse and tax-averse OTP suburbanites and exurbanites, especially in Fayette, Cherokee, Cobb, North Fulton, Gwinnett and Henry counties, are still going to show up in droves at the polls on July 31st during what is already a Republican Primary specifically to vote this thing down just because it is a tax increase that funds MARTA rehab and economic development projects in the City of Atlanta, in addition to two highly-questionably placed light rail transit lines in Cobb and Gwinnett.
     
    Many Southsiders will be going to the polls to vote against the T-SPLOST because they feel slighted by what seems to be to them (and what actually is) an intense focus on transportation and economic development on the Northside of the Atlanta Region, which is pretty much true due to the overwhelming bulk of the region’s population and political power residing in very large part above I-20.
     
    Many pro-transit Intowners will be going to the polls to vote against the T-SPLOST because it asks them to raise their own taxes to fund increased road construction in the suburbs and exurbs OTP, specifically the construction of a new freeway in the abandoned right-of-way in the very controversial Northern Arc which many in the region falsely assume to be the resurrection of that road which was officially cancelled a decade ago.
     
    (For the record, the proposed road construction project in question which is slated for funding though the T-SPLOST is NOT the resurrection of the old Northern Arc, it is the construction of an extension of Sugarloaf Parkway in the right-of-way of the Northern Arc that Gwinnett County intentionally preserved and kept free of development between Georgia Highway 316 in Dacula and Georgia Highway 20 in Buford near the Mall of Georgia…
    http://documents.atlantaregional.com/tia/pdf/TIA-GW-060.pdf
    …Colleen Kiernan of the Sierra Club who is a frequent contributor here on Ms. Saporta’s site has repeatedly warned that the inclusion of this project would motivate many people to vote against the T-SPLOST out of an intense fear that the T-SPLOST is being used to fund the resurrection of a project that so many people fought so hard to defeat a decade ago in the very-unpopular Northern Arc.  Ms. Kiernan even warned about the project in a column written here on Ms. Saporta’s website on October 11, 2011 titled “Metro Atlanta turning winning transit season into losing one”
    http://saportareport.com/blog/2011/10/metro-atlanta-turning-winning-season-for-transit-into-a-losing-one/
    A key excerpt from her precautionary piece that the powers-that-be did not seem to take heed of:
    {{“But the most troubling element of the TIA draft list is that a segment of the Northern Arc expressway, an intensely controversial road that was repeatedly contested finally defeated by a diverse coalition of organizations (including Sierra Club) nearly a decade ago, was quietly slipped onto the list as project TIA-GW-060 with little public discussion regarding the true impact and ramifications of this decision.
    The connection between TIA-GW-060 and the historical Outer Perimeter / Northern Arc concept is undeniable when properly articulated (click here  for a visual explanation), and we are concerned that once voters fully appreciate the magnitude of the decision to resurrect a divisive proposal that was resoundingly rejected by the public years ago, this project will become a poison pill that could endanger passage of the tax next year.
    While no amendments were offered that would strip the Northern Arc, Roundtable members have started hacking away at the transit component. Cobb County, which got the biggest allocation of transit money, proposed moving $271.5 million from their transformative rail project from Atlanta to Cumberland to making a portion of Windy Hill Road an expressway and adding bus service from Acworth to Atlanta.”}}…
    …It is the inclusion of the Sugarloaf Parkway Extension on the project list without even the slightest regard to the history of the ultra-intense political sensitivities that surround the right-of-way of the erstwhile Northern Arc that the project is proposed to be built in that exemplifies the intense boneheadedness and stupidity of this process.) 
     
    Some Intown pro-transit advocates, though most certainly nowhere near all Intown pro-transit advocates, don’t necessarily seem to understand that they will likely automatically greatly gain from the failure of this bill over the long run as the Republicans who dominate state government cut their own throats by putting a poison pill in the T-SPLOST legislation in the form of a substantial roadbuilding penalty that forces local governments in regions that reject the T-SPLOST to pay three times the current amount to fund roadbuilding projects, meaning that while there may not be any transit expansion going on in the wake of a rejection of the T-SPLOST there will also likely be very little, if any, new roadbuilding going on on the part of local governments in the region in the wake of the rejection of the T-SPLOSTReport

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  3. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    The construction of the extension of Sugarloaf Parkway between GA 316 and GA 20 in Gwinnett was originally proposed to be built and operated as a toll road under the control and responsibility of the Gwinnett County government, but was seemingly placed onto the project list to be funded by the T-SPLOST out of a fear of a very negative public reaction to the project being a toll road in the aftermath of the very negative public backlash against the I-85 HOT Lanes debacle that started on October 1st of last year which, like the GA 400 Toll debacle and the decision to place the Sugarloaf Pkwy extension on the project list, is another exceptionally poorly thought out decision by policymakers that has had an extremely negative effect on the outcome of the T-SPLOST campaign.
     
    The Sugarloaf Parkway Extension should have never been included in the project list and instead should have been funded as a toll road as was the original plan by the Gwinnett County government, especially considering the political lightning rod that ANYTHING even remotely related to the Northern Arc has been in the past and continues to have the potential to be.
     
    It is examples like the inclusion of the construction of the Sugarloaf Parkway Extension in the right-of-way of the ultra-controversial and extremely politically-contentious erstwhile-Northern Arc (and the I-85 HOT Lanes and the GA 400 Toll and so-on) that really displays just how much our political leaders don’t seem to have even the slightest clue about want the people that they supposed to be serving really want out of their transportation system.  They just don’t get it.
     
     Report

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  4. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    As Ms. Saporta referred to in her column, the extreme political polarization of the Atlanta Region between largely liberal Intowners and largely conservative OTP suburbanites and exurbanites is a reality of political life here in Metro Atlanta.
     
    But despite the extreme political, cultural and social polarization in the Atlanta Region between mostly liberal Intowners and mostly conservative OTPers, and despite the seeming overflow of that extreme political, cultural and social polarization into our transportation policy (or distinct lack thereof), the difference in transportation desires between the city and the ‘burbs cannot simply be boiled down to the city wants more transit and the ‘burbs, mainly the Northern Suburbs, wants more roads.
     
    Its not even a question that Intown Atlanta inside of I-285 wants a much more dependable transit option than is available to them right now, especially because of the almost exceptionally-limited ability to expand the road network and the because of the desire to enhance and upgrade the non-automobile overdependent urban lifestyle.
     
    But a county like Clayton that is often lumped in with Fulton and DeKalb counties because of racial and socioeconomic similarities is not necessarily as completely co-signed onto the transit vision that Fulton and DeKalb counties have because of a desire in some social quarters to reverse the county’s seemingly advanced continuing transition from suburban to urban, hence the refusal of the county to fund and operate the currently-defunct transit service, C-Tran on its own.
     
    And while there are many suburbanites who do in fact desire a very substantial road expansion solution, there are also a great deal of suburbanites and exurbanites OTP, especially in Cherokee and Fayette counties, who are admantly opposed to even the most minimal road expansions out of an intense fear that further road expansion will be used by developers to create even more of the overdevelopment and sprawl that has made their commutes one of the most miserable commutes on the continent and turned once-exurban Cobb and Gwinnett counties into increasingly heavily-populated and increasingly urban core districts of Metro Atlanta.
     
    Despite much of the anti-MARTA rhetoric and the noted ultraconservative politics, there is especially a market and a demand for regional commuter rail service that is continuing to emerge in Cobb and Gwinnett counties and to an extent in Henry County due to the intense rush hour traffic congestion and gridlock that is a problem on the sections of Interstates 75 & 575 NW, I-85 NE and I-75 South that run to and through those counties and also due to the increasingly intense desires of the historic suburban communities that sit directly on the freight railroad lines that parallel congested interstate spokes to use the immense and virtually infinite passenger rail potential of those freight railroad lines to revitalize their sometimes struggling historic downtowns into vibrant walkable compact neighborhood centers.
     
    It is the anti-development suburbanites and exurbanites (the so-called NIMBYs) who are admantly against further road expansion and the suburban commuters who are desperately in want of a transportation solution that does not require them to be stuck in their cars while trapped in some of the continent’s worst traffic that have joined with the hardcore transit advocates and environmentalists Intown, the Southsiders who feel neglected by attention being paid to the Northside and, of course, the anti-tax, anti-government ultraconservatives in the suburbs and exurbs of the politically and socially-powerful Northern part of the region (who were going to show up to against the T-SPLOST in massive numbers no matter when or where this thing was held) who are leading the way to vote this ill-conceived thing down.Report

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  5. Burroughston Broch says:

    @ The Last Democrat in Georgia

    Although I agree with much of what you write, I don’t agree with your comment about “almost exceptionally limited ability to expand the road network.” I am in Shanghai and, believe you me, the Chinese know how to build roads in ways we haven’t dreamed. Shanghai has over 4 times the population of metro Atlanta jammed into 40% of the area. They use heavy rail, railroads, and roadways for transport. It works in Shanghai and it could work in Atlanta.

    Report

    Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

       @Burroughston Broch
       When I talk about an almost exceptionally-limited ability to expand the road network, I’m not necessarily talking about just a physically-limited ability to expand the road network, but also a seemingly even more politically-limited ability to expand the road network, particularly Inside-the-Perimeter.
       
      Proposals to substantially expand the road network just don’t seem to pan-out very well around these parts, both Outside I-285 and, especially Inside I-285 and especially if an equal or greater amount hasn’t already been spent to expand our even moreso increasingly-inadequate and increasingly-meager rail transit network.
       
      For proof of that theorem one need look no further than the defeat of the Northern Arc a decade ago and the pending defeat of the current proposed T-SPLOST, which if the Republican leadership in the State Legislature is not careful could be a “Northern Arc” type of political moment for them, not in that it could be their political end, which it won’t, but that it could be the beginning of the end of a reign of Republican political rule that so far has been seemingly increasingly far-removed from being even remotely impressive.Report

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      • Burroughston Broch says:

        @The Last Democrat in Georgia
        Politics should be somewhat easier to acc Mayor REEDomplish ITP since there are a limited number of political entities involved, compared to OTP. Perhaps if Mayor Reed showed some results inside the City he could serve as a champion elsewhere. As it is now, all the City has to show is crumbling, outdated infrastructure and promises.
        Shanghai proves that it can be done.Report

        Reply
        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

           @Burroughston Broch  @The
           You do have a point that Mayor Reed should likely concentrate on the City of Atlanta as economic development projects like the Beltline and the various stretches of streetcar lines that are considered to be critically-important to the future of the city should not be in a regional referendum to be decided by largely by very-conservative government-averse, tax-averse suburban and exurban voters in Fayette, Henry, Cobb, Cherokee, North Fulton and Gwinnett counties that are not necessarily what could be considered big fans of anything even remotely related or affiliated to the decisively left-leaning and very-liberal City of Atlanta.
           
          The critical importance of these economic development projects to the future of the City of Atlanta means that Mayor Reed and the city government should find a way to come up and fund the projects on their own instead of leaving up to a region full of voters who are understandably disillusioned with anything even remotely government-related.
           
          Just as critically-important transportation infrastructure projects should be classified as optional by being put in a referendum loaded with porkbarrel projects and political favors that is sure to be rejected by conservative voters who are fed-up with worsening government waste, fraud and abuse.Report

          Reply
        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

           @Burroughston Broch  @The
           Shanghai is also a vastly-different political environment with hardcore central planning principles imposed by a communist and often totalitarian government, meaning there’s a world of difference between the imposed central planning principles of a communist government in the Shanghai region of China and the free market principles of the Atlanta Region in the Southeastern U.S.
           
          At the behest of both pro-transit Intown urbanites and sprawl and overdevelopment-averse suburbanites and exurbanites, the free market of the Atlanta Region that has long been dominated by automobile-oriented development seems to be in a process of undergoing a profound shift from that automobile-oriented development-dominated marketplace to one that will be centered on much denser transit-oriented development, a shift that many political leaders and some business leaders in the region don’t necessarily seem to be completely aware of just yet.
           
          Though the desire for a marketplace not driven by low-density auto-centered sprawling development should be more than obvious to our political leaders at this point after the repeated fierce public rejections of repeated massive road expansion proposals over the past decade.
           
          Fierce public rejections of repeated massive road expansion projects over the past decade that include the Northern Arc, a proposal to widen I-75 Northwest to between 18-25 lanes, a resurrection of the Northern Arc even farther north out from the city, a proposal to tunnel freeways under East Atlanta and the current T-SPLOST, whose road expansion proposals could be considered modest in many respects compared to past roadbuilding proposals are all increasingly hard-to-ignore signs that the Atlanta Region marketplace is seeking something much different than has been the case in the past.
           
          The pending rejection of the T-SPLOST will not only be a rejection of a poorly thought-out ill-constructed hastily thrown together excuse of a transportation plan, but will also be (yet another) fierce and overwhelming rejection by the marketplace of the very low-density automobile-centered sprawling development that has dominated the real estate marketplace of the Atlanta Region for much of the last 60-plus years or so in the period after World War II.
           
          Will our political leaders finally get the message this time or will they continue to stubbornly attempt to live in the past era of a much smaller, much less-populated and much less-diverse Atlanta Region that was driven strictly by automobile-dominated real estate development?
           
          Recent evidence suggests that one should not necessarily be all that optimistic that our political leaders will finally get that message and act on it in a competent and coherent way.Report

          Reply
        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

           @Burroughston Broch  @The
           Both Mayor Reed and lawmakers at the state level of government are learning the extremely hard way that both economic development and transportation projects that are considered critically-important to the future economic well-being and quality-of-life of their respective jurisdictions should be treated with much more importance than to be placed in a regional referendum that is subject to the rejection of voters who may not necessarily share the views on the importance of the job that our political leaders are supposed to be doing in funding and seeing this projects through to completion.Report

          Reply
        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

           @Burroughston Broch  @The
          You do have a point that Mayor Reed should likely concentrate on the City of Atlanta as economic development projects like the Beltline and the various stretches of streetcar lines that are considered to be critically-important to the future of the city should not be in a regional referendum to be decided by largely by very-conservative government-averse, tax-averse suburban and exurban voters in Fayette, Henry, Cobb, Cherokee, North Fulton and Gwinnett counties that are not necessarily what could be considered big fans of anything even remotely related or affiliated to the decisively left-leaning and very-liberal City of Atlanta.
           
          The critical importance of these economic development projects to the future of the City of Atlanta means that Mayor Reed and the city government should find a way to come up and fund the projects on their own instead of leaving up to a region full of voters who are understandably disillusioned with anything even remotely government-related.
           
          Just as critically-important transportation infrastructure projects shouldn’t in effect be classified as optional by being put in a referendum loaded with porkbarrel projects and political favors that is sure to be rejected by conservative voters who are fed-up with worsening government waste, fraud and abuse.
           Report

          Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

       @Burroughston Broch
       Speaking of the Chinese building roads in ways that we haven’t dreamed, Texas has few sections of double-decked freeway in the Austin and San Antonio areas and is in the process of executing a $5 billion project to double-deck 13.5 miles of the Interstate 635/LBJ Freeway Loop across the Northside of Dallas as a very-serious attempt to much better handle the increasingly extremely heavy freight truck and commuter traffic on that extremely busy stretch of freeway.
      http://www.lbjexpress.com/

      http://www.tollroadsnews.com/node/4810
       
      At this point in the Atlanta Region’s existence, a project like that to double-deck I-285 and the spoke freeways outside-the-perimeter could most likely not even be suggested politically without a very long-overdue very, very major investment in the region’s increasingly neglected mass transit network beforehand, both due to the prolonged period of neglect of transit in the region and the critical need for an alternative form of transportation during a period of heavy construction and the exceptionally severe congestion that would result during construction.
       Report

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  6. urban gardener says:

    This great divide between ITP or onTP vs way out OTP is very deep and very fundamental and really very simple. Sitting with parents from Gwinnett or Forsyth or Newton high schools, they have absolutely no earthly idea what life is like within the actual city limit. No idea where Piedmont Park is, no concept of walking to amenities (as opposed to closest thing is a Chick Fil A a mile down a road w/o a sidewalk), no idea there’s a symphony or art center in town, no earthly idea what living in a condo tower is like, etc. Their world has absolutely nothing, nothing to do with some place 15 to 30 miles away. Doesn’t matter what party they vote for, how much $$ they make, what color they are, nothing. Their worlds are literally worlds away. Just no one’s made a point of pointing it out before via everyone’s pocket book. There is no overriding sense of regionalism.Report

    Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

       @urban gardener
       It is that great political, social and cultural divide that obviously was not given the very serious consideration that it should have been given before following the lead of what is effectively an incompetent State Legislature and pursuing the regional voter referendum approach to funding.
       
      If all of these economic development and transportation projects on the list were so all that critically important, then why were they put in a regional voter referendum where they were subject to be rejected by voters in other parts of the region with vastly-differing political, social, cultural and economic agendas?  Why wasn’t the funding for these oh-so-supposedly critically-important projects just simply found through a different means than asking voters with different agendas, some of whom actually think that they have more to gain personally from seeing the City of Atlanta fail?
       
      Whatever gave Mayor Reed and the powers-that-be the impression that very conservative voters in a Cherokee County or voters in North Fulton County, who are in the very active process of trying break off from Fulton and form their own county and are trying to both gain control over MARTA and disassociate themselves from MARTA at the same time, would be happy to vote to raise their own taxes to support something that is as so beneficial to what they view as a very liberal City of Atlanta as the Beltline and streetcars, especially when the residents of North Fulton are trying to break away from the rest of Fulton and want to take Buckhead with them if given the opportunity?
       
      There seems to be an extreme sense of naviete here, especially on the part of Mayor Reed, that the city would be able to get an abundant amount of support from an often hostile OTP suburban and exurban political scene in this process.Report

      Reply
  7. Rob Augustine says:

    Last Democrat don’t try to Shanghai this vote. To say that Metro Atlanta is well behind comparable cities when it comes to improving its transit infrastrucutre is an understatement. We need to move forward. TSPLOST is a start. Not perfect, but a start. The fact that a satisfactory road and transit network must be in place to assure the future progress of Metro ATL is absolutely clear. Jobs and the future of our region depend on something happening that will make our region more cohesive and easier to travel. Maria’s column points out how these projects will, to some degree, synergize with one another. We certainly must have a Clifton Corridor transit alternative, for example, or we choke our large employers. This is true Metro wide.

    So while you may argue fine points, the over all answer is that we must have transit and roads for Metro ATL to keep working. The time is now. Let us begin.

    /Rob AugustineReport

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    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

       @Rob Augustine
       I absolutely agree with you about the importance of a satisfactory road and transit network to our region’s economic future, but seeing just how critically-important roads and transit actually are to this region’s future, why would those important infrastructure projects be left up to the voters to decide in a referendum full of voters who may not exactly share the vision or sense of urgency of the political leaders who have already been elected to make these important decisions? Report

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    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

       @Rob Augustine
       I absolutely agree with you about the importance of a satisfactory road and transit network to our region’s economic future, but seeing just how critically-important roads and transit actually are to this region’s future, why would those important infrastructure projects be left up to the voters to decide in a referendum that was always likely to be dominated by voters who may not exactly share the vision or sense of urgency of the political leaders who have already been elected to make these important decisions?Report

      Reply
      • Rob Augustine says:

        @The Last Democrat in Georgia @Rob Augustine

        So you can collect a tax for payment of such projects. The legislature wants to leave taxes up to the enlightened conscience of the electorate. Reminds me of a Roy Orbison song. Report

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        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

           @Rob Augustine  @The  @Rob
          Transportation upgrades and economic development projects can be paid for through ways other than direct tax increases which can be especially politically costly for politicians.
           
          The transit component can be paid for without resorting to politically-contentious and risky (and virtually politically-impossible) tax increases with an increased fare structure (distance-based and zone-based fares), P3’s (public-private partnerships like the kind that the state was going to originally use to finance the I-75/I-575 NW HOT Lane project), Tax Increment Financing (property tax revenues from new development that pops up along transit lines) and fees on traffic fines and parking fines and fees.
           
          The road component can be paid for by ending the state gas tax on all in-state drivers and increasing the state gas tax that remains on out-of-state drivers.  In place of the state gas tax on in-state drivers there would be distance-based user fees levied on each major road so that each major road corridor becomes self-funding and can finance it’s own unique maintenance needs.
           
          While economic development projects with a heavy transit component, like the Beltline or streetcars could pay for themselves with a combination of transit fares, public-private partnerships where possible and Tax Increment Financing (property tax revenues from new development along the transit-anchored corridors)…This is a funding concept that would be best for the Atlanta Beltline and the Peachtree Streetcar.
           
          One must keep-in-mind that we live in a region that is dominated by conservative government-averse and tax-averse politics that has been also dominated by land spectulation and real estate overdevelopment interests, so any proposal to raise taxes to fund anything that looks even remotely like a land spectulation or real estate development interest or scheme will more than likely always be Dead On Arrival, especially in the very-conservative suburbs and exurbs outside of I-285.Report

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        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

           @Rob Augustine  @The  @Rob
           But just because the region does not want to fund transportation and economic development initatives through an extremely ill-advised regional TAX INCREASE referendum does not negate the need for improved transportation or economic development for a given area.
           
          After the T-SPLOST is rejected by voters, the region will still be a long-overdue mass transit upgrade and the City of Atlanta will still need economic development initiatives like the Beltline and the streetcar routes.
           
          What are we going to do?  Sit around and wait until the 12th of Never for conservative suburbanites and exurbanites to vote themselves a substantial tax increase to fund Atlanta projects?  Or sit around and wait for liberal Intowners to vote themselves a tax increase to fund new freeways in the abandoned right-of-way of the extremely-despised Northern Arc?
           
          Those things are never going to happen and were never going to happen in the first place, which means we might as way go about funding innovative and creative ways other than taxes to fund these things that there is going to continue to be a need for after the rejection of the T-SPLOST.Report

          Reply
    • Rob Augustine says:

      I hope Last Democrat is incorrect on failure. Regardless, if you can’t get it through the legislature, and we know everyone tried a number of possible fuding mechanisms, then you can’t get it done. So, as always in politics, we have to be realistic and willing to compromise. If the voters are smart enough, and many of them are not just knee-jerk reactionaries, this may well pass. Lots of other jurisdictions do use a sales tax as a revenue generator for such projects. Certainly, this will provide more funds on a more clear cut basis than Last Democrats pull this together anyway you can think of approach. Obviously, with such great need for infrastructure, we are all in some fashion going to wind up paying. And I sure hate to see us pay for nothing with loss of jobs, future growth, and regional stagnation both on and off the roads!Report

      Reply
      • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

         @Rob Augustine
         {{“Lots of other jurisdictions do use a sales tax as a revenue generator for such projects.”}}
         
        But the Atlanta Region is not lots of other jurisdictions, the Atlanta Region is a unique region with two pockets where the politics are sharply-defined on opposite sides of the political spectrum with the city being dominated by ultra-liberal urban Democrats and the suburbs being dominated by ultra-conservative suburban and exurban Republicans.
         
        Pursuing this approach was always going to be uphill battle because the politically and socially-powerful heavily-populated Northern Suburbs were always going to turnout a very-strong anti-government and anti-tax vote along with lots of advance anti-tax rhetoric and the Southside was always going to turnout a strong anti-tax vote because they feel as if are being asked to raise their taxes to pay for a referendum that is mostly for the benefit of the Northside.
         
        Which means that for this to have a legit shot at passing that all Intowners with liberal and Democrat leanings would have to be on board and that plan had a major wrench thrown in it because of the extra 1% sales tax that Fulton and DeKalb counties would be paying for transportation on top of the 1% that they are already paying for MARTA meaning that Fulton and DeKalb would be paying a 2% sales tax for transportation while the suburbs would only have to pay a 1% sales tax for transportation.
         
        Also severely hampering efforts to get all left-leaning Intowners on board were the strong perception that Intowners would be paying that extra 1% sales tax to fund road improvements in the suburbs as exemplified by the objections to the inclusion of the Sugarloaf Parkway extension project in the right-of-way in the Northern Arc.
         
        These are not small insignificant items that were going to be overlooked by regional voters no matter how deep the powers-that-be and the backers and supporters of this thing tried to bury their heads in the sand or how much they tried to brainwash and B.S. the voters into thinking otherwise.Report

        Reply
  8. Ken Bleakly says:

    The Atlanta region’s economic success has been built on seizing the next great opportunity in transportation whether it be the initial railroads of the 1800s, air service in the 1930s, Interstate Highways and MARTA in the 1970s and air service again in the 1980s. The TSPLOST is the only realistic funding mechanism to take our transportation system part way to where it needs to go to propell our economy for the coming decades–the state won’t fund it, the feds won’t fund it. We need to invest in ourselves once again. I don’t see how any rational person can argue that spending $8 billion on transporation over the coming decade will not result in a better system than we have today. The economic stimulus to our region will be significant as well. Its time to act for the next generation, our ancestors are watching………. Report

    Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

       @Ken Bleakly
       Your statement reflects a very major part of the problem…That the state was never going to fund transportation infrastructure projects in the first place when their job is to fund transportation infrastructure projects.
       
      It’s not the voters’ job to decide whether to fund important infrastructure projects, it’s the Legislature’s job to fund important infrastructure projects, so one cannot really get all that mad when the voters decide that they don’t want to do the Legislature’s job, it’s that simple.
       
      If we have political leadership that is competent and engaged then the T-SPLOST is not and should not be the only realistic funding mechanism, but unfortunately we have political leadership that is seemingly disinterested and disengaged from the issue of transportation and that is seemingly uncaring about infrastructure investment.
       
      The problem is not the voters to whom the critical issue of transportation infrastructure funding has been punted to, the problem is the inept and incompetent political leadership that has punted such a critically-important issue to them because of an outright refusal to perform the jobs that they were elected to do.Report

      Reply
      • UrbanTraveler says:

         @The Last Democrat in Georgia Dear Last Democrat,
         
        is the sale tax the best way to fund transportation projects for the region? As you point out, it is not the ideal way.  However, it is the only way that is “on the table” right now, and the list of projects developed through consensus of the constituencies (and not through regional empirical planning) is ready to go once the funding stream arrives.  Are there better ways to fund transit and road projects,  like an increase in the motor fuels tax and a commuter tax for those coming into the city?Most definitely.  The problem is that these are not likely to be voted on in the legislature, and, following this debate for years tells us that depending on the state at large to help Metro Atlanta with its traffic and transportation needs is not going to happen.  
         
        So that leaves us with a choice:  support a less-than-perfect and not-entirely-fair TSPLOST, or settle for nothing in the near term.  The problem with the latter is that the status quo is something we’ve lived with for more than fifteen years, and if we don’t get off the ground with needed transit and road projects, we are likely to wait another decade, falling even further behind our counterparts like Dallas, Denver, and Washington.  The time is now, even if the now is not perfect.  After we get something built around here, we can debate the funding stream for how to expand it!Report

        Reply
        • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

           @UrbanTraveler
           I very much understand your frustration as I have two jobs that require me to drive all over the Atlanta Region and experience the area’s traffic issues firsthand.
           
          But, we should not rush to embrace something as horrifically-flawed as is the T-SPLOST out of frustration after years and years and years of total inaction on transportation.
           
          I very much agree that we need to build something, but when it comes to transportation infrastructure we should also not be in a rush to build just anything, we absolutely have to make completely sure that we are building the right things in the right places the right way.
           
          We are much better off doing nothing for the time being than rushing to spend billions of dollars on the wrong solution and then having to spend billions more dollars to correct those wrongs.
           
          In the wake of the rejection of the T-SPLOST the Legislature, which hasn’t exactly covered themselves in glory during this process of cowardly pushing their constitutional responsibilities off on someone else to decide, will likely not want to address transportation again for awhile.
           
          But this failure of our state political leadership to do their constitutionally-mandated jobs in overseeing a crucial part of the state’s transportation network along with continued ethical challenges and continuing significant demographic changes in traditional Republican strongholds in heavily-populated mega-suburbs Cobb and Gwinnett may not necessarily bid all that terribly well for the future of the current state legislative leadership. Report

          Reply
  9. Rob Augustine says:

    All cogent points last Demo. But the region is not so easily bifurcated. There’s support in all areas and opponents as well. The extra one percent is an unfortunate issue the legislature neglected. I didn’t say this T-Splost was a perfect plan. Not by a long shot. But it is our current reality, as is the inevitable, protracted decline if the ATL region does not get its act together. The political “divide” you perceive should be bridged by common economic and progressive goals. Kind of like Romney winning in Massachusetts. I remember the first Marta vote failed, but it did successfully return. Hard to believe though that Marta has beem moribund for thirty plus years. Other cities have moved forward despite politics. We must as well.Report

    Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

       @Rob Augustine
      {{“But the region is not so easily bifurcated. There’s support in all areas and opponents as well.”}}
       
      I agree that there are many supporters all over, but the most hardcore resistance and most vocal opposition to the T-SPLOST referendum from the jump has been from Outside-the-Perimeter in the counties of Fayette, Cherokee, Cobb, North Fulton, Gwinnett and Henry counties.
       
       Report

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    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

       @Rob Augustine
       {{The extra one percent is an unfortunate issue the legislature neglected. I didn’t say this T-Splost was a perfect plan. Not by a long shot. But it is our current reality, as is the inevitable, protracted decline if the ATL region does not get its act together.”}}
       
      But that’s a major part of the problem, that the authors and backers of the T-SPLOST put out a far-from-perfect plan and with a great degree of either or both naivete and aloofness, expected it to be easily digested by an ultradiverse and sharply-polarized regional populace that has starkly differing transportation, political, social, cultural and economic interests and agendas in most cases.
       
      The T-SPLOST may be our current reality and may be all that we have on the table right now, but so is the widespread unpopularity of a project list that attempted to do way too much by poorly attempting to please everyone and ended up instead angering everyone.Report

      Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

       @Rob Augustine
       {{“The political “divide” you perceive should be bridged by common economic and progressive goals”}}
       
      But other than that political, social and cultural divide being bridged by a common dislike of the T-SPLOST referendum at the moment, that divide between mostly liberal ITP urbanites and mostly very conservative OTPers should be bridged by common economic and progressive goals, but it’s not that anywhere near that simple as some areas like ITP Atlanta and DeKalb want infinitely more transit, while some areas in transition from suburban to urban, like Cobb and Gwinnett, are experiencing a push-and-pull between those who want transit, those who want roads and those who want nothing, while other areas in transition from rural and exurban to suburban, like Fayette and Cherokee overwhelmingly mostly (though not all) want nothing and legally want out of the Atlanta Region despite the large amount of commuter traffic between those exurban areas and Atlanta (Fayette has tried repeatedly to be moved out of the Atlanta Region and Cherokee wants to retard development (overdevelopment) by way of retarding road building for as long as possible…Ironically it is some, though most certainly not all, areas in Cherokee that just might possibly be open to the idea of regional commuter rail service on the Georgia Northeastern Railroad line that parallels I-575 between the Elizabeth industrial area of Marietta and the historic Downtown of Canton by way of the historic Downtown of Woodstock).
       
       Report

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    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

       @Rob Augustine
       
      Heck, some of the locals in Dacula threw an absolute fit when GRTA Xpress bus service started up a new park & ride express commuter bus line between Dacula and Atlanta last year due to rising demand for mass transit service in the hypercongested I-85 Northeast Corridor.
       
      Some of the locals threw the fit because they viewed the startup of the new express bus line to Atlanta as a sign of the direct expansion of government and they saw a public transportation bus as a threat to their suburban way-of-life in the same vein of the much-hated MARTA.
      Needless-to-say, the new Dacula-Atlanta bus route has been heavily utilized by commuters into and out of the city, from and to Gwinnett.
       
      It is examples like that that exemplify the sometimes hostile additudes that exist towards mass transit and sometimes even transportation of any type besides a two-lane road.
       
      Heck, there are some places within the Atlanta Region where the locals get very upset if dirt roads are proposed to be paved.
       
      Those views cannot necessarily be laughed off casually as the people who hold those views also hold a heckuva lot political sway within the region (see current troubles with the T-SPLOST or better yet see the rejection of the Northern Arc a decade ago), those views, no matter how laughable that they may be to some, absolutely have to be taken into consideration when planning regional transportation policy so as to avoid wasting huge amounts of time and money only to have those efforts rejected by a notoriously ornery and particular group of voters at the polls.  Report

      Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

       @Rob Augustine
       {{“Hard to believe though that Marta has beem moribund for thirty plus years. Other cities have moved forward despite politics. We must as well.}}
       
      MARTA is having a lot of trouble right now, but at the very least it was last extended 12 years ago when the North Springs Station opened.  Also, as Mayor Reed recently pointed out, MARTA, along with the then-recently overhauled reconstructed freeway system, helped Atlanta win the Olympics in 1990.
      MARTA had its height during the 1996 Olympic games when it helped hundreds-of-thousands of visitors get around to various athletic and social events without the use of a vehicle which was near-impossible for the most part during those games and then the system started to quickly decline as the region vastly outgrew MARTA’s politically-limited service area.
       
      And I agree that other regions have moved forward despite politcs and this one can and will as well.
       
      But the transportation solution that transcends those sharp political divides cannot be one that is copied from a Dallas or a Denver or a Charlotte as Atlanta is a very-uniquely politically, socially, culturally and geographically-divided region.
      The transportation approach of a Dallas or a Denver or a Portland or a Charlotte just simply will not work here in a politically and culturally unique Atlanta Region.
      If a transportation solution is to work, it has to be something that is specifically tailored to fit the unique political, social and geographical needs of the Atlanta Region.
       
       Report

      Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

       @Rob Augustine
       
      We can’t put forth a regional tax referendum because it will be sink in the face of heated anti-tax opposition in the very conservative Northern suburbs and exurbs.
      We can’t put forth a regional T-SPLOST list that is too heavy on roads because it will sink in the face of heated opposition from both transit-hungry Intowners and anti-development OTP exurbanites.
      We can’t put forth a regional T-SPLOST list that is too heavy on transit because it will sink in the face of heated opposition from anti-transit OTPers.
      We can’t focus too much on the politically-powerful Northside or the Southside will sink a regional T-SPLOST.
       
      What we can do, however, is fund these critically-needed transportation projects throughout the region and critically-needed economic development projects in the City of Atlanta and throughout the region with other ways of financing besides politically-costly and highly politically-contentious regional tax increase referendums.Report

      Reply
  10. Rob Augustine says:

    Last Democrat, you must be pretty old. You remember the history, and cast a woeful eye to the future of our region. Let’s hope that the younger generation gets this transportation effort right. If not now, at least eventually. We’re not that different than other cities. Certainly similar in many ways, despite your analysis of the minute political differences across the ATL. Ultimately, however, if progress is to be made, we are going to have to have a transportatioin plan that transcends the pockets you speak of. I’ve always had the view that the economic prosperity of the New South was achieved by progressive thinkers working together on common goals beneficial to the populace. I think the younger voters still get this. Fortunately.Report

    Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

       @Rob Augustine
       I don’t cast a woeful eye to the future of the Atlanta Region, but I am very realistic and not blindly and unrealistically idealistic about how to go about getting the results that the backers and supporters of the flawed regional T-SPLOST approach are most likely going about getting the wrong way.
       
       Report

      Reply
    • Burroughston Broch says:

      @Rob Augustine
      I believe that Metro Atlanta voters will approve a proper transportation upgrade plan that benefits all of Metro Atlanta.
      Unfortunately, what is before the voters is not that plan. Key problems are:
      1. Every county and city in the region is not getting a fair deal. Many of them would be required to pay much more than they receive.
      2. The 15% tax payoff to city and county governments is rightly perceived by many voters as bribery to buy support for the referendum.
      3. The money trail back to the big supporters of the pro-referendum movement lets voters see who is paying to play. It’s not a pretty picture.
      4. Most of the business leaders pressuring their employees to vote for the referendum are not knowledgeable about what is proposed and cannot respond to questions. Instead, they tell their employees to trust them and vote yes.
      I belive that we should reject this TSPLOST plan and prepare a Plan B.Report

      Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

       @Rob Augustine
       I also disagree with your assertion that Atlanta is not that different than other cities and your assertion that the obvious political differences in the metro area are “minute”.
       
      Having a very-liberal Democrat-controlled city with a history of decisively uber left-wing politics surrounded by some of the absolute most extremely and notoriously-conservative suburban and exurban areas with a history of decisively ultra right-wing politics is not simply a “minute” political, social and cultural difference.
       
      In fact, while there may be very noticeable political differences between the inner city and suburbs in most major metropolitan areas, rarely are the political differences between the city and the suburbs/exurbs as completely starkly contrasting as they are in Metro Atlanta, especially when the historical dominance of both the traditionally black and very liberal power structure in the city and the historical dominance of the traditionally white and very conservative power structure of the suburbs are figured into the equation. 
       
      Metro Atlanta is very unique in that its central city is very small land area and population-wise (the City of Atlanta has 500,000 within 152 square miles) when compared to the much larger land area and populations of some of its suburbs (DeKalb has 700,000 people within 271 sq. mi., Cobb County has 700,000 people within 345 sq. mi and Gwinnett County has 824,000 people within 436 sq. mi.).
       
      It is these starkly-contrasting political, social and cultural differences and how they effect transportation needs throughout the region that seems to have either naively or both willfully and intentionally foolishly disregarded and/or ignored by the powers-that-be when crafting this particular transportation policy. Report

      Reply
  11. Borepatch says:

    Ignoring the silliness of how sidewalks will improve the traffic in the Atlanta Metro area, the entirety of the problem is this: a super majority simply does not trust the current political establishment.  They don’t believe that the temporary taxes will be temporary, they don’t believe that the money will be well spent, and they don’t believe that the spending will effect traffic much.
     
    Quite frankly, this is a referendum on the whole post WWII governmental vision.  It looks like it’s past its sell by date.  Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is entirely besides the point.Report

    Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      {{“Quite frankly, this is a referendum on the whole post WWII governmental vision.  It looks like it’s past its sell by date.  Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is entirely besides the point.”}}
       
      Borepatch, I couldn’t agree more as you posted what is probably one of the best analytic statements of this whole debate.Report

      Reply

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