Fair Share Initiative: Transit and transportation alternatives should get half of sales tax

By Maria Saporta

Transit and alternative modes of transportation should make up half of the project list now being put together by the Metro Atlanta Regional Roundtable.

That’s the position taken in a “white paper” prepared by the Livable Communities Coalition and its Fair Share for Transit Initiative that is being presented to the roundtable in time for its meeting Thursday morning.

The roundtable’s project list will be on the ballot in 2012 as part of the one penny regional transportation sales tax. The roundtable will have to complete its proposed list by Oct. 15 of this year.

The “white paper” was put together by Ray Christman executive director of the Livable Communities Coalition.

“Fair Share is based on the belief that maintaining and expanding our regional transit system is critical for metro Atlanta’s continuing economic competitiveness, the growth of jobs, and our future quality of life,” according to the white paper. “Public transportation investment done right will help the economy, improve the environment, and bring about greater opportunity for all residents.”

The white paper has two major sections — the policy reasons why transit is important and a suggested “portfolio” of transit projects that would help create an integrated regional system.

First, there needs to be a regional vision for transit and “not just a set of independent projects.”

That transit vision should be based on three principles — building an integrated regional light rail system that connects to the heavy rail system; supporting and maintaining the existing core urban and suburban transit systems by making sure they are able to operate efficiently and sustainably; and that equity exists in all parts of the region and among all segments of the population.

Second, expanded transit investment in the region should be built on the connection between transportation and land use.

Third, polls and surveys demonstrate that people want more transportation choices that are connected to more livable and walkable communities.

Fourth, the region’s key planning documents call for substantial new transit investments.

And fifth, the roundtable should consider all potential transportation funding sources and not just dollars raised from the new regional tax as it develops its project list.

When it comes to a portfolio of key transit projects, the white paper draws from the unconstrained list of projects that was released by the Georgia Department of Transportation on June 1.

From the perspective of the Fair Share Initiative, the primary objective should be in building “an integrated fixed guideway transit system for the region that expands upon the existing MARTA heavy rail system.

Among the specific rail projects:

• Atlanta Beltline’s priority segments and related streetcar enhancements as identified by the City of Atlanta;

• The I-20 East transit to Candler Road with associated bus improvements;

• Clifton Road – Lindbergh Center Station transit line;

• I-85 corridor Light Rail Transit to Gwinnett County;

• I-75/US 41 corridor Light Rail Transit expansion – Art Center Station to Cumberland (and ultimately to Kennesaw);

• MARTA North Line rail extension into North Fulton county;

• Commuter rail from downtown Atlanta to Griffin.

The Coalition also supports regional bus service expansion among all the existing transit systems as well as restoring bus service in Clayton County.

Next, the Coalition said it is essential for existing transit systems to be in states of good repair. That likely would involve capital investments and system improvements in MARTA — viewed as a necessary pre-requisite to attracting new federal funds.

The Coalition’s Fair Share Initiative also believes that a “significant” portion of the new sales tax revenues should support pedestrian and bicycle improvements such as crosswalks, sidewalks, bicycle lanes and path expansions to provide easier access to transit.

A number of projects also have been submitted to support the needs of senior citizens and the disabled. A Mobility Management Call Center could provide trip planning assistance and access to transit.

Lastly, the Coalition strongly recommended the development of a multi-modal passenger terminal in downtown Atlanta as a way to support the development of heavy rail, light rail, commuter rail, express bus and local bus services in the region.

“If the referendum is approved, the region will be able to invest in transportation infrastructure at an unprecedented level, with enormous economic development and quality of life benefits,” the white paper stated in its conclusion. “If the Regional Roundtable can develop a balanced project mix of transit and roads, it can begin to build the new economy that metro Atlanta’s residents desire – an economy that creates jobs and provides an ever-improving quality of life.

To read the entire white paper, click here.

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.

10 replies
  1. InAtl says:

    50/50 that’s it? Roads already have a large statewide dedicated tax source that together with federal aid for roads dwarfs the money we spend on Transit.

    Though even if the list is prepared in such a way as to indicate a 50/50 split between roads and transit – its likely that one of those transit projects will never be built and those funds will be shifted to cost overruns of other road projects on the list or to the discretionary pot of money that gets distributed to the county’s based on the old LARP formula to use as they see fit.

    The legislation is poorly written, it ignores the 30 year time frames needed for demonstrating funding for tranist. It is silent as to what happens if one of the projects doesn’t get built. It basically offers no protections. It designates GRTA , an agency that has not built any transit, as the agency handling the transit projects while GDOT which has actual experience and also control over the large statewide dedicated funding of roads runs the roads projects, that alone is a huge advantage for the road projects on the list and a huge risk for the transit projects on the list.

    If we want to add a 1% regressive sales tax so that we are paying 8% in Fulton and DeKalb and 9% in the City of Atlanta we should just increase the MARTA tax to 2%. Then we could build the Belt Line, extensions on 400 and I-20 and much of the 285 rail. Then we would have an agency that’s already done the studies for 400, I-20, the Clifton Corridor and has experience controlling the funding.Report

  2. Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights?.... says:

    InAtl, June 9, 2011 at 10:51 am

    Those are all very good points you made and it wouldn’t be such a bad idea if the MARTA was increased to two-cents thereby insuring that all of the money from the tax increase paid by residents of Fulton and DeKalb actually went to funding critically-needed transit improvements in Fulton and DeKalb and not road projects in outlying metro counties outside the Perimeter.

    GDOT may have actual “experience and control” over funding and construction of road projects, but if you’re familiar with any of their recent financial and organizational “performances” in doing so, you would know that having GDOT in charge of anything more than a fruit stand doesn’t exactly inspire alot, if any, confidence amongst the populace these days.Report

  3. Question Man says:

    What does LCC mean by “equity” among the region and the population? The BeltLine project requires “equitable distribution” of benefits, but hasn’t the overwhelming majority of money gone into the Northeast, the quadrant least in need of economic development? If this is what Atlanta’s leadership means by equity, why not skip the ruse, be honest, and just put the new investment where the money already is?Report

  4. Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights?.... says:

    Question Man says:

    June 9, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    “What does LCC mean by “equity” among the region and the population? The BeltLine project requires “equitable distribution” of benefits, but hasn’t the overwhelming majority of money gone into the Northeast, the quadrant least in need of economic development? If this is what Atlanta’s leadership means by equity, why not skip the ruse, be honest, and just put the new investment where the money already is?”

    Is it really that much of a shocker that most of the money and investment is aimed at North Metro Atlanta and the corridors lining I-75 North, GA 400 North and I-85 North as you hit the nail right on the head when said that’s where the money already is?

    The money, the bulk of the population, the votes and the overwhelming political influence and business connections all almost completely reside in the counties above I-20 in Metro Atlanta relative to the rest of the region.

    As we all know, Atlanta is a town that is almost completely dominated by land development and spectulation interests and has been increasingly so since the start of the post-World War II economic expansion and during all of that time the term economic development has meant car-oriented development that stretched out and about all over the countryside with no end in sight, in other words, SPRAWL. But now the term and concept of continued future economic development has shifted from being centered on automobiles to being centered on transit.

    Land spectulators used to center their long-term suburban commercial and residential development plans on existing and future freeway and interstate junctions in what were then the outer reaches of the metro area (Greenbriar Mall @ I-285 & SR 166; South DeKalb Mall @ I-20 & I-285 East; Cumberland Mall @ I-75 & I-285 North; Perimeter Mall @ I-285 & SR 400 North; Gwinnett Place & Discover Mills Malls near I-85 North & SR 316; Town Center Mall @ I-75 & I-575 North; the Mall of Georgia @ I-85 & I-985 North; the ill-fated Outer Perimeter/Northern Arc road project, etc) are now centering their long-term plans on future mass transit lines (like the Intown Beltline, the Peachtree Streetcar line, the Brain Train line, etc) because they know that the future of transportation and development lies in mass transit, particularly trains, because trains and rails are what the public is facinated and romanticized with. Put it all together and most of the transit projects are being centered on heavily-populated and heavily-traveled corridors in North Metro Atlanta above I-20 because that’s where most of the demand for transit is will be along with the money which is why the spectulators have shifted their focus from “economic development” of car-oriented projects in the countryside to “economic redevelopment” of intown and inner suburban brownfields on once-overlooked land plots adjacent to existing and future rail lines.Report

  5. Renaldo says:

    So call transit advocates endorse proposals that talk about equity of expenditures/costs across the region.

    Why not focus on equity of benefits, ridership, cost-effectiveness. Rather than sprinkle costly and mostly disjointed transit projects across the region (as politicians are prone to do), Atlanta’s citizens should demand projects that serve the most use and can actually improve travel times.

    Typical joke project — Extend Marta to Turner Field. Why spend hundred of millions of dollars for 90 baseball games a year, with at most 5,000 users a game?Report

  6. James R. Oxendine says:

    Typical joke project — Extend Marta to Turner Field. Why spend hundred of millions of dollars for 90 baseball games a year, with at most 5,000 users a game?

    @Renaldo:good point.

    Another way to seperate the wheat from the chaff when the final list is presented to the voters is to identify what each projects impact on job creation/retention; enhancement of the local tax base and how muck private capital it will leverage with the requested tax generated funds.Report

  7. InAtl says:

    Renaldo, QM, Ox and Last Dem great posts and sorry to cross post but in case you didn’t see Thomas Wheatly’s tweets wanted to cross post my post. QM throwing money at where the current development is reflects the problems with of the model noted below. But that’s a huge problem, the development pattern going in just one direction is very inefficient and makes poor use of our existing infrastructure because in essence it moves the center of the city on a population basis.

    “thomaswheatley Thomas Wheatley
    ARC will run models of different “major” projecst to determine impact. Tom Weyandt, ATL mayor’s transport adviser, said intown projects…… Might appear small but could have huge impact b/c of density and job centers.”

    Bingo!!! Man City of Atlanta thanks for hiring Tom W. All the GRTA, ARC and GDOT models are biased towards moving people over a greater distance than just merely moving people to where they need to go.

    As a result if they can move one person 30 miles then that trumps moving 9 people 3 miles. So these projects running up the interstates rise to the top of the list. But build these projects along with the expanded roads and you won’t have land use impacts that encourage development patterns that reduce the distance people need to travel.

    That’s why despite the historic impressive investment in MARTA during the 70’s and 80’s we then continued funding transportation projects that instead of encouraging development around our high capacity stations encouraged development and people to move further out.

    We need more local circulator systems to fill in the gaps, to encourage infill or revitalization. Problem is allowing/encouraging people to live closer to existing infrastructure and thus travel shorter distances doesn’t “move the needle” on the models. That is what Tom W is pointing to. That is why the region is doomed.

    I’d love to see an overlay of DC and ATLANTA, it seems to me a heavy rail line or even light rail going all the way to Northpoint Mall or Marietta is an insanely long distance based on the densities present. If the Buses aren’t good enough maybe commuter rail could would be appropriate.

    As I think cctgirl’s tweet posted maybe this 10 year problem we have and the lack of ready projects will mean the transit projects inside 285 will be the ones that get funded. Give the folks outside 285 HOT lanes – if they put good bus prepay bus stations along with the HOT lanes and wrote the contracts to make sure transit wasn’t hindered for the sake of the private toll collectors’ business that might work.

    Bottom line the tweet “MT @CCTgirl: “Transit is a process. If we commit to transit, we commit to 30-40 yrs. It’s an investment in the future”

    Is very true, the problem is we’ve known this for a long time and said we were doing this yet here we are and it turns out we haven’t started going down this time line, in fact we dropped the ball from what started 30 years ago. And all we are doing now is a 10 year commitment that’s just half hearted in that its not necessarily dedicated to transit, its being influenced by models that don’t really promote transit and there is still no demonstrated commitment to it other than an empty promise.

    If the round table listens to Tom W. then the project list will be heavily dominated by these beltline or rail connector projects proposed by the city of Atlanta, and the Clifton corridor proposal would be nice – though they don’t have the land for that even though they’ve been friggin studying it for 10 years via the “C loop” Concept.Report

  8. Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights?.... says:

    Renaldo, James R. Oxendine:

    I agree that extending a separate MARTA line to Turner Field that most years for only 81 days tops out of 365 days in a year would be a waste of very limited transit funding. It is much more practical and effective to merely run high-volume, heavy frequency shuttle bus service on those 81 game days than it would be to spend that much on a rail line that may not be used nearly as much on the other 284 days of the year.Report

  9. Keith says:

    Most people who are in favor of additional mass transit don’t plan to use it themselves. They want to get others off the road to make room for their own SUV. Unless mass transit can pay its own way thru the farebox, it shouldn’t be built.Report

  10. Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights?.... says:

    Keith says:

    June 11, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    “Most people who are in favor of additional mass transit don’t plan to use it themselves. They want to get others off the road to make room for their own SUV.”

    Oh, contraire, Keith. It’s not that people necessarily just want to get others off the road to make room for their own SUV, it’s that people want the CHOICE of being able to not have to drive their own SUV every workday, especially if they have to commute into or inside of a more densely-populated area.

    “Unless mass transit can pay its own way thru the farebox, it shouldn’t be built.”

    Mass transit CAN pay much of its own way through the farebox if fares are adequately high enough in the $3-$5 range (fares in Metro Atlanta probably be closer to $5 early on so that operations can be adequately financed enough to attract more and more upscale riders). Mass transit can also be financed through other creative means as taxes alone don’t have to be the one and only way that transit is paid for.

    Mass transit (and a MULTImodal) transportation system also pays for itself in that it helps a community to attract employers with high-paying jobs who want to be close to a dependable mass transit system as employers in major urban areas don’t want their employees to frequently be stuck in traffic, losing valuable production time.

    Dependable mass transit also helps a community to attract working professionals with college degrees and high-paying jobs and are thereby able to pay more into the tax base through property taxes when they own homes and make sales purchases in a given area. DEPENDABLE mass transit pays for itself and a community in more ways than one.

    Let’s not also forget that roads and for that matter, freight railroad companies and lines, receive very heavy government subsidies and have done so for pretty much nearly all of their existence.Report


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