Transit must be key part of needed regional transportation sales tax
By Guest Columnist RAY CHRISTMAN, executive director of the Livable Communities Coalition
The Livable Communities Coalition and 30 partner organizations recently launched an education initiative designed to help our region’s economy and quality of life for generations to come.
On March 29, we launched what we’re calling the Fair Share for Transit Initiative, an initiative designed to make the case for significant new funding – a fair share – for public transportation as part of the 2012 referendum on a penny sales tax for transportation improvements in the 10-county region.
Fair Share is based on a widely held belief that maintaining and expanding our regional transit systems is critical for the metro Atlanta region’s continuing economic competitiveness, the growth of jobs, and our future quality of life.
Sound public transportation investment will help the economy, improve the environment, and bring about greater inclusion and opportunity for all residents. Done right, next year’s transportation sales tax referendum can start funding the integrated transportation network that will continue to keep Atlanta one of the nation’s most attractive regions.
Atlanta must have a first rate public transit network that serves the entire region. The world’s major metro regions – from Shanghai to Charlotte – are looking at ways to sustain and expand their transit systems. To remain globally competitive, Atlanta must do the same.
The Atlanta Regional Commission projects that our region will add 3 million people over the next 30 years, bringing us to a population of more than 7 million. While we need to fix and improve our road system, we will not successfully grow through road-building alone.
As the State Strategic Transportation Plan notes, the solution to our region’s mobility needs is a blend of transit and roads. We need a balanced approach in which transit and bicycle/pedestrian investments share priority with our roads.
Let me explain what I mean by this aspiration. A comprehensive transit system for the Atlanta region needs to include:
• New light rail serving both growing suburban counties like Gwinnett and Cobb and the city of Atlanta along segments of the Beltline;
• Extensions of MARTA’s existing heavy rail system at locations like I-20 East in southern DeKalb County;
• Bus rapid transit, to serve areas not served by rail lines;
• Local circulator streetcar and bus networks to serve especially dense areas, bringing people to jobs and to connector transit lines ; and
• Improvements to make local streets hospitable for pedestrians and bicyclists, and to provide safe routes to transit.
The Fair Share initiative, which is supported by recent polls and market and demographic forecasts, will work to ensure that a substantial portion of any new revenues for transportation – beginning with the potential proceeds of the 2012 sales tax referendum – go to public transportation projects and services.
Over the six months between now and October 15, when the list of projects for the 2012 sales tax referendum must be finalized, the Fair Share initiative will work to educate decision makers about the need for transit as it relates to our region’s future economic competitiveness, our mobility options, and the future job and quality of life opportunities for our children and grandchildren.
But we must also realize that this is just a beginning. We cannot solve all of the region’s transportation needs with the funding from this sales tax referendum.
However, we must start working now toward a long-term regional transportation vision that can accommodate future growth. This sales tax referendum is an important first step in that regard. It can serve as a model for how other future transportation investment decisions are made in the region.
Other U.S. and international cities are already building integrated transportation solutions today that can carry them forward 50, not just 10, years.
For Atlanta to remain competitive, for the entrepreneurs of tomorrow to continue to come here to create jobs, for our children and grandchildren to have economic and quality of life opportunities, we must build a transportation system that provides our citizens with choice and mobility.
And transit must be an important component of that system.