Transportation sales tax: Transit list created, sort of; road list coming within a week

By David Pendered

The initial shape of a project list that voters are to see on a ballot next year for the 1 cent transportation sales tax referendum was approved Thursday.

This list is only a beginning point, and even it won approval by a narrow 3-2 vote. (See below for the roll call.)

Seven transit projects made the initial list, with a value of $3 billion. These projects were defined as “kickoff projects” because they are not guaranteed a spot on the final list.

There is no list of road projects – yet. The initial shape of a road list is to be formed at a meeting to be scheduled within the next week by the Executive Committee of the Atlanta Regional Roundtable. Aug. 15 is the deadline for a final list.

In theory, the transportation system that’s to be created with $6.1 billion in sales tax revenues over the next decade will improve mobility within the 10-county area of metro Atlanta. It is to upgrade roadways and transit, as well as support alternative modes such as bicycling and walking.

Here are the transit projects that made it to the short list for further consideration. Click here to see the full list of transit projects. Any of the following projects could be eliminated:

  • Clifton Corridor Transit: $700 million;
  • Atlanta BeltLine and Streetcar: $600 million;
  • Northwest rail corridor, from MARTA’s Art Center Station to Town Center: $825 million;
  • MARTA’s State of Good Repair: $500 million;
  • Clayton bus operation: $100 million;
  • Northeast rail corridor, light rail from Doraville to Gwinnett Arena: $100 million;
  • Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, maintain Xpress bus operation: $180 million.

Here are the transit projects that made it to a list of second-tier projects. No cost estimates were included:

  • North line, MARTA rail from North Springs Station to Holcolmb Bridge Road;
  • I-20 East, light rail from Atlanta to Glenwood Avenue;
  • MARTA rail line from Doraville Station to Oakcliff Road;
  • Transit environmental analysis;
  • Regional mobility call center;
  • Commuter rail from Atlanta to Griffin.

Todd Long waved a warning flag over the main project list. Long is the state Department of Transportation planning director who is to make sure that quality projects get on the list.

He warned that the cost projections attached to the transit projects may be too low.

At least some of the projects have lower price tags than a few weeks ago. The formulas were changed in a way that makes the cost appear lower. For example, revenues expected from fare-box collections are now included, and the horizon for maintenance and operation was lowered from 20 years to 10 years.

“Be very careful,” Long said. “What you’ve done is cut the cost of projects. The numbers that were vetted [a few weeks ago] are more than what is on the [projection] screen.

“What will happen [if] we can’t deliver is a concern to me – $825 million may not get you to Town Center; it may not get you to Cumberland [Mall].”

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed had previously mentioned the revisions to the formula, including the 10-year horizon for the tax to help pay for maintenance and operation.

“Then, let the voters decide if they want to continue,” Reed said. “There will be a new set of elected officials who will decide if they want to continue.”

Long did sway the committee when he cautioned that GRTA Xpress bus service may end unless it receives money from the sales tax.

“This is an opportunity for us to fund a regional transit system,” Long said. “They are going to shut down transit. They don’t have money for it. If you want to shut down a well-performing machine, that’s what you’re going to do.”

The committee voted 4-1 to include GRTA Xpress bus on the working list, priced at $180 million. The nay vote was cast by Decatur Mayor Bill Floyd, who contended that the state should cover GRTA’s costs because GRTA is a state entity.

This is the roll call vote on the main list of transit projects:


  • Kasim Reed, Atlanta mayor;
  • Bill Floyd, Decatur mayor;
  • Mark Mathews, Kennesaw mayor.


  • B.J. Mathis, Henry County chairman;
  • Tom Worthan, Douglas County chairman.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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