Transportation tax clears committee: About 55 percent for transit, 45 percent roads

By David Pendered

Metro Atlanta voters now have something tangible to consider when they think about voting next year for a 1 percent sales tax for proposed road and transit improvements.

This story has been updated.

A list of just over 100 projects, priced at $6.14 billion, was approved Monday by a 5-0 vote by a group of mayors and county chairmen who comprise the Executive Committee of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable.

The split between roads and transit started the day at about 45 percent for roads and 55 percent for transit. The final split appears to be in that ballpark, and committee staffers were busy late Monday digesting the final figures after four hours of negotiations.

The committee started its day with a spending plan that was about $420 million over budget.

The committee voted 4-1 to reduce that overage by earmarking $120 million in federal dollars that are intended as contingency funds for other projects.

Henry County is mostly rural, such as this along this stretch of Ga. 42 south of McDonough, and needs more road improvements than transit, said Henry County Chairman B.J. Mathis. Credit: David Pendered

Henry County is mostly rural, such as this along this stretch of Ga. 42 south of McDonough, and needs more road improvements than transit, said Henry County Chairman B.J. Mathis. Credit: David Pendered

Henry County Chairman B.J. Mathis voted no, saying that road projects not on the sales tax list might need the contingency sum.

That vote left a shortfall of about $299 million. The paring was so tight that the smallest was $300,000, for the planned Fayetteville bypass.

Click here to see the project list the committee started with on Monday.

Here are some of the larger changes to that project list that were approved by the committee:

  • Atlanta BeltLine: Cut by $58.1 million to $600 million;
  • Fixed guideway transit from MARTA’s Midtown Station to Cumberland area: Cut by $22.5 million to $853.5 million;
  • Ga. 400, from I-285 to Spalding Drive: Cut $30 million in sales tax funding and replace with anticipated federal funding;
  • MARTA heavy rail line from Indian Creek Station to Wesley Chapel Road: Cut $25 million to $225 million.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed helped seal the final deal by visiting Gov. Nathan Deal during a break. Reed returned with the governor’s commitment to fund about $80 million out of the $180 million that had been earmarked for GRTA, the state entity that runs the Xpress commuter bus service.

Reed said it was “a big deal” for the committee to end the day with a unanimous vote, which presents voters with a unified vote by the core group designated by state law to develop a solid transportation tax proposal.

Reed predicted the sales tax will be approved by “50 plus one” voters.

“I think it’s going to be hard the entire way,” Reed said after the meeting. “We face a complex tapestry of citizens we’re hoping to satisfy. Reaching across 10 counties is difficult because we have so many constituencies.”

The negotiations illustrated the divergent nature of the 10 counties the state threw into the same pot to develop a regional transportation system.

Elected officials had to consider the maxim that “all politics are local,” even as they were urged to “think regional.” A clogged intersection at home can be as significant as spending millions to maintain MARTA or build a commuter rail line from Atlanta to Griffin.

“The needs of the outer counties are totally different from the inner counties, and they need to be recognized,” said B.J. Mathis, the Henry County chairwoman who resisted intense pressure to support the commuter rail line.

“When you look at transit, you have to look at density,” Mathis said. “We’re still very much a rural county, just like these [urban core] counties were 10 years ago.”

 

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.

2 replies
  1. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    ““The needs of the outer counties are totally different from the inner counties, and they need to be recognized,” said B.J. Mathis, the Henry County chairwoman who resisted intense pressure to support the commuter rail line.”

    It would be nice for commuter rail to have tax subsidies, but you don’t necessarily need to have continuing tax subsidies to support the proposed Atlanta-Griffin commuter rail line. Since the Feds have already agreed to fund the line with about $100 million dollars all you would need to do is take out bonds to get the line built (NOT from Atlanta to Griffin, but from Atlanta to MACON or WARNER ROBINS) and pay back the bonds with ADEQUATELY-PRICED FARES (commuter rail fares are as high as $11 in Chicago and $20 in New York), but then again, of course that might require some leadership from the state with the formation of some kind of a regional transit authority (one that already kind of exists in GRTA, even though they haven’t quite figured that out yet).

    I can personally attest to the pressing local road needs that Henry County Chairwoman Mathis is focused in on in Henry County, but I can also attest to the severe and pressing needs for a commuter rail line connecting Atlanta with the South Metro suburbs and even Middle Georgia to relieve the crushing peak-hour traffic on I-75 and Hwy 19-41 having personally been stuck in heavy rush hour traffic and even heavy off-rush hour traffic on both of those major roads.Report

    Reply
  2. MKG says:

    I would agree with you. Traffic east of Atlanta is a problem too. It’s pretty pathetic that ARC is more interested in building more roads than mass transit. The South is very backwards when it comes to fulfilling transportation needs. We need mass-transit to stimulate growth and to create more jobs. Why is it also that the southern and eastern metro counties are always left out of important commuter projects? ARC doesn’t realize that most of the ridership of mass-transit comes from Metro residents living east and south of Atlanta. Traffic issues in Metro Atlanta will NOT go away unless rail is provided equally in all parts of the metro period.Report

    Reply

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