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David Pendered

Undecided voters, federal funding weigh on transportation sales tax vote

By David Pendered

An interesting insight from the latest WSB-TV poll on the proposed transportation sales tax is that the referendum simply won’t pass unless almost every undecided voter swings to support it.

Ga. 400 southbound

The intersection of Ga. 400 and I-285 would be improved if voters approve the transportation sales tax. Credit: David Pendered

The opportunity to reach out undecided voters, a segment that polled at 14 percent, improved Friday. Congress approved a federal transportation bill that includes significant transit funding

The federal bill increases the likelihood that the federal government will provide the 12 percent of funds that will be needed to do all the work voters in metro Atlanta have been promised if they approve the 1 percent transportation sales tax.

Advocates of the sale tax often talk about the $6.14 billion the sales tax is to raise. The financial component that’s often left out is the nearly $1 billion from the federal government that will be needed to complete the entire $7.1 billion proposed construction plan.

The future of that potential funding had not been looking good.

Congress has been bottled up for years over transportation spending, largely over debates on how to pay for the nation’s transportation system in the face of declining tax revenues.

Congress last approved a comprehensive plan in 2005. Finally, the logjam broke Friday when the House and Senate compromised on a two-year spending plan.

Highlights of the bill that’s been sent to the president for expected signage include:

  • Continuation of the historic 80/20 split between federal and local governments for the costs of building a project, according to politico.com;
  • Expansion of the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program, according to governing.com. TIFIA provides low interest loans to transportation projects. It will be expanded from $122 million annually to $1 billion annually. It will help finance up to 49 percent of a project’s cost, up from 33 percent, the website reported.

The bill provides important measures for transit funding, according to Michael Melaniphy, president and CEO of the American Public Transportation Association.

This is Meliniphy’s comment after Congress passed the bill:

“This new bill will provide for a greater degree of certainty for public transit agencies and private sector businesses as they maintain, plan and implement public transportation projects.

“It includes improvements to keep our systems in a state of good repair; streamlines delivery of public transit projects; provides funding for new start projects and for a bus replacement and a bus facility program,” Melaniphy concluded.

Inbound I-85

A feasibility study of adding transit along I-85 in Gwinnett County would be conducted if voters approve the transportation sales tax. Credit: David Pendered

In metro Atlanta, the transit piece of the proposed sales tax amounts to 52 percent of the total funds to be raised. The tax is to raise up to $6.14 billion, and will sunset after raising that amount or after 10 years has passed.

Among the new transit programs that sum would provide are:

  • A heavy rail line between MARTA’s Lindbergh Station in Buckhead and the Emory University area;
  • Bus rapit transit, which is a speedy bus service, from Midtown to the Town Center area of north Cobb County;
  • Bus rapid transit from Downtown Atlanta to east DeKalb County.

Existing transit would benefit in the form of:

  • GRTA’s bus service would receive money needed to continue existing service levels;
  • MARTA would receive money to maintain “state of good repair.”
David Pendered

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.



  1. Ready2Drive July 2, 2012 7:39 pm

    The passage of the Regional Transportation Referendum would be the passage of a comprehensive program to address the transportation needs in GA.  Light rail transit, road improvements, which include interchange improvements at major bottleneck areas in the state such as I-285/I-85 and GA-400/I-285 are areas for great improvement that this referendum will address.  Also, mobile options such as GRTA will be in grave danger if this referendum is not passed.Report

  2. juanita driggs July 3, 2012 3:03 pm

    I believe you meant to say a LIGHT rail not a HEAVY rail line between Lindbergh and Emory.Report


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