3/25: Transportation referendum and jobs

By the AJC Editorial Board

Much of the hissing and spitting that passes for civic debate in this age orbits around cries of “job-killing” this or “job-creating” that. Which provides an interesting lens through which to view the upcoming regional transportation referendum.

We suggest that opponents of the Transportation Investment Act penny sales tax listen to a new advertising blitz with something close to an open mind.

Critics also owe it to themselves and their communities, in our view, to examine the sponsor list for the expected $8 million campaign of choir-preaching that points out yet again our epic mobility problems and the need to start addressing them.

Read the rest of what the AJC Editorial Board has to say. Then read another view by Fayette County Commissioner Steve Brown and tell us what you think.

Businesspeople know competition grows jobs, so they recognize the risk of letting metro Atlantans stew in gridlock while competing regions gain ground.

25 comments Add your comment

ScottNATL

March 23rd, 2012
8:52 pm

My impression is that Mr Brown should give us the source of these numbers hes spouting forth since for the most part they are not correct. He also fails to see that mass transit availability raises property values, attracts business, and raises the tax base. All mass transit is subsidized heavily, as are the precious roads he says are short changed. My take is his opposition is more politically motivated than fact driven. As for why they need to spend 8 million on an educational campaign, Mr Brown should take a good look in the mirror. When are public officials are loose with the facts trying to pit urban against rural for their own political gain…you have to fight against that with the facts. I’m sorry that Mr. Brown dislikes us in Atlanta so much, but we are the ones who will pay most of this…as compared to the small fraction that will come from his county

Hillbilly D

March 23rd, 2012
10:05 pm

I don’t live in the Atlanta T-SPLOST region so I don’t have a dog in y’alls fight but that list of sponsors would be enough to make me queasy about supporting it.

middleground

March 23rd, 2012
10:29 pm

I love Atlanta and the Beltline. However its hard not to ignore that fact that most buses run around town empty. And while the goal is higher density, thats way off in the current economic environment.
It would be cheaper to find other solutions for a period until high density is achieved.
Forcing things on people doesn’t seem to work. Recognize the peoples mood.

bug

March 24th, 2012
7:07 am

This is another bad writen article. Educate yourself on this vote and you will find 25% of the money goes to individual counties general fund. Find out how much money was spent on lobbist hired by the Georgia County Commissioners to get this bill on the ballot.

Good government begins at home. We are not trimming fat govenment; we have those on the tax payers payroll looking for other sources of income.

Out by the Pond

March 24th, 2012
8:47 am

Transit projects create jobs. Transit projects funded by progressive taxes create the same jobs. Drop the regressive sales tax and develop some real projects that will help move people around the region. The proposed transit line from Cumberland Mall to downtown makes as much sense as the 1968 proposed transit line from Glover Park to downtown. Neither provide suitable service to the population they are to serve.

Out by the Pond

March 24th, 2012
9:01 am

TRUCKS! That is Atlanta’s problem. In Atlanta traffic TRUCKS dominate the number of number of vehicles on the highway. I have not experienced this in Dallas, Houston, Tucson or other major cities In which I have driven. Alternate truck routes around the city would do more to relieve the current traffic problem that the proposed projects offered by T-splash.

Out by the Pond

March 24th, 2012
9:10 am

A short history lesson……..In the late 30s early 40s Atlanta floated bonds to build the Down Town Connector. Generally it ran from the steel mill south to University. The project cost more than it’s estimate and the bonds were coming due. Along came Ike and his Interstate Highway System. Two Interstates were diverted down the Connector. Atlanta was bailed out and Atlanta traffic was born. Until the traffic of three Interstate systems is routed away from the city Atlanta will always have traffic. Local transit projects will not fix the problems caused by TRUCKS or the Snowbirds.

Out by the Pond

March 24th, 2012
9:20 am

Unrelated to T-Splost the proposed Lexus Lanes for I 75 and I 575 have a reported cost of under $1Billion. I have it from a reliable source that the Cost estimate for the Right of Way only, not construction, for two lanes on both sides of the I 75 was in excess of $4 Billion. Just how bad was Bush’s recession? Not that bad. I do not trust the estimates for the Lexus Lanes and I sure don’t trust the estimates for the proposed T-Splost projects.

Chris

March 24th, 2012
2:07 pm

Follow the money … who’s paying for this ad campaign (including using the AJC which is supposedly an impartial source)? I bet you’ll find lots of engineering and transportation lobbyists who stand to benefit from the forced redistribution of wealth from one set of citizens to another.

Governments can’t really create jobs. All they can do is take money from one hand and give to another. The money that will be spent on these projects, many if not most of which are of dubious value, will be taken out of the retail economy and not spent on other things. There will be losers. But the big money is trying to make you think that you are a bad person if you vote NO. I will be voting NO, because of all the reasons others have put out as well as the fact that you simply can’t trust the local governments around here as they are likely in bed with developers and corporate cronies.

SAWB

March 24th, 2012
2:23 pm

So, let me get this straight because of growth in the region we need to increase taxes. If we don’t increase taxes growth will slow. Ok, what am I missing here? It seems like the answer is pretty obvious we should vote NO.

Let’s be honest does anyone really think the quality of life in Metro Atlanta is better now than it was ten or twenty years ago? As a matter of fact the AJC is running a story right now detailing how Gwinnett County is on pace for a record number of murders. There are also ongoing stories about failures of the Atlanta and DeKalb school systems and even the highly rated Gwinnet school system now has underperforming schools. There was discussion this week about letting certain criminals out of jail because we do not have enough capacity to handle them all. The truth of the matter is that growth has long ago outpaced the ability of local Governments to keep up, so maybe it is time to slow things down.

WeNeedAlternatives

March 24th, 2012
2:57 pm

It’s all very simple. Things change, population changes, everything changes. Live with it.
If we had a static world, our current transportation system would probably be just barely tolerable. But that’s not the case. People have babies, population grows, shifts and changes, while fuel and other resources get more expensive – you can’t do a whole lot about any of that. (fuel is a limited resource sold on a world market – free enterprise stuff there…)
So, if we just sit here, and don’t do anything, the world passes us by. And the Atlanta area (with all apologies) will begin to look like some of the cities we don’t really envy (read: Detroit … sorry).
Yes, everyone has a right, if they can afford it, to live in a palatial spread way out in the burbs, and has a right to waste incalculable time in their commute and countless dollars on enriching the oil producers of the world. That’s fine. But sprawling out can’t go on forever. People want services, entertainment, sports teams, good restaurants, great events etc. to improve their quality of life. Do you build a 100,000 seat sports venue in a rural area and hope people come? Hardly. You put in in an area with population density, and provide ways of getting to that venue – several ways of getting to the venue. The same goes for anything else that might enrich life…. and that includes jobs.
Cities that have had the forethought to build a good transportation infrastructure have thrived over many years. Those that haven’t have been bypassed by potential businesses, their economies have diminished. (this is a human sociological thing that can be witnessed worldwide – not just in the good ‘ol USA.)

So we don’t do anything – things are guaranteed to get worse.
If we do the TSPLOST thing, things may get a bit better.
If we wait for something better to come along – it’ll be too late.

It’s all about economics – do we wish to improve the situation, or do we stick our head in the sand and hope nothing changes. You can get involved, and make a difference in the world, and be a participant, or you can just sit by and complain.

It’s your choice.

SAWB

March 24th, 2012
5:09 pm

“Do you build a 100,000 seat sports venue in a rural area and hope people come?”

Well, Gwinnett County did or at least a pretty fair representation of one. So, do we trust all these studies to be any more accurate than the ones that said the Braves would draw in Buford?

Look I am not necessarily saying I will vote no, but I am considering it. While I believe a sales tax may be the proper funding mechanism I am concerned that the scope of this project is too large. Any project in the Metro area will most likely involve a certain amount of corruption, waste and cronyism, but this is so large it is almost guaranteed. A better choice would be for each County to fund very limited projects and then to partner with neighboring Counties for joint projects. At least it will be easier to catch the crooks.

Road Scholar

March 24th, 2012
5:14 pm

Bug: It is 15% which is in the law, but all local govm’t I know are using it for capital programs or to match other funds like federal projects (80 %F- 20% local match)- Check with your local governments reps- some may have their project/use list up on their websites.

W N Alts: Good points! We’re already behind on maintaining our infrastructure. Does a bridge or sewer system have to collapse to make that point? Deaths? (Does Minn. ring a bell?)

What about improving our air quality by reducing congestion and excessive idling in traffic?

WeNeedAlternatives

March 24th, 2012
9:36 pm

Yes, I agree that air quality is really important in all of this, and won’t improve if we don’t get out of our cars. (or come up with another type of non-polluting car.) I do remember the air quality downtown during the ‘96 games – rather pleasant. Nobody drove downtown!

The scope of what the referendum is trying to accomplish is too large – I agree. The result spreads too little in funding over too large an area in need. We actually need something bigger – we’ve let this go way too long. But how to pay for it? (and how to keep our short-sighted representatives hands out of the till…)

Our transportation infrastructure is pathetic, and relies on only one mode. That’s not healthy, and it doesn’t give us a backup if the primary mode has an issue. Consider how we depend upon some river bridges in Atlanta – and most people don’t realize they are riding over them! What if one of them began to fail?

One problem with counties ‘partnering’ is that one county has a need, and the next one doesn’t want to pay for it. Check Fulton and Cobb and the Johnson Ferry bridge debacle. Fulton put it’s penny tax into transit, Cobb into roads. Cobb widened the road to the river, and Fulton responded to the tune of ‘Why should I have to pay for your desire to travel through my neighborhoods?’. It also is happening on Hwy41 as we speak. Cobb sends massive numbers of automobiles into Atlanta, and would really like Atlanta to pay for their passage. Is it right? I don’t know. Is it a problem? Absolutely! The problem is regional, and traffic becomes regional once it leaves the local jurisdiction. Our main issue (and this is a stretch) is we have WAY too many government entities in the area, each looking after itself.

Dumb and Dumber

March 24th, 2012
10:12 pm

Well that settles it, if the Editorial Board of the Dunwoody Journal Constitution is “fer it”, I’m “agin it.”

What these shills don’t tell you is that this sales tax funds a bunch of unconnected projects and that nothing is being done to create a regional governance of transit operators. Don’t throw money at local politicians, they will just waste it on provincial projects that will not increase connectivity.

mottlicher

March 25th, 2012
12:16 pm

Interesting reading on this subject. Here is the big picture folks…this town and a large portion of this area was built on transportation and much of the current and future viability of this region is dependant on transportation. We did a pretty good job of building up our infrastructure in transportation, but fell behind during the growth of the 90s and early 2000s. We now have a huge strain on the system.

One of the main reasons given for firms deciding not to relocate or to expand existing locations in Ga and Atlanta is now we are seen as being as bad as LA when it comes to traffic. Some say “good, we have had enough growth” but history has shown that if you are not growing, providing jobs, better pay and opportunity…your community will slowly start to die and rot (see the rust belt for example). Many say we need to have higher density, more vertical living…more mass transit. Others want the opposite of that. I believe we need both. You can not force everyone into a tower downtown or just off the beltline, nor can we just keep building burbs to Chattanooga. We need a healthy mix of roads and transit (rail, and buses). Everyone needs and deserves a flexible system that serves their needs as best as possible.

The Tsplost proposal is far from perfect, but this is what you get when trying to balance the needs and wants of a variety of communities, local govts and demographics. 65% of the money will go to mass transit projects…Some are for improvements to existing systems, some are actual expansion of existing systems, some bring transit to areas not currently served and will be the beginning point of a future network of transit.

The majority of the road portion is regional in nature as they are aimed at relieving congestion and bottlenecks on regional roads and the surface streets that connect to them. Yes 25% of that budget goes to the locals, but that is for use on their priority list of local transportation improvements/repairs. It is not for the local general fund.

This is our only shot, unless you want a massive increase in the state gas or income tax. The current funding system will not allow these improvements. Further, while I hold many of the same beliefs of the Tea Party…(Washington wasting money left and right and always wanting more…with little to show for it.) I believe this is the best way to jumpstart our way out of this hole we have built and is starting to drag us down.

The Tsplost is a sales tax that gets paid by us…and tourists from other areas. It is only for a finite time (it goes away at the end of 10 years or earlier if the projects have been fully funded prior to the 10 year limit) and you have a limited list of projects that are being funded…not a black hole where your tax dollars disappear. You will see what you are paying for and get to benefit from the projects.

Hillbilly D

March 25th, 2012
1:41 pm

It is only for a finite time (it goes away at the end of 10 years or earlier if the projects have been fully funded prior to the 10 year limit)

When the original Marta tax was proposed, it was also supposed to be for only 10 years (most people weren’t here then and don’t remember that). The 400 Toll was supposed to go away when the project was paid for. If this tax gets voted in, it’ll never end, just like always.

atlmom

March 25th, 2012
2:00 pm

yes , something needs to be done and this is not it. If the legislators want to raise my taxes – raise my taxes.
Don’t do the cowards thing and let us vote on it.
If you found something that works or that you think is the right thing to do – do it. Don’t put the onus on the people – we voted you for a reason (which i can’t recall, but still).
Anyway – stop having *us* vote on stuff.
we can’t agree.
I don’t like this because it has money for roads in it. Isn’t that what the DOT is for? Have a regional transportation system, not what we have. This vote won’t do that.

Poison Train Pills

March 25th, 2012
3:39 pm

The Roundtable insisted on project CO-035, the train from MARTA Art Center to Cobb Galleria for $700 million dollars of “Cobb’s project money”. This train track is NOT in Cobb.

The train is a poison pill. Why would Cobb citizens vote for a plan that puts most of their project money in another county?

Lots of folks went to meetings, wrote editors, complained on blogs – but the Atlanta Regional Roundtable insisted on the train. Too bad.

Now we have to vote the whole TSPLOST/TIA down. They left us no other choice.

Jeff on on Outside

March 25th, 2012
3:48 pm

We need to fix our traffic woes. I wish TSPLOST would help but it will not. TSPLOST is more about reengineering how we live than it is about how best to improve traffic in the Atlanta metro. This project has too much money flowing to ideologes pet projects and not enough to help Joe and Jane Taxpayer get home in the afternoon.

The shills for TSPLOST will remind us of how bad our traffic is and how much we need to “do something”. I wish they had been listening to their own pitch when the project list was being prepared. Instead they were focusing on all kinds of other priorities and only now that we are getting ready to vote do they want to talk about traffic.

mottlicher

March 25th, 2012
5:42 pm

May I suggest that Hillbilly read up a bit more on Ga. Splosts….splost taxes are for a definite time period and for specifically listed uses. At the end of the period it dies, unless a new splost is voted on and passed. This is different than the Ga. 400 tolls where the tax payers did not have a vote, a State authority (SRTA) made the decision to continue the tolls.

John

March 25th, 2012
5:43 pm

I’ll vote for this when the State fires the idiot who lobbied for the continuation of the 400 toll and the wonderfull lexus lanes. The idiot is Gena Evans.

Hillbilly D

March 25th, 2012
7:37 pm

mottlicher

And they always manage to hold another vote, in the middle of the summer, to insure a low turnout, to re-up the SPLOST, time and again. I’ve been watching these things for 40 years and I’ve yet to ever see one go away. Sometimes you don’t have to read through what you’ve lived through.

WeNeedAlternatives

March 26th, 2012
9:47 am

I agree the TSPLOST shouldn’t be social engineering. People should be able to live how they want, but within their means. Delivering effective transportation to sparsely populated communities is extremely expensive, and the residents of the low density communities should pay for that access, if they want it. If you have a local traffic problem – the local folks need to pay for it. If the traffic causing congestion is regional, it’s a regional issue and should be funded regionally. (Any traffic leaving a local jurisdiction is no longer local – it’s regional.)
Likewise, denser communities need more concentrated transportation alternatives, but that can serve more people. It can be fancier (like light rail). That’s not inexpensive either, but can be more cost effective as people begin to need their automobiles for fewer trips. Fewer trips lead to less congestion, less pollution and less wasted time. (And gives more room for that regional traffic to have access.) Those folks should pay for their local transportation too. There are also many projects that cover both local and regional needs. Local for people that live and work near transportation corridor, and regional for those that use that mode of transportation to get to their destination. Those projects can be very cost effective.

The ‘pet projects’ for one audience is necessary transportation to another – that’s likely why the whole list of projects covers a very diverse area. As population concentrates, there are more TSPLOST taxpayers per square mile, and the projects can be more expensive. After all, more people will be directly served. As the population spreads, there are fewer taxpayers per square mile, so there are fewer dollars to go for that square mile. Apparently, that’s why the list didn’t have heavy rail 60 miles outside of town. The 10 year completion requirement apparently limited the scope of what could be done too.

The roundtable that picked those projects did a pretty good job in spreading the funds in a manner that reflected the funding. Personally, I would have done a few things differently, as I prefer more transit, but overall, they seem to have done a fairly good job. (If most people are a bit upset, but for different reasons, it must be OK.)

As for the complaint regarding Cobb funding a transit line from Arts Center to Cumberland – there is an alternative: Just build the line from Woodstock (or wherever) to the river, and let the commuters swim/walk the rest of the way into town. It’s a folly to build a system that doesn’t go anywhere, or link to a popular destination. (See MARTA before the Airport station!) It is not very likely that people in Atlanta will be using it to come out and visit Cumberland, and much more likely that it will allow Cobb folks to get into town without enduring I75 and parking.
As traffic comes into the city, it concentrates. The Cumberland-Arts Center project might help reduce that. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough funding to build the entire line all the way out in one pass. It has to be built in pieces like the Interstate system was built. So you build the piece that will get the most use first, and then add on as funding is available. Doesn’t it make more sense to initially have commuters drive to a park/ride at Cumberland, and ride the rest of the way in?
Of course, the more intelligent way to do this is to link into MARTA just north of the Arts Center (as originally planned) and extend heavy rail up into Cobb via Cumberland, but Hell will be very cold before that occurs. Likewise, it is also a stretch constantly demand that the neighborhoods in North Atlanta endure more pass through traffic and the associated pollution.

What really is needed is true, effective regional transportation oversight that coordinates regional projects. This is what MARTA was originally conceived to do (way, way back…), but that didn’t happen. GRTA sorta happened, and lots of other agencies and layers have been proposed and created. The agency patchwork doesn’t work, and its high time for our politicians to get off their collective behinds and fix the problem. The world is beginning to pass this region by, and we no longer have the time to waste. The goose is dying, and there will be no more golden eggs until it is fixed.

bu2

March 26th, 2012
5:08 pm

AJC points to the businesses supporting the TSPLOST. This is the same group that tried to shut them up when they exposed the APS cheating scandal. The Atlanta Chamber of Commerce’s endorsement only means its good for their pockets and not necessarily for anyone else.

And this TSPLOST in not good for anyone but developers. If we pass this, we never have a chance to do it right and really make a difference. And what they don’t point out is that some significant $ are spent for operating costs for bus and rail systems. There is no funding for those systems beyond 20 years. These include buses in Gwinnet, Clayton and Dekalb County and the Clifton, Beltline and Cumberland Mall light rail proposals. MARTA can’t support what it already has. Clayton County dropped its bus system, but is now going to fund one with a temporary tax.