There’s been much debate over the major projects that get most of the money if the regional transportation sales tax passes July 31. Less is known about the discretionary local fixes to be financed by 15 percent of the funds. Today, an Atlanta adviser and Georgia Tea Party board member address the smaller backyard works that stand to receive about $1.1 billion regionally.
Today’s moderator is Tom Sabulis. Commenting is open below Tom Maloy’s column.
By Tom Weyandt
On July 31, voters in metro Atlanta will decide whether to support a penny sales tax to fund $6.14 billion in critical road and transit projects.
After a year of collaboration, elected officials on the regional roundtable unanimously approved a list of projects that addresses capacity and maintenance needs across metro Atlanta and includes funds for transit expansion and capital improvements in Cobb, Gwinnett, Clayton and DeKalb counties plus assistance to major road bottlenecks.
But many voters may not be aware that a “yes” vote also means more money for local governments to use for transportation projects close to home. The enabling legislation provided that 15 percent of the funds raised would be allocated to every local government for discretionary use. For the region, 15 percent is worth almost $1.1 billion.
In Atlanta, we have undertaken a comprehensive process to develop a list of projects that would be funded by the 15 percent allocation, which would amount to about $9.4 million per year for 10 years, totaling $94 million.
We reviewed transportation needs, worked with the City Council and met with community groups and held public meetings. We received valuable input from residents and business owners.
First, they want a focus on city-owned facilities and roads instead of state-owned areas. Second, constituents favor sidewalks, crosswalks, roadway maintenance and bicycle projects, each a core part of the quality of life of neighborhoods. Finally, the public told us to fund projects we have already identified in city plans.
The initial list covers the first five years of the program and focuses on small projects and improvements such as makeovers of major corridors such as Bolton Road, DeKalb Avenue and Cascade Road. Improvements are likely to include resurfacing, signal systems, sidewalks and other pedestrian improvements; accessibility improvements for the disabled; and provisions for transit and bicycles.
If the referendum passes, 93 percent of Atlantans will reside within a half-mile of at least one of the 15 percent list projects or the regional projects. Every neighborhood stands to see real improvements in its quality of life — whether it’s better crosswalks, more bicycle paths, or access to major projects such as the Atlanta Beltline or the Atlanta Streetcar. Every year, city leaders will review and refresh the list as community needs evolve.
Residents can learn more about the 15 percent project list at http://tinyurl.com/7e32wum. Now is not the time for more planning — now is the time for action. Get educated about the referendum and vote July 31.
Tom Weyandt is Mayor Kasim Reed’s transportation policy adviser.
By Tom Maloy
It’s hard to debate the 15 percent portion of the Transportation Investment Act that will be distributed to local governments. It does represent a return of tax dollars to build new sidewalks, fix streets and get matching grants. So what’s not to like?
It’s the carrot dangled to get local government officials on board the train — or in this case light rail. But does this 15 percent return really make the TIA a good investment for taxpayers?
For the answer, you need only to compare the projects list with the stated purpose of the TIA, which is to “use available resources to maximum efficiency in order to alleviate the gridlock in and around the metropolitan Atlanta region.” Unfortunately, there is little in the project lists that would accomplish that goal, even on the 15 percent local level.
Our traffic problems are caused by too many cars all trying to get to the same place at the same time. The TIA’s solution is to build huge infrastructures for light rail and bus rapid transit, and somehow lure enough commuters to make the enormous expense worthwhile.
You needn’t look any further than MARTA to see the folly in that. MARTA maintains a $508 million annual operating loss and a $1.2 billion maintenance backlog, while annual ridership continuesto decrease. Yet the TIA projects list proposes similar transit systems all across the region.
Even with the most optimistic ridership estimates, the new systems would require an additional 70 percent annual subsidy from taxpayers for maintenance and operations. At approximately $2 million per mile, per year for light rail, that adds up to a pretty large tab.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The TIA, effectively, will provide initial funding for Atlanta Region’s 2008 Concept 3 transit proposal, the cost of which, according to estimates by the Transit Planning Board, will exceed $75 billion during the next 18 years. Promoters of Concept 3 say that amounts to only $1.15 per day for each person in the region. But, for a family of four, it amounts to more than $30,000 during the 18 years.
While a 15 percent return to local governments arguably may be a good thing, there are too many flaws in the TIA law to make it worthy of our votes. There is no opt-out provision for counties, it carries none of the protections of a true SPLOST, and it’s another step down a path of ever-increasing taxes to support the infinite expansion of a transit system that’s antiquated before it’s ever built.
TIA proponents say there is no Plan B; that we have no alternative but to vote for this in July.
But there is a Plan B built right into the law — a revote in two years. Let’s vote this down. Rewrite the law and develop a projects list that actually relieves traffic congestion. Then in 2014, let’s give it another shot.
Tom Maloy is a board member of the Georgia Tea Party.