TSPLOST projects

Local projects good or just a carrot stick?

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.

33 comments Add your comment

Don

June 20th, 2012
7:44 am

A revote is NOT a plan. There is no “Plan B” list of projects. It is not reasonable to expect the same people working with the same data will come up with project list that’s much different than “Plan A”.

So, we can vote “yes” now, or wait two years and revote on virtually the same project list – one that’ll be tweaked just a bit and relabeled to seem different – but really won’t be.

It never should have come down to this in the first place. Don’t we vote for a state government so they will actually govern? They shouldn’t be throwing the job of governing, i.e. putting a tax in place, back into our laps. What a bunch of chickens!

Bernie

June 19th, 2012
9:33 pm

Promises! Promises! just in the building of the HOV lanes through Atlanta. We were all promised that the citizens of Georgia would never be forced into paying to use that lane, We were promised and assured, time & time again, before and during its construction, It would never happen!

There were other promises made too! but not fulfilled, and CONVENIENTLY amended or changed (whatever word that works for you) about the GA 400 toll way.

Look, who’s paying and still paying now!

Bernie

June 19th, 2012
9:03 pm

Something tells me that Road Scholar is already getting his CUT………..:) Here is hoping you have a good pair of knee pads and elbow pads to go along with that ride. :) Truly Amazing……!

Cosby

June 19th, 2012
4:13 pm

15% of it for the metro area and if not in the metro area 25% back to local governemnt but wait, this money is returned to the State to be divided by the state leaders based on population and road milage..hence, those outside of metro Atlanta could end up supporting metro Atlanta. why does the State get to determine where 15% or 25% of this money goes. Also, what abount accountability of where the money that is suppose to go for road maintenance and development has gone, both on the State as well as the Federal level…this just seems..gee, the government has spent / wasted the money received, so lets go get some more from the dumb masses…to that I say Horse squeeze!

Road Scholar

June 19th, 2012
2:10 pm

Future: Do you know that GDOT has reduced in house state wide staffing from 12500 in the 1970’s to 6300 in 2000 to 4600 now? Most jobs including maintenance, construction, design etc have been out sourced.

Gary

June 19th, 2012
1:43 pm

The T-Splost will benefit the area; I believe it will help grow the economy by encouraging businesses to keep moving here. Remember, this will also provide $$$ for local governments to complete projects that more directly affect other localities.

middleground

June 19th, 2012
12:26 pm

If you vote for this tax, how dumb are you going to feel when they take the state and federal funds away from your area and redirect them to special projects in areas that didn’t vote for this tax.
Vote no and do not give the good old boys billions to redirect to their own pockets.

Future

June 19th, 2012
11:54 am

The powers that be really screwed up. Not sure who the brainiac was who decided that having motorist pay to ride in a lane that has been free for over 50 years prior to having the vote on TSPLOST, whoever they are needs to be blamed if this fails in Gwinnett and their surrounding counties not in District 7.

The bigger picture is that without the tax or increase in state fuel tax rates the state of Georgia cannot keep up with the current infrastructure with their current load of employees at the GDOT.

I for one hate any form of tax, but time has come for the GDOT to rid themselves of do nothing employees who do not create anything while leaving the burden of their retirement and benefits to the tax payers. t

Road Scholar

June 19th, 2012
11:19 am

Hey Jim. How is it going? Don’t limit yourself to calling out people who make unjust, baseless charges against MARTA. In today’s world, the airwaves/internet are filled with baseless lies and innuendo that cannot be backed up by facts. Isn’t it lovely? Add to it PACS who do not disclose whom, their sources, and whether it is the truth.

Jim Durrett

June 19th, 2012
11:15 am

By law, this tax will sunset in ten years or earlier if the estimated tax proceeds are collected before ten years are up. It is written in the law. Comparison to GA400 toll is inappropriate.