Moderated by Tom Sabulis
Metro Atlanta voters will cast their ballots Tuesday on the Transportation Investment Act and its proposed 1 percent sales tax to raise $8.5 billion (counting inflation) in traffic improvements. Below, leading voices on both sides of the issue weigh in on the merits and oversights of the 10-county project list, which funnels 52 percent of the money to transit and 48 percent to roads.
Commenting is open below the column by Wendell Cox.
By Tad Leithead
Every metro Atlanta resident should know by now that there is an important decision before them today. This region has the opportunity to act on a transportation referendum that would raise $8.5 billion through a 1 percent sales tax to fund 157 transportation projects across this 10-county region.
Here are some facts to consider as you go to the polls:
1. Georgia ranks 48th in the nation in transportation spending per capita, and fourth in total hours the average commuter spends on the road each day.
2. About 70 percent of the region’s existing, scheduled transportation funding for the next 30 years will be spent on just maintaining the existing network, leaving little room for expansion, without additional funding.
3. As the region grows — by some 3 million more people in the next 25 years — congestion will worsen. Meanwhile, gas tax revenues continue to decline as cars become more fuel-efficient.
4. All monies generated here by the 10-year, regional transportation referendum would stay here. Proceeds would be invested in a range of priority projects in our 10 counties, from interchange improvements at I-285 and Ga. 400, to road and safety improvements, to a new light rail line from the Lindbergh MARTA station to the Clifton Corridor.
5. The economic impact over time on the Atlanta region would be far greater than the 1996 Olympics. The referendum investment would result in a $34.8 billion increase in gross regional product in the Atlanta region by 2040. That’s a 4-to-1 return on investment.
6. Some 200,000 jobs would be created or retained through the build-out of these new transportation projects, with positive economic effects felt through several decades. That equates to approximately 7,100 jobs each year from 2013 through 2040.
7. Policies for strong small business and minority contracting and workforce development efforts have been developed and adopted by key agencies responsible for the project build-out.
8. Commuters spend an average of $924 each year due to traffic congestion. Collectively, the referendum projects would allow residents to save $9.2 billion by 2040, through time and fuel savings.
9. Travelers will enjoy a 24 percent average decrease in future travel delays on roadways improved through road widening, new construction and improved interchanges.
10. Air quality also would improve, equal to taking 72,000 vehicles off the roads daily. That’s a refreshing thought.
These are the facts. But there are personal stories behind these 10 points. This referendum is about a dad being able to get home a little faster to attend his child’s baseball game or the small businesswoman getting to her sales call on time. It’s about the student who is able to get to classes at the university, without owning a car. And it’s about the senior citizen who can’t drive anymore, but has new options to travel and live a full life.
Weigh the facts and please vote today.
Tad Leithead is chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission.
By Wendell Cox
Everyone knows that Atlanta’s traffic congestion is unbearable. This makes Atlanta less competitive for business relocation, and retards economic growth.
Yet, in the midst of the worst economic distress in 80 years and facing billions of dollars in unfunded government-employee retirement obligations, voters are presented with a tax to reduce traffic congestion, and half the money would be spent on something else.
The tax would rehabilitate MARTA, which would not reduce traffic congestion. The tax would be spent on local bus services, which would not reduce traffic congestion.
The tax would fund the Atlanta Beltline, which would not reduce traffic congestion. This “spiffed-up,” 19th-century streetcar is much more about tax-induced real estate speculation than transportation. The proposed Cobb County-to-downtown bus line would not reduce traffic congestion, but would cost at least $5,000 annually per rider.
More than half the money would go to transit, which carries only 1 percent of travel. The tax plan must have been drafted for somewhere else, like Manhattan, Paris or Hong Kong. Transit can make a lot of sense to the largest downtown areas. But little more than one of every 20 Atlanta area jobs are downtown. Transit just takes too long to other destinations (if it’s even available).
A Brookings Institution report says that the average worker in metro Atlanta can reach only 3 percent of the jobs in 45 minutes on transit. By contrast, more than three-quarters of Atlantans actually reach their jobs by car in 45 minutes.
Atlanta is not swimming in money, and the traffic congestion is serious. Every penny of every dollar needs to be spent to reduce traffic congestion.
Fifty cents out of every dollar for traffic congestion relief just isn’t enough. An important principle was not observed — that to reduce traffic congestion you have to do things that reduce traffic congestion.
A new plan is needed that ranks projects by how much they would actually reduce traffic congestion. Projects that reduce traffic delay the most (say per million or billion dollars) should be at the top. Others shouldn’t be on the list at all. Perhaps some transit would be good enough to make the new list. They are not in this plan.
It is a disservice to spend more than half the money on projects that cannot reduce traffic congestion. It would make as much sense to offer the gas station $7 per gallon to fill up the car, rather than the posted $3.50.
So long as Atlanta’s leaders are only half-concerned about traffic congestion, streets and highways are likely to become more crowded.
Atlanta’s leadership needs to be sent a message. They should start over, and produce a plan that seriously reduces traffic congestion, without wasting money. Rejecting the tax would give Atlanta a chance to reduce traffic congestion and become more competitive, unlike the present proposal.
Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy firm and was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission.