T-SPLOST fail: Two Views

Moving on from the transportation tax

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

The proposed transportation sales tax got steamrolled by voters Tuesday, with 63 percent voting against the plan to raise billions for a controversial list of projects aimed at unsnarling traffic and improving transit in a 10-county region. So what’s next? We asked two leaders on each side of the T-SPLOST issue to suggest what needs to be done to find regional consensus.

Commenting is open below Steve Brown’s column.

By Bucky Johnson

Over the past 15 months, I have had the opportunity to travel around the region to speak about the Transportation Investment Act of 2010. There was overwhelming agreement that metro Atlanta has a transportation problem. This was the first time in the history of metro Atlanta that a regional vote for transportation improvements has been attempted. It was a valiant effort.

On Tuesday, however, voters in our 10-county region did not agree to fund the 157 specific projects proposed in the 1-cent sales tax referendum. Whenever there’s a setback, it takes some time to review, renew and refocus based on the lessons learned.

There is going to be a cost for this missed opportunity — one that can’t be assessed in days or months.

While voters have spoken and elected leaders have heard you, there are still transportation challenges to deal with. Like most major metropolitan areas nationwide, neither our region nor our state has adequate financial resources to fully address these challenges. In fact, we are facing a shortfall of tens of billions of dollars in the next few decades for transportation projects needed to expand and maintain roads and bridges and to provide transit options to accommodate the future demands of 3 million more residents expected here by 2040. It is unrealistic to expect more money from the federal government. In fact, there likely will be significant reductions in federal funds to states by 2014.

The governor and General Assembly gave us this opportunity through the passage of the Transportation Investment Act. I would encourage them to continue to work with local leaders and residents to explore new options.

Organizations such as the Atlanta Regional Commission and its planning staff, in partnership with local transportation professionals, did yeomen’s work to assist the roundtable in project selection and analysis. Over the past two years, the ARC, Georgia Department of Transportation, Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, MARTA, local elected officials, the business community, universities and countless civic organizations have worked together with unprecedented cooperation. That bodes well for our region.

This experience has united us to fight another day for options and solutions to our transportation challenges. I implore all those who participated in the process to harness the positive energy and regional thinking gained from this massive endeavor.

I salute my colleagues on the roundtable who took a bold step in selecting the project list unanimously. Metro Atlanta must keep moving forward to address our transportation issues. The needs are obvious — on that we can all agree.

Bucky Johnson is Norcross mayor and was chairman of the T-SPLOST regional transportation roundtable.

By Steve Brown

Easing metro Atlanta traffic congestion will require a systemic transformation of the bureaucratic process we now endure.

Mayor Kasim Reed was not elected to the governing roundtable’s executive committee, but he was forced onto it by the Metro Atlanta Chamber and House Speaker David Ralston. In my opinion, Reed’s inclusion paved the way for most of the controversial project selections, which produced the rise of vast opposition.

Inconsistency abounded as the Atlanta Regional Roundtable Survey on May 25 revealed the preordained viewpoint that “traffic congestion” was the top response to the survey question: “Which of the following is the most important reason for investing in transportation improvements?” (Note: Neither “economic stimulus” nor “jobs” appeared in the top responses.)

The Atlanta Regional Commission’s continual use of disingenuous surveying meant that behind-the-scenes political influencers could obtain answers they desired on the costly expansion of transit.

Once people began to analyze the final project list, which was possible only after it had been approved, it was immediately apparent that traffic congestion relief had not been achieved relative to the scale of funding. Similarly, the list reflected a purposeful agenda to fund modes of transportation least likely to provide congestion relief and more likely to promote high-density development in the suburbs under the context of new urbanism principles, prompting people in the apartment building and real estate development industries to salivate.

The state’s transportation planning director and GDOT followed orders and turned a blind eye toward the mostly special interest list of projects. However, the inability to achieve the main goal — congestion relief — triggered a new marketing campaign around economic development.

Obviously, the mixed messages were confusing and showed a real lack of sincerity.

So what have we learned? First, the ARC needs to abandon predetermined, agenda-driven public outreach. It’s misleading and it impairs the region.

Second, the enormous bureaucracy known as the Georgia Department of Transportation needs to be overhauled, including measures taken to limit political influence from the entities getting rich from government decision-making.

The chairman of the Council for Quality Growth, a development industry advocacy group, said this about the T-SPLOST: “If we’re going to bring real estate out of this depression, we’ve got to give it some help.” The behind-the-scenes influencers hijacked T-SPLOST as an economic stimulus for their purposes, and the ARC and GDOT participated in the exercise. On a similar note, there was a glaring lack of disclosure on who was behind the funding for the public messaging.

Third, don’t practice substandard planning. You don’t plan in this order: 1. approve the list of projects; 2. conduct a study on the list and; 3. approve a regional governance structure over the list.

The methodology employed by the ARC for modeling, planning and outreach is biased and remarkably unreliable.

Fourth, allow flexibility and celebrate home rule instead of crushing it. Don’t create a regional transit system through force.

Fifth, we need a cost-benefit analysis on every new project. Likewise, ignorance on how to pay huge future operations and maintenance costs is absolutely unacceptable.

Steve Brown is a Fayette County commissioner.

66 comments Add your comment

middleground

August 3rd, 2012
8:43 pm

Lets move all state funded university systems out of Atlanta, lets move all state jobs and make the Federal jobs save money and move out of Atlanta…………….we would save enough money to feed the entire world……………..anything that gets any state or federal funds must leave ATL.

Bryan -- MARTA supporter

August 3rd, 2012
10:54 am

@ Good grief August 1st, 2012 8:22 pm

Very well put. I agree.

Bryan -- MARTA supporter

August 3rd, 2012
10:47 am

@ Darrel August 1st, 2012 11:57 pm
@ Not ITP August 1st, 2012 9:14 pm

Very backwards thinking. Remember that next time you look to widen your roads out where you live and you use tax dollars that the state gives you… remember that ATL generaged over 50% of that money. Remember that ATL is the head of the metro area and when Atlanta fails your suburb will go down too.

So please stay out of ATL and inside the perimeter where progressive thinking and ideas are. You don’t want to pay for our transit and we don’t want to pay for your 30 lane interstates.

Transit is accepted in Fulton and Dekalb so lets fund our own transit. Lets tax ourselves to build a better transit system. For those in the burbs who want to ride or park at the stations then let them pay to do so. Let the buses from the burbs pay too and let them pay with tolls to come inside of 285! Let them deal with traffic while we use our options of roads and transit to keep the inner core moving.

Bryan -- MARTA supporter

August 3rd, 2012
10:25 am

@ too little time August 2nd, 2012 8:30 am

You are right that you do have the vote but atleast be educated about it first. The Beltline is a way to 1) provider transit options to the inner core of the metro area, which is needed. This will allow more people who actually would try transit from the burbs to know there is efficient transit within the city so they don’t feel “lost” without their cars, 2) provides upgrade to miles of real estate to be redeveloped into something that is more than just abandoned track. Yeah this is a developers dream but this will stop all the high rises with huge parking decks that does nothing but promote condensed traffic and cars, 3) provides new parks and recreation to the city of Atlanta, the head of the metro region. Great reasons to support a project for the city, which will in the end, benefit the entire region!

Bryan -- MARTA supporter

August 3rd, 2012
10:12 am

@ Mr. Liberty

“We all know that rail is unsustainable in this town and that roads, road improments and the like are the right way to go”

So I guess when the roads mess up with pot holes or they need to be widen they just pay for themselves right? Just like transit needs to be continually funded so do roads and road “IMPROMENTS” (lol).

Bryan -- MARTA supporter

August 3rd, 2012
10:08 am

@ zeke August 2nd, 2012 11:20 am

You need to get your facts correct. Mass transit is a great mode of moving people around and would have given great options to those who didn’t want to be stuck behind the wheel. MARTA takes 500,000 people a day off the road, and it only serves an area of 2 million! That’s 25%, not 1% as you stated, which obviously are your own uneducated guesses.

The type of interstates you think will help will only help with traffic traveling THROUGH Atlanta. The problem is with LOCAL traffic! So we don’t need another loop around the loop we already have. We need options for local people to move around the city and a way for them to connect to the city and to other suburbs. Having improved roads is one way but is not the only way. Improve rail services and more express and bus rapid transit is needed.