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


August 2nd, 2012
12:07 am

While I understand Dooley’s motivation I am still a little confused as to exactly what Vinnie Fort and the NAACP want. If I read them correctly they want more transit and lower taxes. So, in what fantasy world is that possible?


August 1st, 2012
11:57 pm

Did anyone notice this? T-SPLOST = The Sorry Politicians LOST
Maybe find a new name the next time this is tried in about ten years, hun? And for the next time don’t act like people are stupid! These jobs drag on for years and there is no reason whatsoever for that to be the case. Difine the work to be done and let the people KNOW when the job will be done. Quit drawing money from the kitty for two to three times or longer than the job should take; put deadlines for jobs completion or forget it! These ideas are just for starters but putting all the jobs in three counties and expecting everyone to pay for them doesn’t cut it. If the City of Atlanta wants their own little street car or train (beltline) that will NOT help general traffic flow at all; PAY FOR IT YOURSELF! Getting an idea why this bogus scam failed?

JR in Mableton

August 1st, 2012
10:56 pm

Thanks for your leadership, Bucky!!!


August 1st, 2012
10:46 pm

Brown nails it.


August 1st, 2012
10:13 pm

A good idea will pay for itself.

here is the reality of why it failed

August 1st, 2012
10:02 pm

1. It was painfully and shamefully obvious that the backers were in it solely for the benefit this tax/stimulus/nothing to do with congestion deal would profit them.
2. The project list was filled with worthless projects, and when a few changes were made, to try to placate intelligent voters, it was written in such a way that the project list could revert back to the worthless projects after the election…
so as a result, it lost, and I must add, that this shameful conglomeration of greed and misguided attempt ever made it to a ballot shows how very much is wrong with the entire process


August 1st, 2012
9:37 pm

You voted for more beltline because it benefited you, did not care where the money comes from. If you want it, tax yourself or make a donation, don’t hold a gun to my head so you can have an increase in property value

rik warren

August 1st, 2012
9:31 pm

As a person who lives on the beltline, I vote for more of it. It is great and turned a blighted throughway into a highly desirable amenity. Even my Republican friends bring their children to utilize the parks and water features. My quality of life and property values are higher as a result. It has created demand for properties which would have lain fallow for years. Again if you don’t want to come to Atlanta, I suggest you follow your better instincts.

rik warren

August 1st, 2012
9:24 pm

Please allow Atlantan s the ability to vote on a congestion tax. Please levy excess Marta charges on those with id from outside the Marta funded counties. You don’t want to come here, good we agree. If you do you must pay. This has nothing to do with yesterdays vote. No more free rides. Toll lanes for others or they must use the outer perimeter they so desire. Raise money and pay for it. Your own private (its ok with me) road to nowhere. This will relieve our congestion, increase our quality of life, and rid us of the sub and exurban patriots who hate us.. We will thrive as a result.


August 1st, 2012
9:14 pm

$600 million for the beltline project, need we say more. Sure it would be nifty, but it is a developers wet dream; not traffic or congestion related. Give them tax abatements to develop, but let those who will benefit pay the bill on that boondoggle

Also, not really sure how an air traffc control tower was going to help any congestion on the road