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

Bryan -- MARTA supporter

August 3rd, 2012
9:59 am

@ Retired Old Atlantan again!

“And if I were bringing a substantial new business to Atlanta, I sure wouldn’t want to put it inside the city limits of Atlanta with all of its problems, including traffic congestion, when I could put it out in the suburbs with fewer problems and likely less expense”

The city has traffic problems due to all the folks coming from the burbs to get to the jobs here! Trust the burbs have just as much problems, including crime and traffic, as ATL does. That’s why the 3 largest business districts are in ATL (downtown, Midtown, and Buckhead). Check the skylines old guy.

Bryan -- MARTA supporter

August 3rd, 2012
9:56 am

@ Retired Old Atlantan

“No one is making you sit in congested traffic. If you don’t like it, move closer to your job or get another job”

That’s what everyone should do. Just move closer to your job. It’s so easy to just pick up and move!

What if you like your home? What if near your job they don’t have the type of home you are looking for? What if the homes near your job aren’t in your price range? That is just a stupid option to even put on the table! We need better transportation options. Transit being one of them!

Bryan -- MARTA supporter

August 3rd, 2012
9:53 am

“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”

Yes folks New Urbanism is the way cities will grow in the future so yes provider transportation options that will work with that type of growth is key. More transit and transit oriented development is needed, even in the burbs, or should we just continue with the sprawl Mr. Brown. The same sprawl that has cause the traffic problem we have now.

Urban development will get people out of their cars and in an environment where they can walk and stay in there core area for services versus having to hope in their cars and SUV and drive to the nearest strip mall just to get anything from there curved street subdivisions. Backwards thinking, which is why you and those who think like you need to stay out of the metro region. Go to the backwoods where you belong!!

Dave

August 3rd, 2012
9:02 am

“The governor and General Assembly gave us this opportunity….” No, Mr. Johnson, state politicians passed off the responsibility to deal with transportation problems to the local folks, all the people you mention, who cavalierly divided up the pie for local, not regional “I salute my colleagues on the roundtable who took a bold step in selecting the project list unanimously.” Of course they did, they gave each other the pork each demanded to play.

You and your colleagues don’t seem to have figured out why the tax went down to a huge defeat. The people you represent don’t think you did a good job and they don’t trust you to manage the bad job that you did.

3d

August 3rd, 2012
8:37 am

5 words trust politicians taxes NO

sircharles

August 2nd, 2012
9:41 pm

Well, I did an aerial-view of our city interstates. I used that to compare with all of the projects this TSPLOST was suppose to do. What made me vote NO was nothing concrete and the Govenor said Funding for the next 10 -20 years of taxes imposed upon all of Georgia tax payers. 7 or 17 billions over those years cause me some grave concerns. That funding can be voted upon more than once and that 1 cent taxes will never go away! Then, none of us as tax payers was in any of those discussions; like we didn’t matter to this whole thing; then all of this ARC, Street Cars, etc., that was the icing on the cake because what this amount to is “a new Georiga Dome, upscale eateries, usscale shopping, garage parking decks to hold vehicles for all of the major events that is down town”…..nothing about putting anything away from the city. You can’t improve I-75, 85, 285, I-20 no more than widing them and then I really was sicken when I saw all of the slums, vacants buildings, homes, shopping malls..left for the rats and we want tax payers to fund this TSPLOST only to be used however the counties commisioners see’s fit. I am deeply ashamed at our officials for trying to get us to pay for something that we don’t have money for; our gas prices are really bad, food, clothing, homes, a way of life has been deeply impacted because we are so concerned with the “dollar bill” that we forget about the lives of our people who are struggling to live. The Mayors, Governors and all those involved have gotten their answers….Georgia citizens must be treated better than what we are being treated! The impact of this whole TSPLOST was another way to make money for the sake of the people who must invest in the cities they live in and to control most of the revenue. Nothing concrete for its citizens………not at all.

Retired Old Atlantan

August 2nd, 2012
3:55 pm

No one is making you sit in congested traffic. If you don’t like it, move closer to your job or get another job. Not necessarily something you can do overnight, but if you decide you really want to, you can (unless, of course, your job skills are pretty marginal).

As for Atlanta’s attracting new businesses and creating jobs, why any business would be attracted to Atlanta with its poor school systems and poorly educated workforce is beyond me. And if I were bringing a substantial new business to Atlanta, I sure wouldn’t want to put it inside the city limits of Atlanta with all of its problems, including traffic congestion, when I could put it out in the suburbs with fewer problems and likely less expense.

Gary

August 2nd, 2012
2:17 pm

Love the term Forward. Maybe not coined by MSNBC, but certainly being used heavely in their campaign for 2012. Lean Forward, Think Forward. When I read trhe comments attacking those of us who voted no they say we are killing the city by not thniking forward. Well as a conservative, I look back. I try to learn from past mistakes. I try to remember what the politicians promised yesterday before listening to todays promise about tomorrow. The policians of this city fail on a daily basis to keep their promises. They are very focused on a very small group of people they call constituents. I do not reward poor behavior with blind support. There are also those of us who believe doing nothing is better than doing wrong. Send them back to their chambers. Let them thing about what will really help and how to really pay for it. If you have to pay people to sell it to me with clever advertising, you have already failed.

No Sympathy

August 2nd, 2012
1:38 pm

Prior to the vote, I reviewed the list of projects proposed by T-SPLOST. I didn’t agree with many of them especially the ones related to transit (no cohesive plan) but for the majority, they looked pretty good. It wasn’t nirvana but it was better than doing nothing. It was a solid initial step towards helping to alleviate traffic congestion in Atlanta. I voted yes so needless to say I was disappointed when it didn’t pass. Mistrust of government is NEVER going to go away. So if opponents are waiting for that to happen then we won’t ever build or improve another road.

This ‘no’ vote was clearly cutting off the nose despite the face i.e., I rather have debilitating traffic congestion than give a “dysfunctional”, “distrustful” government any money to repair, improve and expand roads and transit. I’m a Democrat but I’m a firm advocate of what Gov. Deal said yesterday: don’t bring this back for a vote period. The electorate has spoken so give them what they want: nothing. Let Atlanta drivers, especially the ones that voted no, sit and bear with traffic. And when you’re complaining on a Friday afternoon because you’re stuck in traffic on 75 South and late for your son’s little league game, you can look in the rear view mirror and blame yourself for being in that position by voting no.

TrishaDishaWarEagle

August 2nd, 2012
12:51 pm

We killed TSPLOST , chick-fil-a had a banner day, and I get to send mail to my parents in the new city of Brookhaven, to boot. I hope I have this much fun in November! Bye bye, barry…