The T-SPLOST’s fate leaves this metro in search of a transportation “Plan B.” The 2-to-1 margin of defeat July 31 led us to turn over today’s page and add another to allow both leaders and average readers to address what’s next and how do we pay for it? We all have a stake in the answers.
Work toward solutions continues
By Nathan Deal
The rejection of T-SPLOST in the metro Atlanta region closes a chapter, but it doesn’t close the book on improving our transportation infrastructure. While voters showed there’s deep disagreement about the best way forward, there’s consensus that we must keep working to ease congestion and get Georgians moving more quickly.
The law that created T-SPLOST was passed before I took office, but I supported it as the best solution we had available to update our transportation corridors. The voters said decisively we should go another way, and we will.
A quarter of Georgia’s regions, convinced that the benefits outweighed the costs, will benefit from having a plan to improve transportation, one that can be marketed to businesses looking to invest and bring jobs. Nine regions were not convinced that the referendum was the right tradeoff and must consider what the path forward should look like. The mixed result is workable, and I will partner with every Georgian to bring the right kind of needed local transportation solutions.
While there were many worthwhile projects in the T-SPLOST, there are many other projects already in progress where work will continue. For example, two reversible managed lanes on I-75 south and north of Atlanta and improvements on Ga. 400 are moving forward.
Georgia has made great investments in infrastructure for over two centuries. We don’t rise or fall on a single vote. We maintain our transportation network far better than most. We value home rule and our low-tax and business-friendly state. We want government to do only what it must, but do it well.
In that vein, our transportation network must perform well. We must focus on reliability to see gains in productivity and an enhanced quality of life.
We will benefit by looking at transportation as a utility. Turn on a faucet or plug in an appliance, and we’re confident that the water or energy will flow. But travel to work in the morning or rely on just-in-time delivery of raw materials, and we’re less confident about the outcome. To remain competitive, we can’t remain this way. We must set new priorities to get better outcomes. We must make the network perform better with existing and declining funding sources. We must be very strategic in making new investments.
Together, we have successfully addressed challenges — HOPE, criminal justice, tax reform. I am open to new ideas and look forward to working with leaders across the state to solve this problem. Together, we will address our transportation challenges by assessing where we are and confidently moving forward to create a more reliable and competitive transportation network.
Nathan Deal is governor of Georgia.
Put funding back where it belongs
By Shirley Franklin
The T-SPLOST’s failure can’t deter us from making big, bold plans. The solution has to make sense to voters, address their priorities and be fair for Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb county voters and MARTA.
Nothing will change for the better without:
A comprehensive regional plan: We already have the basic backbone for a regional rail and bus system. It is MARTA. The state could expand MARTA’s authority, incorporating the power and authority of GRTA and designate state funding for the expansion, creating a new 10-county regional entity. Long-range plans need to incorporate light rail and an intra-county bus system in suburban counties.
The governor’s leadership: We cannot fail to define our region’s future through lack of vision or fear of unpopularity. A regional system cannot be built until the governor and state legislative leaders face their obligations to invest in quality of life infrastructure for over 5 million Georgians living in metro Atlanta. Local elected officials are essential partners, but the leadership is best suited for the governor, who needs a strong metro Atlanta economy as a foundation for a strong state economy.
Tax fairness: Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb residents have rightly grumbled about tax fairness. If MARTA authority is expanded into 10 counties and the state funds the regional system, the benefits to Fulton, DeKalb and Atlanta residents and voters are clear. For instance, with state funding for a regional system, the current one-cent MARTA tax can be granted an early sunset. With 50 percent of the budget off limits for daily MARTA operations, state law has set MARTA up for failure as Atlanta and the metro region grow.
Funding: No one likes new taxes, but all options should be on the table. A revision of the gas tax laws to allow spending for public transit really is a “no brainer.” Having one of the lowest gas taxes in the nation isn’t a badge of honor in this case. Parking fees are another option. A sales tax is regressive; it hits the lowest wage earners the hardest. However, we can somewhat offset the impact by exempting food and medicine. The one-cent sales tax has to be put back on the table and it has to be fair — everyone should pay for a regional system.
Without vision and leadership, metro Atlanta cannot remain the economic engine of Georgia and Georgia’s economic recovery will continue to lag the national economic recovery.
Shirley Franklin was Atlanta’s mayor, 2002-10.
Seven Steps Toward Recovery
We haven’t felt this bad since 2008. when a tornado tore through downtown. But we survived, picked up the pieces and got back to business as usual. Four years later, we’re in the wake of another temporary setback and our only choice is to get on with the job of thinking about the future in a positive, innovative way.
Here are seven observations to consider as we work to solve the region’s transportation issues:
1) Change is difficult, and bold change is darn near improbable. We need to be more receptive to bold ideas and take some risks, or else we’ll be spinning in place for generations to come. Kudos to those who had the courage to step up and do the right thing for the region.
2) Regionalism needs to be defined in a different way when discussing transportation. Almost 250,000 people voted in favor of the referendum, but most reside in and around the city of Atlanta. Perhaps that group should take the lead in solving their own priorities, then ask interested political bodies to join in.
3) People in the region complain about traffic congestion, but their distrust of government and concern for their own economic well-being, are much bigger problems.
4) The distrust of state government in Georgia is real but is misplaced when it comes to transportation. There is no evidence of over-budgeted projects or bridges to nowhere. In fact, the state didn’t build the interstate highway system, the airport (the city did that with airline revenue) or the freight rail lines. The state makes no investment in MARTA, and we have one of the lowest gas taxes in the country, so what’s the beef with state government?
5) The project list was a hard sell. The list was pretty remarkable for those intimately involved in infrastructure work but complicated and too large for most people to grasp. Next time, let’s keep it simple.
6) The business community is alive and well and will continue to push Atlantans and their governments toward solutions to traffic, water, public education and job creation. There is an old axiom in business that says, “If you don’t grow, you die …” If we don’t get our hands around these issues, we can’t grow, period. So, reports that the business community will stop caring about these big issues are unfounded. Our commitment is stronger than ever.
7) Lastly, to Augusta, Columbus and the heart of Georgia region, our hats go off to you for getting it done. We hope to learn something about regionalization from your success.
So, back to the proverbial drawing board. Let’s keep the faith. It’s always dark before the dawn!
A.J. Robinson is president of Central Atlanta Progress
Must keep focus on fixing traffic congestion
By Edward Lindsey
Many of us supported the T-SPLOST, but tens of thousands more opposed it. Nevertheless, our transportation problems have not and will not magically disappear, and most people on both sides of the July 31 vote understand this reality and the seriousness of the crisis we face.
Urban areas – even historically great ones like metro Atlanta – are perpetually either in a period of growth and greater prosperity or steady decline. There is no standing still. We either attack our problems head-on and make a better future for ourselves and our children today, or we sit back and watch our past successes slip away into the history books.
Metro Atlanta commuters have one of the worst commutes in the nation. This translates into more time in our cars and less time for work, home and play. It also wastes on average in fuel for each of us over $900 per year sitting in traffic. Atlanta is ranked 91st out of 100 among major metro regions for access to transit. Major business prospects rank our transportation difficulties as one of their major concerns about relocating here, and our inability to address this problem will only further aggravate their concerns.
Make no mistake, we are not spendthrifts in Georgia. We rank 49th in the nation in overall per capita state spending, and have one of the lowest overall state government tax rates in the country (45th). Over the past four years, we have further reduced our state spending by billions of dollars since the beginning of the Great Recession. These facts demonstrate our fiscal conservatism and are responsible for us having a very rare AAA state bond rating (higher than the federal government’s). Nevertheless, we must understand that while government cannot and should not ever be involved in everything, transportation — along with education and public safety — is an area where government needs to roll up its sleeves and get it right.
Therefore, there is no time to mourn or celebrate about what happened on July 31st regardless of which side you were on. Both sides now need to focus on where we go from here.
Elected officials need to hear from you and other metro residents. So start communicating. Today is for you to talk and for policymakers like me to listen. How do we overcome the extreme mistrust that divides us and come together to fix this traffic noose around our necks?
You and I must answer this question and start moving forward again together. I look forward to your suggestions.
State Rep. Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta, is Georgia House Majority Whip.