If local poohbahs want to derail a regional transportation sales tax, they should give DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis what he wants. Shift tens of millions of dollars away from road projects where traffic is heaviest, put them toward a MARTA extension where it isn’t — and watch the T-SPLOST crash and burn.
It’s one thing to devote 55 percent of the tax’s projected proceeds to mass transit, now used by 5 percent of commuters. But the current project list, due for final approval within one week, compounds the error by spending money completely out of proportion to where the traffic is.
The Atlanta Regional Commission produces maps of the top 10 percent and top 25 percent most-congested roads in the region. Among surface streets, the lion’s share of the congestion takes place in the northern suburbs of Cobb, North Fulton and Gwinnett counties, plus Dunwoody. Among freeways, six of the nine worst stretches are along I-75 in Cobb, I-85 in Gwinnett, Ga. 400 north of the perimeter, or the top end of I-285.
In short, the vast majority of traffic congestion in metro Atlanta occurs between I-75 in Cobb and I-85 in Gwinnett. Only the Downtown Connector can hold a candle to the top end’s troubles.
What’s more, 46 percent of the people in the 10-county region live OTP in Cobb, North Fulton, Dunwoody and Gwinnett. Likewise, 46 percent of the T-SPLOST’s projected revenues — $2.83 billion out of $6.14 billion — come from that northern swath.
Yet, the current project list would leave this region well short of its proportional take. Even if we include some federal funding tabbed for projects in the northern suburbs, they’d get shortchanged by $150 million. And you may as well ignore another $132 million for studying future transit along 400 and 85, since those two projects would be hundreds of millions of dollars and a decade or more away from existence.
Worse, about one in four dollars devoted to the area would go to a single rail project that would barely cross into Cobb.
Still, we are only now reaching the coup de grace. That would be Ellis’ wish to suck yet another $33 million out of the 400 corridor.
Doing so would leave an area that provides almost half the population and revenues for the T-SPLOST — and way more than half of the region’s traffic congestion — with barely one-third of the proceeds.
And for what? Insistence that transit along I-20 in DeKalb be not buses, but heavy rail — the mode that transit advocates pooh-pooh as too pricey, until there’s real money on the table.
What this and other problems with the T-SPLOST process have revealed is that local officials are unable, or maybe just unwilling, to divide the funds in a way that tackles traffic congestion regionally.
So, we get up to $700 million for a train from the Lindbergh MARTA station to Emory University, another $600 million for Atlanta’s BeltLine, and a sales pitch about providing “last mile” transit connectivity to regional job centers. Neither of those projects is bad, per se. At the same time, neither one will do much good for all the people who will still lack “first mile” connectivity.
They’ll be left to seethe along Jimmy Carter Boulevard, Holcomb Bridge Road and Windy Hill Road, wondering why they’re paying a tax to improve mobility where it’s already comparatively good.
If, that is, they don’t first defeat it as a wasted opportunity.
– By Kyle Wingfield