OK, I’m going to be the bad guy today. I’m going to be the only (according to my Twitter feed, anyway) person who thinks Gov. Nathan Deal’s plan to end the toll on Ga. 400 by the end of next year, which he announced today, is a bad idea. (For the record, I pay the toll going and coming every workday.)
Coming 12 days before the T-SPLOST referendum, this is an obvious pander for “yes” votes. It’s a last-ditch attempt to save what would appear to be an expensive but failed campaign to pass the $7.2 billion tax. But I highly doubt it will be an effective one.
There is no doubt the broken promise to remove the 400 toll — broken in 2010 by lame-duck Gov. Sonny Perdue — is a huge driver of opposition to the T-SPLOST. It is one of the clearest examples of why trust in government is lacking. Deal addressed this issue in a press-release quote about removing the toll, saying “it is imperative that governments build the trust of their people.”
But I will be very surprised if many voters upset about the broken toll promise hear Deal’s new promise to take it down — 17 months from now — and suddenly feel their faith in government renewed. In all likelihood, the damage is done.
The biggest problem I have with this decision, however, is that it ties our hands for making transportation improvements should the T-SPLOST fail.
Three things that many proponents and opponents of the tax agree on are: 1) we need to improve our transportation infrastructure; 2) the $450 million rebuilding of the interchange at 400 and I-285 is one of the most-needed projects; and 3) additional revenue is needed to pay for the biggest improvements.
Keep in mind the 400-285 interchange is just one of the projects along 400: Also on the T-SPLOST list are $190 million for collector/distributor lanes from 285 north to Spalding Drive and $48 million for improvements to the interchange at Holcomb Bridge Road. The referendum may fail because voters don’t think the entire list is worthwhile. But given the needs in the 400 corridor, I find it hard to believe it’s really a good idea before the referendum to forgo an existing revenue stream for projects there.
Government’s trust problem has as much to do with how it often goes about its work — e.g., the quick-and-quiet way the 400 toll was extended in the first place, and the belief by many voters that the T-SPLOST list was not compiled to maximize congestion relief but development opportunities — as anything else. What ticks off people around here is the sense that our elected officials are playing political games with issues that affect residents’ everyday lives, rather than setting a course of action and explaining/selling it to the public.
A last-minute bid to win support for a distrusted tax, while closing off options for the future, doesn’t do much to bolster my confidence in them.
– By Kyle Wingfield