Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

Repeat after me: The 50/50 split is not MARTA’s real problem

Here we go again. MARTA is back to complaining about the state-imposed 50/50 restriction on its sales tax revenues, which holds that half the money can go to subsidize operations but half must be reserved for maintenance and capital projects. From an AJC report:

MARTA General Manager Beverly Scott warned Monday that the transit agency needed to start preparing for deep service cuts in part because the state legislature failed to lift regulations on how much it can spend on operations.

That failure coupled with projections that sales tax revenues — MARTA’s main funding source — will come up $130 million short in the next five years of what had been previously projected means the agency will have to make cuts to ensure it has the $40 million in operating reserves required by law.

“We will have to gut significant parts of the service,” Scott said.

I dealt with this issue a couple of years ago in the special series of columns I wrote about MARTA’s perennial financial woes. In …

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T-SPLOST faces not just a referendum, but maybe a lawsuit

T-SPLOST: The Campaign began this past week as proponents of the 10-year, $7.2 billion sales tax unveiled advertisements to run on television and radio. Their message: Your commute keeps you away from your family; tax yourself to spend more time at home.

(Officially, the group behind the ads “is engaged in educational activities and will not advocate for or against passage of the sales tax referendum.” But I defy you to find a T-SPLOST opponent among the 50 people it suggests as “educational” speakers about the issue.)

Their theme about family time is smart enough. But the ads cite a curious statistic: Metro Atlantans’ average commute is “over an hour a day,” which might not sound so bad to someone who now drives inside the Perimeter from Acworth or Buford, or from Marietta to Snellville. What’s more, it’s passing strange to campaign on improving a commute of 30 minutes each way when the metric used to evaluate the projects on the T-SPLOST list concerned trips of no more than …

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Poll Position: What do other tax approvals tell us about T-SPLOST?

For Atlanta residents, this week brought another trip to the ballot box — and another sales tax approved.

This time, it was the re-authorization of a 1 percent sales tax to fund more repairs to the city’s water and sewer infrastructure. It passed overwhelmingly. Just four months ago, voters in six metro counties chose to extend 1 percent SPLOSTs (special-purpose local-option sales taxes) for school construction. Just over a year ago, Cobb residents voted to keep their own SPLOST.

Regardless of how I personally plan to vote, I think the approval of other sales taxes:

  • Have no bearing (39 Votes)
  • Mean the T-SPLOST is more likely to pass in metro Atlanta (38 Votes)
  • Mean the T-SPLOST is less likely to pass in metro Atlanta (10 Votes)

Total Voters: 87

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All this self-taxation has observers, including yours truly, wondering what the impact will be for the T-SPLOST referendum to be held in July.

On one hand, folks don’t seem hesitant to pass these sales taxes. …

Continue reading Poll Position: What do other tax approvals tell us about T-SPLOST? »

Gas prices add to case for delaying T-SPLOST vote

Take the news today about gasoline prices locally (from AJC.com) …

The average price for a gallon of unleaded regular stood at $3.55 Monday, up 3 cents from a week ago and 45 cents from this time a year ago, according to AAA.

The price has risen 15 cents a gallon in the past month.

Georgia’s average price is just slightly below the national average of $3.56, which is the highest price ever for this time of year, the Associated Press reported. Since January, a gallon of gas has risen 25 cents per gallon.

… add this prediction nationally from a Friday story in the San Jose Mercury News (note the part I’ve bolded) …

Some oil analysts predict $4.50 a gallon or more by Memorial Day on the West Coast and major cities across the United States such as Chicago, New York and Atlanta.

… and tell me how this news improves the T-SPLOST’s chances of being approved by voters in a referendum scheduled for July.

On one hand, I suppose a project list with half the spending dedicated to mass …

Continue reading Gas prices add to case for delaying T-SPLOST vote »

T-SPLOST transit projects don’t address real problems of congestion — or even of MARTA

The chief argument for approving the T-SPLOST in a referendum this year boils down to this: If it fails, what kind of signal will that send to businesses wary of Atlanta’s notorious traffic congestion?

Instead of worrying about a negative message for a couple of years — until Plan B emerged, as it inevitably would — voters ought to be more concerned by what it will mean for the next couple of decades if we spend billions of dollars on projects that don’t improve matters much.

It’s true that some worthy projects would receive funding from the 1 percent sales tax lawmakers are putting to a public vote. To wit: Improved interchanges of major interstates, such as the top end of I-285 with I-85 and Ga. 400, should ease bottlenecks that now back up rush-hour commuters for miles.

But the list is too compromised by other big-ticket items that will tie up tax dollars for far more than 10 years without lessening traffic. Transit projects, which consume more than half of the $6.14 …

Continue reading T-SPLOST transit projects don’t address real problems of congestion — or even of MARTA »

HOT lanes reversal reflects lack of vision, leadership for transportation in Georgia

If there’s one thing I’m sick of hearing, it’s that metro Atlanta and Georgia have no “plan B” for transportation. That’s because, increasingly, there’s no “plan A,” either.

The latest example is the Department of Transportation’s decision this past week to abort the optional toll lanes on I-75 and I-575 in Cobb and Cherokee.

Some 200,000 commuters travel that corridor daily. The stretch of 75 between the 575 split and the top-end perimeter is one of the most congested highways in metro Atlanta. Yet, here’s what those commuters will have to show for years of DOT planning for toll lanes and the politicized exercise of drafting a project list for next year’s transportation tax referendum:

Jack. And squat.

A real plan for the corridor — and most of what I’m about to say also applies to other parts of the metro area — would:

a) Recognize there is neither the land nor the money available for building highway lanes ad infinitum, and that new general-purpose lanes quickly become as …

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No ‘plan B’ for metro Atlanta T-SPLOST? Not so fast

You know you’re facing an uphill electoral battle when your best campaign slogan amounts to: Give us your vote now, or we’ll just come back later to ask you again.

That’s where supporters of a metro Atlanta T-SPLOST find themselves. With eight months to go, there’s not much optimism about the referendum to raise $6.1 billion for regional transportation projects via a 1 percent sales tax.

Two months ago, an opinion poll commissioned by the AJC found just 51 percent of voters in the 10-county region support the tax. Subsequent polling by supporters of the tax, I’m told, confirmed its chances of passing are precarious.

The “yes” campaign appears to be keeping its powder dry until the July 31 vote draws nearer. The experience of plebiscites elsewhere in the country, however, suggests that successful measures begin with higher support, shed voters in the face of “no” campaigns, and hang on to win.

Business leaders at Thursday’s annual meeting of the Metro Atlanta Chamber stressed

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T-SPLOST’s fate on the line next week in Fulton and DeKalb

Next Tuesday, Fulton and DeKalb voters may decide the fate of next year’s T-SPLOST referendum.

They’ll do so by voting to keep or eliminate a 1 percent sales tax for education. If they pass it, the counties expected to provide the bulk of “yes” votes next year for the transportation sales tax might not provide quite as many of them. Cherokee, Gwinnett and Henry are also considering other SPLOSTs, or special-purpose local-option sales taxes, and Cobb voters narrowly approved an extension of their tax earlier this year. But Fulton and DeKalb are more crucial to T-SPLOST supporters’ hopes.

Drop the penny for education, and adding a penny back for transportation may have a fighting chance. Keep it — and the penny for sewer infrastructure in Atlanta, to be reconsidered in March — and the sales tax rate will reach 9 percent in Atlanta and 8 percent in Fulton and DeKalb outside the capital city.

That prospect might explain why elected officials chose to lard up the T-SPLOST project …

Continue reading T-SPLOST’s fate on the line next week in Fulton and DeKalb »

T-SPLOST list doesn’t spend the money where the traffic is

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 …

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Poll Position: Did Deal cave too quickly on HOT lane pricing?

On Monday, Georgia’s first experiment with high-occupancy toll lanes began on I-85. Before the Thursday evening rush hour, Gov. Nathan Deal waved the white flag.

As my AJC colleagues have documented, frustration with the new HOT lanes ran high this week. But no one, including advocates of the lanes that charge variable toll prices depending on traffic levels, expected things to run perfectly from the get-go.

And we barely finished with “get” before Deal decided to “go” in a different direction.

Did Gov. Deal act prematurely in changing the HOT lane prices after four days?

  • No (271 Votes)
  • Yes (140 Votes)

Total Voters: 411

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The lanes have drawn complaints from motorists for the prices charged, but the data available so far indicate that the tolls actually paid have been toward the lower end of the pricing scale of 10 cents per mile to 90 cents per mile: “Before Deal’s action,” the AJC reports, “the maximum that had actually been charged to travel the full …

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