At the time of the primary vote on July 31, the citizens of the ten-county greater metro Atlanta region will vote on whether or not to approve a one-cent per dollar sales tax to fund transportation projects. If approved by voters, more than $7 billion would be allocated over a ten-year period to a project list that includes road improvements and new transit options. The referendum would monetarily surpass any recent transportation investment in the region.
Formerly identified as the T-SPLOST (Transportation Special Local Option Sales Tax), the referendum was rebranded as the Transportation Initiative or Transportation Investment Act (TIA). A multi-million dollar marketing campaign entrusted to Republican Governor election strategy specialist Paul Bennecke was implemented and is still underway, as the day of the big vote approaches.
A collection of leaders, including prominent members of both predominant political parties, had worked together to create an initial proposed project list. That original project list was then whittled down over a sometimes-contentious period of political give-and-take that saw plans for suburban rail scrapped in favor of additional road funding.
Primarily in the name of economic progress and in a concerted effort to somewhat rebuke the existing national reputation that Georgia’s leadership always opposes Atlanta’s leadership, compromises were reached on the final project list. Pragmatism toward common progress seemed to be the order of the day.
Critics of the referendum had already loudly voiced objections to any new funding for transportation projects, especially in the form of a tax. When the final project list was released, new critics immediately emerged. Neither the pro-transit people nor the no transit funding people got exactly what they wanted, as a near even split of funding for roads and transit was eventually agreed upon.
Among the projects that would be in the transit realm is $600 million for transit projects along the Atlanta BeltLine, with a modern streetcar running down North Avenue that would tie the east and west sides of the BeltLine together. An additional $600 million would go to repairs of MARTA: the largest transit system in America that does not receive any state funding. Research leader Emory University would be linked to the transit oriented development at Lindbergh City Center via newly constructed rail line.
Contributor Han Vance is a former private sector regional transportation manager and planner. His website is www.hanvance.com.