Sales tax project list has problems

By Sandy Springs Mayor, Eva Galambos

Eva Galambos

The Atlanta region does suffer from congestion and infrastructure improvements are needed. However I question several aspects of the Transportation Investment Act (TIA) and its projects as currently designed.

1. I question the equity of Fulton and DeKalb taxpayers paying two cents for transportation if the referendum passes: one cent for MARTA and another one cent for the TIA. The residents of the other counties in the region will only pay one cent. This inequity could be cured before the referendum if the Legislature creates a regional transit agency with regional funding.

The mayors of the Fulton and DeKalb municipalities are united in pursuit of this objective. Many of us also object to the inclusion of maintenance and operating expenses in the transit projects currently suggested on the Roundtable list. If Cobb, Clayton and Gwinnett have their maintenance and operation transit costs covered by our regional tax, they have no incentive to join DeKalb and Fulton in paying for regional transit operations.

2. I object to assigning 10 percent of the total proceeds of the new tax over 10 years to the Atlanta BeltLine project. The BeltLine is not a regional transportation project. The maps on the BeltLIne website show that its transit line (probably streetcars) does not intersect with a single MARTA station. What kind of transportation plan is that? Also it does not connect to employment centers, which constitute the major reason for daily trips.

3. I question the rationality of assigning 55 percent of the total proceeds of the tax over the 10 years to transit when only 3 percent of daily trips in the Atlanta region use rail transit, and 2 percent use buses. Yet 90 percent of the daily trips are made in single occupancy or carpool vehicles. These results come from the 2010 survey of mobility patterns by Georgia DOT, under the auspices of the national transportation survey. The roundtable needs to revise the project list to cover more road projects where we have the greatest congestion in the region.

4. I am seeking an amendment to the project list to put the Hammond Drive widening project back on the list. This is the major east/west connector from Perimeter to Sandy Springs, and the two-lane stretch from Glenridge Drive to Roswell Road is a bottleneck. It is getting worse now with the two new ramps from Ga. 400 to Hammond Dr. This improvement has been on every major plan adopted by the city, after substantial public inputs.

5. I question the emphasis on fixed rail lines instead of dedicated lanes for rapid bus transit, which is much less expensive and can be built more quickly. I question whether Washington will fund expensive rail transit versus rapid bus transit in the years to come.

Eva Galambos is the mayor of Sandy Springs.

A time to choose wisely

By State Representative, Mike Jacobs

Mike Jacobs, State Representative

The Metro Atlanta Transportation Roundtable, an assembly of 21 mayors and county leaders from across the 10-county region, is in the final stages of whittling down a $22 billion “wish list” of transportation projects to a list of $6.14 billion in projects that will be delivered if the voters approve a one-cent sales tax in a referendum to be held in July 2012. The sales tax has become known as the T-SPLOST.

I have had the honor of serving as one of three non-voting state legislators who are appointed to participate in the Roundtable proceedings.

As you can imagine, the process of cutting a wish list of $22 billion down to $6.14 billion is excruciatingly difficult. But the results of this process will make all the difference as to whether or not the T-SPLOST has a chance of passage next year. The referendum, in turn, could affect whether or not Metro Atlanta can continue to attract businesses and the private-sector jobs that come with them.

Enter the transit advocates, a group of stakeholders insisting that the project list should allocate 60, 70, and even 80 percent or more of the total available funding for mass transit projects.

In the initial draft of the project list that was passed by a subset of the roundtable, there are some worthwhile transit projects. These projects make up approximately 55 percent of the $6.14 billion.

This is where reality should set in. Although the project list presents an opportunity to move forward with worthy transit projects, we must recognize that a substantial proportion – probably a majority – of voters who will be casting ballots in July 2012 are expecting to see some significant road and highway improvements. Therefore, 55 percent is likely the absolute maximum amount that should be allocated to mass transit projects.

In this regard, I am opposed to DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis’ recent proposal to defund interchange improvements at the junction of I-285 and Ga. 400, as well as collector-distributor lanes on Ga. 400 just north of I-285, in order to fund a rail line along I-20 east to Stonecrest Mall.

Everyone recognizes that this interchange, which presently features a one-lane southbound Ga. 400, desperately needs to be fixed. The 285/400 interchange improvements would leverage substantial federal matching funds that would simply evaporate if the project is not on the list. Failure to include the interchange could jeopardize any chance of support for the T-SPLOST referendum in North Fulton and North DeKalb.

The Roundtable’s process of selecting projects will be completed by October 15th. This is a time to choose wisely. A lot depends upon the decisions that are made in the upcoming week.

Mike Jacobs is the State Representative for District 80.

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