DionRabouin.com (sort of)

Atlanta Down to Wire on Proposed Transit Tax

Posted in Articles by dionrabouin on July 27, 2012

By Dion Rabouin


(Written for The Atlanta Voice)

ATLANTA – With all the noise being made about the traffic referendum on the July 31 primary ballot, many voters in the Atlanta metro area are still unsure of what exactly the penny sales tax increase will do.

Supporters say that if the 10-county Atlanta region approves the referendum it will untie the city’s roads, reduce traffic and make the metro area more attractive to businesses and new residents. Opponents say that the initiative will do little to reduce traffic and is merely an attempt by local politicians and special interests to subsidize government budgets and line the pockets of developers with taxpayer dollars.

You’ve heard the arguments, but here are the facts.

If passed, the traffic referendum will add a one percent sales tax increase to all purchases made in the Atlanta region to pay for transportation reforms that will only happen in the 10-county area. The state is divided into 12 regions and taxes from each will only be allowed to fund projects in that region.

The project is expected to generate $8.5 billion in the Atlanta region, based on estimates from Georgia’s state economist. Out of that $8.5 billion, 85 percent must be spent exclusively on approved transportation projects. The remaining 15 percent will be allocated to local governments, which are supposed to use that money for transportation projects but are not required to do so. Money is also set aside for economic development.

Roughly 52 percent of the transportation project money will go to public transit, much of which will be spent on improvements and additions to MARTA. The other 48 percent will be spent on road improvements including bridge, road and highway projects as well as trails and small walking and cycling paths. Improvements to Hartsfield-Jackson Airport and economic development initiatives are also included.

There are a total of 157 projects in the Atlanta region that were agreed upon by the regional transportation roundtable to be funded by the tax. Some of the largest-scale projects include the interchange of the Ga. 400 highway and I-285, the beltline streetcar connecting East and West Atlanta across the downtown connector and bridge replacements including the Pryor St. bridge, Central Ave. bridge and Cortland St. bridge.

Projects for MARTA are predominantly a number of so-called “state of good repair” improvements but also include new services and transit lines. New services include bus express services to downtown and around the 285 highway, as well as new rail lines and a regional mobility center to coordinate transportation for elderly and disabled passengers more efficiently.

Many of the projects approved by the transportation roundtable and being included in the project list have already been approved and marked for federal funding, but will be funded with monies from the transportation initiative so that they can be completed sooner and for a lower cost, according to officials from the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), a group tasked with transportation planning for the city.

The total cost of the projects that officials hope to create through the program is actually higher than the amount of funding planners are expecting to be generated by the sales tax. In anticipation, GDOT and ARC have added a portion of the expected federal formula funds that the state and region will receive over the ten‐year period to the calculations. GDOT has committed close to $694 million and the ARC has committed $120 million.

Who: Voters in 10 Atlanta region counties – Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, and Rockdale – that vote together on July 31 along with voters throughout the state of Georgia. There are a total of 12 regions in the state.

What: A proposed one percent sales tax increase on all items sold in the region that state lawmakers expect to generate $8.5 billion in revenue to be spent on transportation projects, economic development and public transportation over the next 10 years, beginning January 1, 2013.

When: Tuesday July 31

Where: Voting takes place around the state.

Why: Local transportation analysts predict the metro area will add an additional 3 million residents by 2040. The traffic projects are purported to reduce traffic in the already congested Atlanta metro area by fast tracking projects to improve roadways and free up federal funding for other transportation projects.

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