Editor’s note: With a special purpose local option sales tax for regional transportation (usually called the T-SPLOST) projects on the July 31 ballot, Reporter Newspapers is asking knowledgeable local residents to explain how they will vote. This issue, Norb Leahy lays out his reasons for voting no. In our last issue, Bob Dallas of Dunwoody, former head of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety and an occasional columnist for the Reporter, laid out his case for voting yes.
Here’s why I will vote no:
Too Little Congestion Relief
T-SPLOST is weak and late on congestion relief. Assuming drivers will take trains and buses is naïve at best and dishonest at worst. Congestion relief requires reducing road and highway pinch points and establishing a grid. T-SPLOST doesn’t do that.
What T-SPLOST Does
T-SPLOST spends $3.12 billion on transit, a MARTA bail-out and expansion of wasteful public transit including $602 million to build Atlanta’s BeltLine. There are very expensive re-dos of highway interchanges. There is some bridge replacement. There is premature road widening plus sidewalks, bike lanes, and trails that have no impact on congestion.
All Roads Lead to I-285
The worst congestion causer is the top of I-285 and T-SPLOST doesn’t solve that problem. This is an interstate bypass and should be funded with federal transportation funds from gasoline tax revenue. It worked when the population was 3 million. It wasn’t expanded as our population went to 5.5 million. The combination of no real grid for roads and highways, and continued interstate traffic ensures gridlock. We need lanes or a real bypass.
Public Transit – Unsustainable
Trains and buses are a mal-investment for Atlanta. Only 3 percent of the population uses the MARTA trains and only 2 percent use the buses. Expansion won’t change this. MARTA’s annual budget is $750 million a year and revenue is $120 million a year. The annual loss is $630 million a year and has been made up from tax subsidies and grants for 30 years. Few cities on the planet have a population density that will support public transit. Atlanta isn’t one of them. Public transit eats up 30 percent of our gasoline tax. Bus service should be privatized.
Companies locate to the exurbs or suburbs. They don’t locate next to train and bus routes. They go to Duluth, Athens, Suwanee, Forsyth and Peachtree City.
Overcharges on Roads
Dunwoody has a $12 million re-do of 3.5 miles of Mount Vernon Road on the list. That’s $3.4 million per mile. The generic cost per mile lists the cost of milling and resurfacing at $200,000 per mile. Dunwoody would be better off doing this for $700,000, plus slight widening to allow traffic to flow past left turners to save $11.3 million.
Other Bad Deals
Cobb County is being charged $695 million for an “enhanced premium bus service” to Acworth they already have. If we vote “no,” Cobb will save $695 million.
Gwinnett County has a $95 million charge for a “North Transit Corridor Study” and a walk and bike trail alongside I-85.
I-20 gets a bus freeway for $225 million, east to U.S. 278 at the DeKalb County line.
Clifton Corridor has a $5 million study and a walk and bike lane for 8.8 miles on the site of what is planned to be a $10 billion light rail from Lindbergh to Avondale.
Bike lanes on the street and trails are not viewed as useful in most of the 10-county area. This is best left to trendy midtown neighborhoods to do on their own.
Toll roads, toll lanes and HOV lanes should be dismantled and all lanes returned to general use. Stop lights at entry ramps are a joke.
A vote for T-SPLOST validates an appointed, unelected, unconstitutional regional government. It violates “home rule,” undermines voter control and threatens city and county sovereignty. Central planning didn’t work in the Soviet Union and it won’t work in Georgia.
This is not the time to raise taxes. It is time to pare back government spending. This poor economy could last for another decade. The era of wasting tax money is over.