The Georgia Chapter of the Sierra Club made headlines recently when we concluded that the T-SPLOST's flaws are significant to the point of outweighing its positive benefits. While everyone acknowledges that no plan is perfect, supporters of the tax believe this is the best we will ever do. The reality is that if the referendum passes, this is likely all we will ever do, so it is critically important that we get it right. Even if our elected officials would prefer not to tackle this issue again, our urgent needs will not allow them to ignore the issue of transportation. Metro Atlanta can do better, and here’s why.
Metro Atlanta’s transportation needs are far greater than can be met by simply putting more public money on the table. This project list attempts to be something for everyone, rather than a cohesive whole. While the Regional Roundtable process was a step forward in that it ended with an agreement on a project list, it didn't produce a compelling vision or coherent strategy to move away from road-clogging sprawl.
More highway capacity is a centerpiece of the T-SPLOST project list, comprising 34 percent of the projects. The bulk of this funding will provide for widening of existing suburban and exurban arterial roadways, generally from two to four lanes but in some cases from four to six lanes. Five times as much funding will go to expanded capacity than to maintenance and operations, further compounding an already serious backlog of asset management needs. To further illustrate the imbalance, for every track mile the T-SPLOST will build, 16 miles of roads will be built, enough asphalt to cover Turner Field 200 times.
'Will we simply rev up the old sprawl machine one more time, or hold out for a vision that truly puts Atlanta at the forefront of 21st-century cities?'
Even though many intown transit supporters want to be able to say yes to something, the necessary institutional context is not in place, with the 2012 legislative session having failed to address serious questions about equitable regional transit governance and the ongoing second-class treatment of MARTA. Passage of the T-SPLOST will not address MARTA’s core need, which is operating funding. MARTA must operate at adequate service levels if other transit additions are going to work. Another major disappointment is that adoption of the T-SPLOST will kill commuter rail for another decade, taking off the table one of the most promising strategies for providing commute alternatives and promoting sustainable development. Finally, the transit projects we support in concept, including the BeltLine, Clifton Corridor and the Northwest Corridor have vaguely defined project descriptions, underfunded capital expansions, and uncertainty about long-term operational support.
The Sierra Club rejects the notion that there is no "Plan B," and believes that there is indeed great potential for an alternative plan that achieves meaningful progress on commute alternatives for Georgians without needlessly subsidizing another wave of sprawl. Elements of a truly visionary and transformational “Plan B” should include several elements, such as a workable institutional framework that provides an equitable regional transit governance structure and de-politicizes transportation decisionmaking. Funding possibilities include a restructured multimodal gas tax, a parking tax, and other mechanisms that tie funding to travel behavior.
Other U.S. cities understand that the era of sprawl-fueled economic growth is over, and that providing alternatives to traffic must be the focus of their transportation future. Which course will Atlanta take — will we simply rev up the old sprawl machine one more time, or hold out for a vision that truly puts Atlanta at the forefront of 21st-century cities? On July 31, voters have that choice.
More information about our position can be found at www.georgia.sierraclub.org/TSPLOST.
Ms. Kiernan, a resident of Ormewood Park, is the director of the Sierra Club's Georgia Chapter.
For the opposing viewpoint, please click here.