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T-SPLOST Debate: Why You Should Vote "No"

On July 31, metro Atlanta voters will decide on an $8 billion, multi-county transportation project. One East Atlanta Patch resident offers reasons why they should vote "no."

by Colleen Kiernan

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.

Bryan Farley May 16, 2012 at 05:31 PM
Until then what more do you expect other than study after study on how a regional transit system COULD look!
Bryan Farley May 16, 2012 at 05:41 PM
Again, a short sighted view. Emory is the perfect candidate for rail transit. You even said yourself the area "seems densely populated" and that is exactly what you need to support rail transit. I'm sure the Cliff buses are some what filled because they are FREE! You say we should address people getting there but how will they get there? There should have been rail service to Emory, which was part of the original MARTA plan. The Beltline is also a great idea because it give people intown an option other than driving. That is probably one of the biggest concerns for those who live in the 'burbs; "once I get here how will I get around the city?" The Beltline and a beefed up bus system is how, along with new rail around the city!
Mark Leech May 16, 2012 at 05:48 PM
Bryan, Great comments! I couldn't agree more. Looks--buses will not cut it. Most middle and upperclass folks do not ride buses, but they will ride a light rail or train. Especially if they can take these options in town to go out at night. SOmetimes people need to see what they are missing before they will support it. As a daily marta rider for two years straight, I think MARTA does a damn pretty good job considering the constraints they work in, i.e. lack of state funding, operational costs. Emory area is the largest employer! Moreover, most of those emory buses are limited to folks who actually work at Emory! or at least that is the stigma! My God, its embarrasing the lack of transit. You can't keep building roads and wider roads. You must change people's behavior, let them see the benefit. Biggest complaint about marta beyond price---is "it goes nowhere." or what I hear--"if it went somewhere worth going beside the airport and downtown, I would ride it." well we have an option before us to get it going somewhere. Its not a perfect option, but its an option. VOTE VOTE VOTE. If you vote this down, don't complain that we don't see another vote like this for another 10 years.
Bryan Farley May 16, 2012 at 05:57 PM
We need to do something and there is no "Plan B." This is the start to finally implement a true regional transit system under one provider. This will help with major road projects as well. Lets face it the sprawl is already there and transit is only going to be so efficient in the outer counties. Most of the rail is going to be one line straight into Atlanta with feeder buses to the stations and to large office parks and major roads. Even with one transit provider and support; that's because we can't just rebuild an entire counties and make it urban. So road project are going to have to be support. Once in the city more rail can be built to make sure people have a means of getting around. More frequent and direct bus service can be provided so people feel comfortable leaving their cars at home. The truth is we need both transit and roads and also think as a region when it comes to both. If Cobb needs something Clayton should be there to help because if there is job growth in Cobb there is job grown for the entire region. If a major road needs to be fixed in Fayette we all need to pitch in because the truck that can't get where it needs affect all of us. If rail is needed in Dekalb the region needs to support it because it promotes growth in that area which will bring growth for the region and provide an alternative to get there. ONE TRANSIT SYSTEM AND ONE REGION THINKING! Until then Atlanta is going to live off the boom of the 90s and not the future!
franklin59 May 16, 2012 at 07:32 PM
@bryan: Please stop blaming one party or another for yet another failed government subsidized (aka taxpayer subsidized) program. Your purley partisan comments distract from the facts. MARTA’s 2010 financial report demonstrates that although the population across Atlanta’s 10 counties increased 20% since 2000, ridership declined as follows: Rail: -6% Bus: -17%. Ridership is decreasing - period. MARTA's FY 2011 operating loss was $506m + their $180m estimated annual deferred maintenance = $686m. MARTA's annual losses are increasing - period. TSPLOST specifically states (as part of the original TIA) that no funds from the TIA/TSPLOST shall be used for MARTA maintenance. As well, the projects listed on the original TIA have no guarantee that the projects will actuall by built until more studies (aka our wasted tax dollars) are completed. Please see this fact page before we all start throwing our money to the engineering firms that will be the only beneficiary of this tax (and I'm a civil engineer who could benefit from this deal): http://traffictruth.net/TrafficTruth_TSPLOST_Fact_Sheet_22April12.pdf
William Good May 16, 2012 at 07:45 PM
With 3 million more residents expected to reside in GA by 2040 the selected list of 157 priority transportation projects is indeed needed.
Nick May 16, 2012 at 07:50 PM
The T-SPLOST failing to pass will not mean Atlanta is one-and-done for transit. If anything, a more competent board, and/or greater citizen input will be the result. Plans are already in the works for the Multi-Modal passenger terminal, so there will eventually be transit, but how it is FAIRLY and EQUITABLY paid for needs to be ironed out first. "Most middle and upperclass folks do not ride buses, but they will ride a light rail or train." They will ride buses if rising gas prices mean they will no longer be middle and upperclass.
Bryan Farley May 16, 2012 at 08:24 PM
@franklin59 Again you are using facts that talk about the 10 county region when MARTA serves 2 counties. Those are distorted facts that conservatives try to use to get money away from projects that can benefit the area to build your 20 lane highways. MARTA is losing money but why? Maybe because the tax is a SALES TAX. So if people don't spend, money isn't generated. I don't know about you but I know I've been limiting my spending. The projects that are on the list are ready and have been studied and the ones that are being studied again are because the people of those areas don't want to invest in transit. Not like other areas that are investing in their infrustructure. L.A. has a new light rail line, Miami and D.C. are expanding their heavy rail system, heck even N.Y.C. is expanding their subway system! All while Atlanta has to fight with people like you that don't want to invest in nothing but want to complain about everything. And please keep your biased fact page because it look like another conservative tea party scam to mis-inform people to vote no and then leave us in the same place. The fact is that there is no plan B. This is the first time since the inception of MARTA that the area has worked as ONE region on something. You see what has happened with that. A metro service that only serves 2 counties. I guess it's ok to make the same mistakes TWICE in a lifetime huh?
Bryan Farley May 16, 2012 at 08:30 PM
@ Mark I completely agree. It's time to put up or shut up. Either we are going to be a world class area with great transit or be a great city but fall behind other areas willing to invest in transit and other forms of infrustructure besides JUST roads!
franklin59 May 16, 2012 at 09:05 PM
@ Bryan: "All while Atlanta has to fight with people like you that don't want to invest in nothing but want to complain about everything." My only complaints in this discussion? First, your political ignorance is gleaming, so I'll complain about that fact! As an engineer, I prefer stating fact rather than making suposition and generalizations about other people's character. Second, I will always complain about the government taking my hard earned tax dollars and throwing them away on failed programs. On the other hand, I am quite proud when my tax dollars acheive something positive that helps this community. Facts: Counties served by LA Metro: ONE-Los Angleles County. Counties serviced by Miami rail: ONE-Dade County. D.C. transit systems are composed of 7 individual commuter systems all independtly run separate and apart from one another. As for the NY City transit system; well, if you add up the tolls to travel around that area, you've broken the bank in one day; especially if you have to cross a bridge or tunnel at $13/trip, so your practically forced to use the transit system. However, their transit system serves all of the people! I've been driving the streets & highways in this city for over 50 years, and I've seen the urban sprawl that is Atlanta. I was never in favor of any rail service from MARTA's inception since it was not approved by all of the 6 metro counties. Native Atlantan's knew from inception that MARTA would never survive without full participation.
franklin59 May 16, 2012 at 09:10 PM
In summary, TSPLOST will not provide MARTA with the funding to reach the entire metro area for any new "light-rail" or "heavy-rail" systems. These funds will go towards the ever increasing debt-pit that is MARTA's growing maintenance budget.
Betty C. May 17, 2012 at 02:11 AM
Bryan, have you seen the latest audit on the GDOT? I'm afraid the "buffoons" are still here.
Darrell May 17, 2012 at 03:28 PM
I am voting no (even though I am an ardent supporter of mass transit) because this does not address the root cause of our transportation issues which is urban sprawl. Also, we continue to lack funding for the maintenance of our existing infrastructure and this will only add more projects to a maintenance list that is not funded. And finally, when you watch the ads supporting the tax they discuss the problem but does not provide any specifics on how these improvements will improve transportation such as reduced commute times, less congestion, etc. I would probably guess that the numbers they have (I was involved in transportation planning in Texas) shows that once these projects are complete congestion and commute times will either be the same or increased because we have not dealt with the root of the problem, which is the urban sprawl which a select group of land speculators, developers, road contractors and lobbyists like. The world is changing and the old, ineffective ways of doing things can actually make us less competitive because of the added debt burden for infrastructure that does not make us more productive.
Nick May 18, 2012 at 02:57 PM
Right on, Darrell. There is a traffic/congestion "problem", most notably during the morning and evening rush hours (making money time)... And the lack of mobility, navigating the city for leisure, convenience, tourism, etc. (spending money time). I don't see how this proposal addresses either, effectively enough. If the region was serious about impacting quality of life as it relates to getting from point A to point B, they would release the handcuffs on MARTA, extend the line from Doraville well into Duluth/Suwanee, bring the "brain train" from Athens to Georgia Tech/State, and adopt the Lovejoy-Atlanta-Chattanooga train. Put the "roads" money into improving sidewalk egress for pedestrian use. And work with developers or city planners to spread out the residential and commercial centers across the region. Hard to avoid congestion when everybody is trying to get to the same place, at the same time.
Bryan Farley May 18, 2012 at 03:05 PM
Even if the funding was there MARTA still couldn't reach its full potential. State laws and the ignorance of the burbs prevent MARTA from expanding, not MARTA! When MARTA is allow to use it's money as they see fit without the controll of "big brother Georgia" and is still in the same shape then and only then will your comments be relevant.
Bryan Farley May 18, 2012 at 03:20 PM
Ok, I will give you the "political ignorance" arguement. But hey if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck it is probaby a duck! I also agree that I don't want to waste my money on failed projects. But I also can see flaws in a project especially when it is not allowed to reach it's full potential like MARTA. Now what is your argument about MARTA surving ALL IT'S PEOPLE IN THE AREA? LA Metro serves a county of about 10 million people. They ALL support the Metro. Miami-Dade Transit serves Miami-Dade County; about 2.5 million people in ONE county. There system is also smaller than MARTA and costs less to operate. DC Metro along with the other system serve multiple counties of about 6 million (same size as Atlanta's metro area) but the ENTIRE METRO DC area supports the systems and there for pay into them which means more money for that system. Atlanta on the other had has MARTA that was made for a region of 6 million but only serves about 2 million but is much larger than a transit system that would normally handle 2 million because it still has to provide service for 6 million that commute into the city from time to time. So explain how MARTA can be this great system when it serves 6 million and is only paid for by 2 million? Heck even if it was just in the big 5 counties MARTA would be in a completely different place. You even said yourself that MARTA needs full participation to survive.
Bryan Farley May 18, 2012 at 03:27 PM
I agree that urban sprawl is ATL's main issue but not supporting this is not the way. One, there is no plan B so if this isn't past nothing is going to be done at all! Two, the metro area is already sprawled so the only thing we can do moving forward is redevelop and build infill with new urbanism in mind. We aren't going to get rid of the curvy roads, the big office parks, and subdivisions. We have to build smarter in the future. Without supporting this bill and ultimately doing nothing all we are going to have is more dense development with big parking decks for more people to drive in one condensed area, which is just more traffic. No support for the T-SPLOST means no new transit which will lead to more traffic woes, no matter how you build because in the end everyone is going to have to end up driving.
Mark Leech May 18, 2012 at 03:45 PM
@ Bryan and Nick and Darrell, Darrell, you vote no, you are doing nothing to help you argument about "urban sprawl." 3 more million people are planning on coming to this city, regardless of whether you have transit or not. That's more people on the road, more spraw. We can either help people navigate this environment effectively (get to and fro work on time) or continue to try and cram a wood square peg in a round hole. Look, you don't suppor it--whats the alternative? you act like this was done in a vaccuum-this project list is done with an amazing amount of community buy in. Lastly, to Bryan's point--CHARLOTTEE, DENVER, HOUSTON, MIAMI have ALL APPROVED PLANS LIKE THIS ONE THAT GREATLY EXPAND TRANSIT---who do you think businesses will go to when considering to relocate their companies here or expand? Atlanta? You can't move goods through here. QUality of life man. You vote no for your reasons you are voting for something--that is nothing. You can't save paradise by putting up a parking lot. GOod luck getting this back on the ballot darrell and you will be left just complaining about urban sprawl with no action again, no plan, nothing.
Mark Leech May 18, 2012 at 03:53 PM
I agree nick. It may not address all of thise effectively, but it addresses it. If you want to garnish suppport for mass transit let us take this big, and it is a big first step in transit. Let people (specifically middle and upper class folks) see the benefit of these changes to their quality of life and development in atlanta and I think you will see graeater support for the projects you listed above. i agree---let's release the handcuffs.
Mark Sanders May 19, 2012 at 12:58 AM
I am a Conyers resident who used to live in East DeKalb county. I am against the T-SPLOST for many reasons. 1. No rail lines to be built anywhere south, east, or west of Metro Atlanta: How can supporters of this plan call this "fair" when many areas south of the region are being left out? I find it absolutely absurd that funding for rails lines cannot be equally distributed in all regions in Metro Atlanta. Part of the reason why we have so much traffic in Atlanta is that developers are creating more jobs north of Atlanta. There is no balance of job creation in the metro area. 2. The state will waste taxpayers money. Residents in DeKalb and Fulton counties are both paying a penny sales tax that is still being collected over a period of 30 years. Since the collection of this tax, MARTA has not extended rail service to residents and business in South and East DeKalb county. In fact, transit services have been reduced and fare prices have increased. A recent investigation by WSB-TV showed that previous executives from MARTA have misappropriated funding! 3. Once the state collects the money for T-SPLOST, they can grant more funding toward certain regions and take away more funds from others. Just because a project is "approved" doesn't mean that the state has to stay committed to it. 4. More funding would go toward roadways instead of mass transit. Are you kidding me? Say no to the T-SPLOST!!!
Mark Sanders May 19, 2012 at 01:08 AM
I wholeheartedly agree. Maybe once we have a "competent" board in place, Metro Atlanta can finally start moving forward instead of backwards. Can someone explain to me how the Clifton Road corridor gets over $700 million in backing for a rail line and the rest of DeKalb gets an infinitesimal amount ($225 million)? Even the Decatur mayor Bill Floyd is against reallocating funds to extend rail service into the rest of DeKalb County. Absolutely pathetic!!!
Space Ship May 21, 2012 at 10:00 AM
I'm voting yes, simply because the political cartoons aimed at poking fun of SRTA and GDOT that are used for this piece are derogatory.
William Good May 22, 2012 at 01:56 PM
With 3 million more residents expected to reside in GA by 2040, this referendum is needed and is in fact long-overdue.
franklin59 May 22, 2012 at 07:08 PM
William, you keep claiming there will be an additional 3 million more residents in GA. Please will you allow us the source from which you get this information? Also, some of you folks here keep claiming that urban sprawl is a good thing for Atlanta. As a fourth generation native of Atlanta, I remember when Atlanta was a clean, peaceful city with very little crime and very neighborly. Now, with 6 million people in the metropolitan Atlanta area, this place has turned into one of the worst thug infested, crime ridden cities of this nation. Atlanta has been 160% above the nation's average for violent crime for the last 10 years. Do you folks want to return this town to a "charming" city, or are you looking to be the next New York? No thanks! Vote No!
Mark Leech May 22, 2012 at 09:32 PM
Franklin, All you need to do is take a look at the US Census for Metro Atlanta and your 3 million is there. Moreover, you can also look at world wide population demographic trends from any known or respected conservative economimist or demographer to show that WORLD WIDE people move to cities, urban cities. Moreover, attracting international business will drive some of this, i.e. addition to new international terminal...you know this helps the thing you love, capitalism. You can't "stop" people from coming to metro urban centers, especially in the "globalized economy" where people know economic opportunities exceist in urban centers. So do I want Atlanta to become the next new york city--no. I want Atlanta to retain some of the character it has, grow and have his its own unique identity--can you imagine green space pepper with light rail, easily accessible city for both social and work access? You don't get that in NYC. Or you can live in a city that is easily accessible, operate on new improved roads and rails, or continue to complain as more people come, drive the streets, and contribute to a crumbling infrastructure that conservativs like yourself refuse to support. You point to crime by these so called "thugs"--well sustained economic growth (for which atlanta hasn't seen for over 15 years) helps get some of those "thugs" off the street and into jobs. Invest in education--gets people off street. Your choice.Its gonna sprawl rail or no rail.or tsplsots or no tsplosts
Mark Leech May 22, 2012 at 09:33 PM
Look at census projections from various sources to find your 3 million....thats a conservative answer.
Mark Leech May 22, 2012 at 09:40 PM
The question is ---can you say yes to anything franklin? Can you compromise? will you just keep screaming no, no, no to all projects and improvements or will you offer solutions. What are your solutions to congestions, decreased quality of life, and Atlanta's transporation problem? Please put them on the table for us? enlighten us insted of just saying no to everything that involves a tax. THe referrendum is not perfect, but its a big injection into the economic engine of Atlanta-Metro. Used to be a time where you could get conservatives (fiscal) and democrats to agree on infrastructure projects--of course for very different reasons. However, the common ground based on the economics is that investment in infrastructure is helpful to the economy--and captialism. However today t appears such logical sound economic arguments are lost upon the ears of many tea partiers and the "always no" republicans of today.
Ormewood Park Mom May 29, 2012 at 02:44 AM
OK, so here is what no one realizes. This is NOT, I said NOT a 1 penny increase. This is a 14% tax increase in Georgia. It is a cleverly marketed plan to fool the fools into buying this piece of junk legislation. It's a $20 BILLION, yes BILLION, dollar tax increase. For what???? To widen a bride in North Atlanta and paint a Marta Station?? C'mon folks, please take off the blinders, take some time to do the math and you'll see that we are being suckered. Vote NO until they come up with a real solution and not just a band-aid. For $20 BILLION, we could change this city into a world class destination and instead Atlanta is content to settle on mediocrity. The missed opportunities for this city are unreal... Please use your head and vote NO!!!!
Mark Leech May 29, 2012 at 04:55 PM
Ormewood Park Resident, I think people realize this is a tax increase on sales tax. Like to know where you got your bloated figures, regardless. What is your solution to ATL metros problems with traffic? If your vote is no, what then do you suggest as an alternative or are you part of the no solutions, no crowd? What will metro-ATL do to compete with Denver, Charlotte, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Dallas, and Houston who have already voted in similar plans and begun expansion of existing lines which in the end lures business away from or either from coming to ATL. Please offer solutions to the following: *48th in the nation in transporation funding *Declining gas tax revenues (increasedc car gas milage) *70 percent of state budget being spent only on mantienence of infrastucture *by the year 2040 over 8 million will call metro ATL home---increase of 3 million people ---we going to keep building roads? *by 2015 90 percent of metro ATL seniors will live in neighboroods with poor or no access to mass transit (baby boomers getting old my friend...)
taxus June 15, 2012 at 05:47 PM
No more increase in the sales tax. Until the Fair Tax is in place. Then we'll see where things stand.

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