Atlanta Voters to Decide on Future of Region’s Transportation Network

At the end of this month, residents of the greater Atlanta metropolitan area will vote on a referendum which, if passed, would put in place a 1-cent sales tax and raise $8.5 billion over the next 10 years for the region’s transportation network.

A map of the BeltLine and streetcar lines that would earn funding from this month’s referendum. Credit: AtlantaBeltLineBlog

Later this month, residents across the Atlanta metropolitan area will vote on a referendum that, if passed, would put in place a 10-year, 1-cent sales tax intended to raise $8.5 billion for investments in transportation infrastructure in the region, the New York Times reported this week.

The referendum is just another chapter in the five-decade-long battle between city officials in Atlanta, residents and politicians from surrounding suburbs, and the Georgia legislature over funding for transportation — and specifically, financial assistance for Atlanta’s chronically underfunded public transportation agency, MARTA.

While the Times says that MARTA will receive almost no additional funding from the referendum, the money would greatly enhance Atlanta’s BeltLine, a public works project that has received a great deal of coverage both in Forefront and on NAC’s Daily blog.

According to Atlanta BeltLine, Inc., the referendum would expand the BeltLine project significantly to include a 10-mile extension of the regional rail system that would cross midtown, downtown and the east and west sides of the BeltLine.

Support for the referendum has come from a number of powerful voices, including Coca-Cola, the Weather Channel and even the Atlanta Braves, who all say the dilapidated, underfunded infrastructure snarls traffic and is detrimental to both profitability and productivity.

In a January report, the Atlanta Regional Commission estimated that the $8.5 billion investment could result in a $34.8 billion increase to Atlanta’s gross regional product by 2040. Additionally, the report finds that projects funded by the referendum would result in $9.2 billion worth of travel time savings by 2040.

But despite these powerful allies and their predictions, the referendum faces staunch opposition from a somewhat odd alliance of constituencies and organizations.

Leaders from the more politically conservative communities surrounding Atlanta claim that too much of the $8.5 million is allocated to projects inside the city, while the NAACP is arguing that the referendum neglects the metro’s poorer African-American communities. Additional opposition has come from the Sierra Club, which says the bill puts too much of an emphasis on improving the region’s roadways.

The referendum will be held in all 10 counties of the Atlanta metro area’s on July 31.

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Tags: infrastructuretransportation spendingtransit agenciesatlanta

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