Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is on the promotional bandwagon between now and July in an effort to pump more funding into a hot-button area issue: the region’s transportation needs.
The mayor is pushing the passage of the T-SPLOST, or Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. The funding allows specific communities, in this case those in the 10-county Atlanta region and 11 other districts statewide, to come up with a list of transportation projects that need attention. The municipalities then go to the voters and ask them to approve a 10-year, one-percent sales tax to generate $6.14 billion in funding. That referendum vote will take place in July.
Though many of metro Atlanta’s transportation needs are outside the jurisdiction of Reed’s city, it is still imperative they get done. In this case, Reed is advocating for funding for the whole area because people don’t always distinguish between the city and suburbs when they are stuck in traffic, for instance. If the core of Atlanta is not easy to navigate, it has a ripple impact on the suburbs and their needs.
Reed is no stranger to pushing for projects outside of the scope of Atlanta. He has become a familiar face in Congress, along with Georgia’s Gov. Nathan Deal (R), as the two pushed for more funding to deepen the Port of Savannah. The project, they contend, will make the port city more competitive in global shipping with its easy access to the transportation hubs in Atlanta. Deal, in turn, supports the transportation initiative as a way to get local communities involved in needed decision making.
Reed and others figure it’s about time Atlanta area residents took matters into their own hands about the region’s transportation needs. In the current economic and political climate, people won’t find a lot of support for major spending projects without smart funding. The T-SPLOST attempts to fund a local project with community dollars instead of state funds from taxpayers who may never see the benefit.
A major division has existed for decades between the Atlanta area and the rest of the state of Georgia, specifically related to transportation issues. The metro area dwarfs every other section of the state in population, housing, and job opportunities. But, instead of investing in the economic engine of the state, much of the sentiment in the Georgia State Capitol has centered on defunding projects that can ease Atlanta’s transportation headaches.
If you ask a resident or visitor to Atlanta to name one glaring problem with the city many will say it is the traffic. The city routinely ranks among the worst for congestion. But, instead of dealing with the problem in reasonable ways — such as light rail and increases to mass transit — authorities usually favor expanding lanes or simply repaving existing roads. While the dollars have been spent on the wrong projects, the traffic has only worsened as more people now call the area home.
The T-SPLOST will allow local area funds to be spent on specific projects determined by local officials. SPLOST issues are nothing new in Georgia, as they have been used in the past to provide funding for a variety of local projects. In Georgia’s case, for example, it prevents rural tax dollars from supporting road construction hours away in downtown Atlanta. Plus with local leaders making decisions about projects they are familiar with, the right projects can receive attention at the appropriate times.
If all goes well for T-SPLOST supporters, Atlanta residents will soon complain of orange cones and an overload of construction signs. It’s the kind of complaint that transportation officials can welcome as a sign of progress.