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Transportation Beyond a Band-Aid

Does the transportation referendum show that political will has improved in spite of distrust of elected officials? The public will carefully watch results and actions arising from July 31 votes.

Most politicians are not transportation engineers. However, everyone understands the frustrations, causes, moreover effect of being stuck in endless traffic.

It is widely acknowledged that the state of infrastructure in Georgia is in a deprived situation with dilapidated roads, potholes and a lack of mass transit.With dwindling gas tax revenue both at the federal and local levels, funding for the transportation sector is limited.

Stretching the required resources further, Georgia currently is the ninth most congested, seventh with worst bottlenecks, nationally 48th on transportation capital expenditures and with absolutely no major transportation investment for a long, long time! 

Let us face it. Investment needs point beyond just a band-aid measure in improving the sector. Given this context and the transportation referendum process of the past-three years indicates that political will may have improved. However, because of lack of credibility and unclear messaging there is mistrust on decisions made by the elected officials.

The Transportation Investment Act (TIA) is not a T-SPLOST as generally referred to at the local level. The TIA is the outcome of a political process intending to improve the State of Georgia’s dire transportation situation. The TIA will raise investment by levying sales tax. This political process will culminate, and likewise begin on July 31 when citizens vote on a transportation referendum.

If the vote passes, the TIA will continue with a new chapter that will focus on actions and results. Then the public will closely watch the elected officials as the funds will support projects at the regional (strategic) and local (discretionary) levels. In this respect, the TIA is not a local standalone project. It is a Regional Transportation initiative with dual project arrangements.

The TIA makes provisions for both regional and local projects within a larger urban transportation conceptual framework of live-work- and play. The TIA proposes funding these projects state-wide for the 12 regions by raising around 18.7 billion from sales tax dollars.

This infrastructure investment undoubtedly marks a milestone in Georgia’s transportation history as this program signifies a largest plan ever in both scope and size. Therefore, it is not surprising that given this significance there is incredible interest and engagement from public and civic sectors in assessing the outcomes of this political process.

In fully comprehending the referendum of July 31, it is necessary to go back at least a couple of years recalling the process. During the 2009-2010 legislative cycles, the House and Senate passed Bill number 277 “The Georgia 2020 Transportation Act” creating a Trust-fund Oversight Committee. The General Assembly passed this Bill enacting the TIA of 2010. Subsequent to this, the process created Atlanta Regional Commission with a five-member citizen panel to serve as an advisory council.

Since mid-year 2010, the elected officials – commissioners and mayors representing 21 Counties have gone through a series of round-table discussions to agree upon a list of projects as part of their local city plans. The final decision to provide or not to provide the planned dollars for these projects now rest on public hands.

On July 31, all the regions across the State of Georgia will vote on the TIA proposed 1-cent (penny per dollar) sales tax for investment in regional transportation. If the voters approve the referendum, the sales tax will remain effective for 10 years. In metro Atlanta, the project expects to collect, adjusting with inflation around $8.5 billion.

The strategic aspect of this program will use 85 percent of money for the regional component, which aims to strengthen competiveness and promote urban-rural linkages in spurring economic activities. An allocation of 15 percent of proceeds will go to fund discretionary, primarily aesthetics in improving and repairing  ̶  county level local projects including roads, bike paths, walking trails, buses, bridges, light rail and airports.

The list of projects at the County level, however, not all effectively integrate communities with mass transit options, even though investments promote integration across county lines.

Whereas at the local level, if the TIA is not a band-aid measure, it is necessary to clarify the project links between local and regional to understand the overlaps with the big picture.  In addition to this, if all the money generated at the local level stays at the local level, then the connection with the regional master plan and funding/coordinating mechanisms are not clear either.

Is there a master plan in process? If this political process were a work in progress, then perhaps the institutional ambiguity at the local level will also be clearer subsequent to results from July referendum.

Whether TIA is an integrated or a localized band-aid plan, this proposal by legislators demonstrates willingness to seek out a solution for the needy transportation sector.  The mobilization of political capital has been effective. Recognizing that Metro-Atlanta needs urgent investment, there is a political process in action.

Could we assert that most elected officials are doing their share of being concerned for transportation public service? Both regional and local projects are necessary in promoting mobility and growth across regional and county lines, though cohesiveness of these two plans as a holistic one may not be that clear.

In sum, to understand the merits of this program it is necessary to understand the regional and local nature of this project and have faith in our elected officials. However, political will alone will not suffice. Gaining respect and trust of citizens require actions and impact. 

The status quo is clearly not an option. If this transportation investment passes in July 31, communities expecting better services will be closely watching their tax dollars as well as the elected officials.  

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jimmy Bridges June 29, 2012 at 05:51 PM
First, your numbers are all wrong. The funded amounts of all of the "approved" list is $6,924,052,370. What no one wants to talk about is that they have been projected to cost $11,981,510,000. Assuming that these government projects were all delivered within their budgeted amounts(this NEVER happens), the entire referendum only funds 58% of the cost. The projects "approved" specifically for Dekalb county are only funded 52%. Where does the rest of the money come from? Answer: this is a political solution whereby the "approved" projects were only partially funded to make it look as though more is being done than actually can be and to allow politicians to claim that they got projects on the "approved" list for their constituents. This is a SCAM people. Remember, this is only really approved IF WE SAY IT IS. Transportation projects are very much needed, but this is nothing more than a political exercise with our money.
Amreeta Regmi July 01, 2012 at 09:46 PM
Jimmy, Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I appreciated your comments. The numbers I quote are of course best estimates provided by economists. Without actually having the outcome of the referendum, at this point, it is all our best estimates and projections as this legislative action is a work in progress. The 'trust' factor is a big element that comes into play in any legislative planing, design and implementation. Jim Galloway with the AJC (July 1, 2012) provides an interesting analysis on how the 'trust deficit' may influence the July 31st vote. I also use this premise on my blog piece that respect and trust of citizens are required in moving forward with any legislative action. Political will alone is not sufficient. Indeed, the results from the July 31 will show us who has the power to control the resources. I firmly believe in our democratic system, the legislature has handed this power to us, the citizens to make a final decision on July 31. It would be a waste of time, valuable resources and productive energy if people did not exercise their voting rights and accepted the status quo. I fully agree with you that the citizens will make a final choice of yes or no. In this respect, I would encourage everyone to go out and vote on the transportation referendum on July 31. Please find the link to GDOT website for statewide disclosed and published information. I have found this site useful for my work. http://www.dot.state.ga.us
Robert J. Nebel July 02, 2012 at 12:08 PM
Once again, you composed a well-written post, Amreeta. You make strong arguments, but the concern here is the trust factor. The general local population has a hard time trusting how their hard-earned dollars are spent when they hear so much about largesse and mismanagement. Remember that the GA 400 tollbooths were supposed to expire, but somehow they're still standing. People feel betrayed when pledges are broken without explanation. It is no wonder that referendums like TSPLOST are a tough sell to folks like Jimmy. Those who have been working for TSPLOST's passage need to realize that local government needs to work in the interests of the people. Thus far, the TSPLOST salespeople have been doing a poor job.
Jimmy Bridges July 02, 2012 at 03:22 PM
This is kind of a chicken and egg thing.....mistrust in this case comes from seeing that they have only funded just over half of the expected costs of these projects. That tells me that we are being deceived.....thus, I distrust. I didn't walk into the room specifically distrusting them. Their actions specifically regarding this issue are very much in question and without an answer about how they plan to pay for the additional unfunded amounts, it would be really stupid of me to say that this is a good idea.
Daniel Plainview July 03, 2012 at 11:12 PM
"...closely watching their tax dollars as well as the elected officials." Georgia OPB doesn't make that easy-the appropriations bills(http://opb.georgia.gov/00/channel_modifieddate/0,2096,161890977_162991812,00.html) are scanned pdfs that can't be searched electronically, or easily combined/compared to other documents. I'm interested in GA's total and component cost effectiveness, in dollars per mile, at repairing roads and other core metrics like infrastructure ROI.
Amy Fuchs July 07, 2012 at 12:57 AM
We are in a Financial Crisis. This transportation spending needs to be looked at with deep scrutiny. Are people not moving to Atlanta because they don't have enough flowery walking trails or are they not moving to the area because they sit in traffic too long. My guess is walking trails is not the answer. I vote NO for this tax. Send our politicians back to the drawing board. They can do better. Cut out the fat, get more cooperation among the areas and focus only on the major areas that can be fixed first. Get a cost and if the vendor goes over budget then they kick in a large portion of their mistaken estimates....when our home prices stop falling and unemployment has gone down then we can work on walking trails.
1Tierrah July 08, 2012 at 01:37 AM
1Tierrah As with any issue regarding the population and the livelyhood thereof, there is no one easy fix. Once trust is breached - it is difficult to regain. Politics is - what it is and politicians do not always have the interest of the people at heart. What about the many communities around the Metro Atlanta area that lack the luxury (so the speak) of access to mass transportation? Will the walking trails suggested as a part of this proposal link those individuals to public transportation? I beg to differ. If this reforandum is passed, I believe that we will experience another episode of inaccountability, finger pointing and misappropriation of funds. Taxpayers and voters alike should scrutinize the proposal and ask the tough questions. If unsure, vote No.
Dianne Ogden July 09, 2012 at 02:40 PM
I think the biggest obstacle on getting anything done in this state is trust. I for one do not trust that what was promised will be done. I don’t trust that monies raised for a specific project i.e., transportation, will be spent on transportation You said that the public will then have to “closely watch" the progress. Well, I for one have watched county commissioners, elected representatives and score of other “officials” get fat and cocky - ultimately resigning or being indicted for mismanagement of said funds. I do not have good feeling about T-SPLOST. I really don’t trust that the huge amount of money this will generate will be used to relieve our commutes in a timely fashion. I also will note GA 400 and the toll booths which are still open and collecting. Where is that money going? Until be get open, transparent and honest dialogue from those pushing this referendum, I firmly intend to vote no.

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