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.