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Is the End of the Ga. 400 Toll a ‘Good Deal?’

Will Gov. Deal's announcement help to get TSPLOST passed? Whatever the outcome, what is next after the TSPLOST vote?

I’m sure that there were plenty of us over the past two years who felt like going to the Ga. 400 tollbooth to exclaim, “Mr. Deal, tear down this toll plaza!” Well, that dream came true this week when Gov. Nathan Deal announced that the Georgia 400 toll will end in late 2013. Now, scores of Porsches, BMWs, Hummers, assorted trucks, SUVs, minivans and sedans will get to zoom up the Alpharetta Autobahn unfettered.

Many are pondering the timing of Governor Deal’s announcement. The announcement came less than two weeks before the July 31 TSPLOST vote. Many argue that this was a calculated move to inspire more “Yes” votes on TSPLOST.  If that theory is true, will it work? Is this a win-win or a lose-lose gamble on the governor’s part?

If TSPLOST passes, will we indeed see jobs created and less traffic congestion? Some citizens agree with this assessment and others do not believe these promises. If TSPLOST fails, what will happen? Will companies bypass the Peach State and locate their businesses in Charlotte? Will Georgia’s infrastructure crumble?

The fact is the Peach State and more importantly, the Atlanta metro area needs to invest in its infrastructure and increase its road expansion and transit projects. If I were the CEO of a company looking to locate a business, I certainly wouldn’t locate it in the Atlanta metro area. There are tons of properties to locate a business – such as Peachtree Corners, a perfect place to set up shop. But, if my employees couldn’t live near my place of business, I wouldn’t wish to put more hard-working people on the metro area’s highways.

With a lack of practical transit options, congested roads and increased smog, this area is not attractive to economic expansion. The cynical view on TSPLOST is understandable, but there needs to be a solution. What are the alternatives? If TSPLOST doesn’t pass, what should be the recommended funding scheme for basic maintenance, improvements and expansions? 

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.

Phil Cochran July 21, 2012 at 10:25 AM
I believe it is very evident that the Atlanta Metro Area has lost it's mojo. The area is no longer the place to be. I believe that the rail system should have been extended up to Windward Parkway years ago. Our elected officials just can't seem to come together to work out a plan that would 1) provide the area with water for the future 2) come up with a plan to ease the awful, horrendous traffic problem the area is plagued with. Something must be done about the traffic and light rail has always been the answer but for whatever reason no one wants to discuss it. As far as the toll goes. We were promised that the toll would be eliminated and Gov Deal is doing the right thing and doing something not heard of - KEEPING A PROMISE.
Steve Rausch July 21, 2012 at 11:52 AM
Although I live in Peachtree corners I travel weekly and after spending this past week in Chicago I feel compelled to remind folks that as bad as Atlanta traffic has become we are still much better than most other major metro areas, both here and around the world! Cities don't have a traffic problem, they have a space/people problem. Too many people want to use the same space at once. Even before the Olympics invaded London the average speed for traveling across that city was slower than a horse drawn carriage a hundred years ago! Public transportation helps, but isn't the answer, again proven by most major US cities and London. I suggest our leaders stop throwing money away on things that aren't helping and think about creative ways around the true problems.
Racer X July 21, 2012 at 01:11 PM
When I was young I was in sales. I made a set percentage commission. When I told my boss I needed a raise, he said, give yourself a raise, sell more product. Of course, he was right. I sold more product. Though my percentage remained the same, my commission increased and I had more money to do what I wanted/needed. The State government collects a certain percentage in taxes, collected through sales tax, fuel tax, property tax and many others. As our State has grown, the amount of money they collect also grew. The areas that grew the most (Metro-Atlanta) benefited the most. The fact that our State government cannot maintain acceptable standards is not the problem or fault of the taxpayers, it is the fault of the government. The answer is NOT to increase the percentages of tax the government collects. The answer is to improve the efficiency of the government. This is what each of us has had to learn to do, especially in today's economy and it is not asking too much for the government to follow suit.
Racer X July 21, 2012 at 01:22 PM
The government squanders every penny we pay them. It never sets aside funds in case of a downturn in revenues. It never worries about what it is going to do should a source of revenue dry up. The government shares none of the concerns that we taxpayers have to deal with on a daily basis. The government is like a spoiled child that just demands more and more of his/her parents. The end result, as we all know, is a child that is completely out of control and cannot be satisfied. Every time any government agency is allotted funds, the mantra heard in the hallways is "Find a way to spend it or we will lose it", leaving no room for simply setting money aside for when they have additional real needs. There are many good answers to our transportation needs and all of these answers lie within the government's existing budget if we cut out all the wasteful spending and start running this State more like a business instead of a charity.
Tom H July 21, 2012 at 04:04 PM
I agree with you, well put. We have grown and government has collected more taxes. Anything the government spends money on, cost much more than it should. This one cent additional tax will cost us $100.00 to $200.00 or more each year in taxes. These ads with people stuck in traffic or the child waiting to be picked up, really.
Linda July 21, 2012 at 06:58 PM
I agree completely!
Just Nasty and Mean July 22, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Look folks, this announcement from Gov. Deal is a cynical and ill-timed ploy to get $8B extracted from taxpayers on the TSPLOST. It is typical of a politician to make a trade in order to squeeze more cash from the tax weary public. I, for one, am sick of it! I am sick of the corrupt and bureaucratically bloated DOT not accomplishing their objectives with the Billion$ they get from tax revenues. Creating a new, non-electred, appointed, crony level of government driven by more politicians is NOT THE ANSWER! The answer is to hold politicians feet-to-the-fire and tell them we are not putting up with their BS and to get their "butts" to work cleaning up this mess.
Jimmy Orr July 22, 2012 at 07:00 PM
Atlanta may have lost its mojo but my personal opinion is that Atlanta has become the cesspool of the South. Think about it. Atlanta's schools are broke, its sewers are broke. its water rates are probably among the highest in the nation, and crime appears to be rampant. It is a sad state of affairs when the students on the campus of one of America's leading institutions of technology want permission to carry firearms on campus. What about Atlantic Station? Wasn't there a recent article in the AJC in which the new CEO, General Manager or whatever of this crown jewel stated something to the effect that reducing crime was a priority? I would surmise that somewhere in the mix of developing Atlantic Station federal funds came into play. Anytime federal funds are on the table, there are conditions imposed. I surmise that this is what may have happened with the mixed-use housing located behind Atlantic Station. Although I do not know this to be a fact, if there were federal funds associated with the mixed-use housing same would dictate that a number of units be set aside for subsidized housing. I have said almost from day one that TSPLOST is nothing more than a bailout for the City of Atlanta and MARTA. Building 19th. Century public transit technology along Peachtree Street and building same around the beltline properties will not relieve traffic congestion one iota within the corridors where traffic congestion relief is needed. (See 07/22/2012 Orr continuation)
Jimmy Orr July 22, 2012 at 07:40 PM
(07/22/2012 Orr continuation) My good friend, great American, and syndicated columnist, Dick Yarbrough, wrote in his column in the Friday, July 20, 2012, edition of the Marietta Daily Journal that Fayette County Commissioner Steve Brown, a leading opponent of the referendum (TSPLOST) pointed out that MARTA CEO Beverly Scott told lawmakers last year that even if the referendum passes, MARTA will still face $2.3 billion in unfunded maintenance needs over the life of the referendum. MARTA needs a bigger pool from which to draw funds from. TSPOLST, in my opinion would offer this pool. Take MARTA projects TIA-M-001 thru TIA-M-014 on the constrained projects list entitled MARTA State of Good Repair and Stations Enhancements in the amount of $600,000,000. That's right, six hundred million dollars. This dollar amount includes upgrades to existing escalators in existing MARTA rail stations. Wouldn't you think that repairs & upgardes to escalators in their rail stations should have been an ongoing budgeted item in their O & M costs? What in the heck has MARTOC, the entity created by our state legislative body to oversee MARTA's expenditures, been doing over the years that MARTA has continued to dig themselves deeper and deeper into a financial abyss? I close with this. During the course of one month I will have traveled on most of the interstate network in Metro Atlanta. I have yet to see anyone commuting to and from work on an escalator. Vote NO to the TSPLOST boondoggle.
Alex H July 23, 2012 at 01:14 PM
That's a nice thought, but when considering gas taxes, Georgia is a donor state, so we get back 85 to 90 cents on the dollar that is collected. Due to apportionment by congressional district as set by the state, the metro area is a donor region. Compound that with the inability of the core counties (Fulton and DeKalb) to have an available percentage point (the maximum is set by the state) to have a local SPLOST, and you've got a region that is woefully behind on infrastructure.
Robert J. Nebel July 23, 2012 at 03:19 PM
TSPLOST is a tough sell to those who have a deep distrust of current leadership at all levels. The pro-TSPLOST people need to present a much better case to these informed yet skeptical voters. If they cannot sway even a small fraction of this electorate, TSPLOST will be headed for defeat. Also it looks like there is no Plan B and there needs to be a Plan B for this region to be competitive.
Racer X July 23, 2012 at 04:45 PM
Point well made. However, Fulton and Dekalb are among the most densely populated counties in our state and should be collecting exponentially more sales tax money than a rural county. They also are more likely to have much higher property taxes than other less populated counties. Fulton and Dekalb counties have plenty of infrastructure. The problem is that the infrastructure is run more like a charity than a business. Throwing more money at them will not work. It will only feed the beast.
Racer X July 23, 2012 at 05:49 PM
Robert, you are absolutely right. Atlanta needs a plan B. Our plan B was to leave Atlanta which, reluctantly, we did. Now we can send our kids to the public schools that we already pay for. We do miss Atlanta, or at least what Atlanta was several years ago, but we rarely return. It's not the transportation system that keeps us away. I sincerely hope you get a plausible answer to your question.
Rusty Taylor July 23, 2012 at 08:15 PM
How may politicians actually use money for what it is allocated for? If we vote for the T-SPLOST it will NEVER go away!!! It is just more money to waste. What we need to do is MAKE them cut spending and use some of the money that they are already collecting to show that they can be trusted because right now most people do not trust ANY politician.
Billy Wise July 23, 2012 at 10:01 PM
Mayor Kasim Reed's defense of MARTA would be laughable if it were not so pitiful. Reed mentions the "$600M that would flow to MARTA for capital projects." That $539M is to be used for "refurbishing" escalators, lights, electrical distribution systems, etc. This money will not but one mile of track, one rail car, or increased service on existing lines. Thus, that $539M will have absolutely zero effect on reducing traffic congestion in the Atlanta Metro area, it will be wasted. How about the $602M that the Atlanta wants for the Belt Line project. Mayor Reed has been quoted in the AJC saying that the Belt Line has nothing to do with traffic congestion, it's an urban renewal project. Since that $602M will do nothing to reduce traffic congestion, that project is not in keeping with the mandate of the TIA and the money would thus be wasted. Mayor Reed says that critics have not put up any alternatives. There is a viable alternative embedded right in the TIA legislation - come back in two years, after there has been time to study and evaluate the project lists, and have another vote on a less wasteful list of projects.
Jimmy Orr July 23, 2012 at 11:23 PM
Great comment, Rusty. Billy, you would have to go back to April 2008 when the ARC's Transit Planning Board begin to lay out their 2008 Concept Plan 3 Regional Transit Vision. Same , in my opinion, was the forerunner of the rail systems we are seeing proposed on the TSPLOST projects list. You can also go back to the Georgia Public Policy Foundation (GPPF) home page , click on trasportation, and read the scathing article that I wrote May, 1, 2008, for the GPPF about my displeasure at what the ARC's Transit Planning Board was promoting. If you want to go further back, if the article is still available online, you can read the scathing commentary that syndicated columnuist Katy Grimes wrote in The Sacramento Union (now defunct) entitled, "Sacramento's Regional Transit Nightmare." Might surprise you as to who the General Manager was at Sacramento Regional Transit. As I stated in a reply to this article previously, TSPLOST is nothing more than a bailout for the City of Atlanta and MARTA. TSPLOST "ain't gonna" pass muster. No sir, not on my watch. I am not about to cast a vote that would put a ten year taxing albatross around the necks of the taxpayers in our ten county regional transportation district to support rail projects within the City of Atlanta which, as you say, will have zero effect on traffic congestion. It is way past time to implement Plan B. Bottom line. Vote NO to TSPLOST. You won't go wrong.
Robert J. Nebel July 25, 2012 at 11:59 AM
Any future transportation/infrastructure plans ought to include a solid region-wide public/private agreement with accountability, minus cronyism. It's an understatement to say that a common sense plan is a tall order, but it must be done so that this region will be able to compete in the nation and the world.
Clive Spines July 25, 2012 at 09:23 PM
The State of Georgia seems to be doing quite well according to a recent CNBC study which rated Georgia as #3 in the nation for infrastructure. What Georgia and the Atlanta Metro area do not need is more transportation "monuments," like MARTA, Brain Trains, high speed rail lines from Florida to Tennessee, etc. These types on monumental projects consume huge amounts of scarce resources (taxpayer's money) for construction and operation. Nationwide, rail transit systems are failures in that they require enormous subsidies while serving a miniscule portion of the populace. The only public/private agreements should be franchise agreements, with incentive clauses for economical operation, with privately-owned transit companies who are not tied in knots by the strings attached to Federal grant money. Transit can be self supporting, as it was prior to the mid-50's, if only the government will stop meddling with the free market.
Jimmy Orr July 25, 2012 at 09:36 PM
Mr. Spines, AMEN, AMEN, & AMEN!!! Your comment really shucked the corn.
Racer X July 25, 2012 at 10:44 PM
Thank you Clive Spines. Well said.
Rusty Taylor August 15, 2012 at 02:52 PM
Atlanta is #3 for the worst traffic in America and #1 in the south!
Rusty Taylor August 15, 2012 at 03:00 PM
The money for MARTA is paid to the executives!!! Check out some of their payscales!!! This article says it all!!! http://www.atlantaunfiltered.com/2009/04/19/cash-strapped-marta-awarded-114-pay-raises-topping-10/

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