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Some Information about the T-SPLOST

For those of you not aware, on July 31st, Georgia voters will face a referendum on a one cent sales tax known as the T-SPLOST. The website dedicating to promoting the T-SPLOST gives a little background information on what the tax is:

On July 31, 2012, Georgians will vote on a one-cent sales tax to invest in a specifically identified list of transportation improvements in each of our State’s twelve economic development regions. Each region’s election will be separate from the other eleven regions, and each region’s citizens will determine the fate of a new 10-year Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (T-SPLOST) on all sales in the counties within that particular region.

The T-SPLOST referendum was authorized by the Transportation Investment Act of 2010 (Georgia House Bill 277) which sought a means for Georgia to make the necessary investments into our transportation and highway systems.

Now, before you explore any more of the website, you should consider the obvious pro-T-SPLOST bias the website has that colors its analysis. It’s not just on the internet, though. A drive through the major roads of metro Atlanta would reveal many “Untie [County/City Name]“.

To help counter the propaganda, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation has published a 39 page report (PDF file) analyzing it. Erick has already posted on the subject. He focuses on the graph on page 19 but there’s a section of the report that I think deserves attention as well. In it’s analysis of how the tax will affect Atlanta, the report identifies some notable shortcomings (if you’re not a fan of large blockquotes, scroll down some, there are videos!. Also, the bolding is mine):

Political realities make it impossible to create a perfect project list. However, the metro Atlanta region’s project list in particular has several shortcomings. First, there is no regional framework. Instead of creating a highway grid or a regional transit system, the list contains numerous localcentric projects frequently chosen for political reasons. Despite the requirements, only 44 of the 126 highway projects and 19 of the 32 transit projects are truly regional, affecting multiple cities or counties. Only 87 of the 126 highway projects and 23 of the 32 the transit projects are necessarily related to congestion mitigation.

Many of the highway projects are labeled “operational.” Operational is a vague definition. These projects might improve transportation or offer recreation or economic development opportunities. Without more detail it is impossible to determine the goals of these projects. Several of the road projects and 18 of the 32 transit projects also fail any cost-effectiveness test. Six of the transit projects have other factors such as high cost or utility relocations that are not considered.

Projects also are not geographically distributed in an equitable manner. The city of Atlanta has 10 percent of the region’s population yet receives 27 percent of the funds. Fayette County has only 2.5 percent of the region’s population and 80 percent of county residents work outside the county. Yet Fayette still receives 2.2 percent of the funds. Gwinnett, with almost 20 percent of the population, receives less than 14 percent of the funds, while Cobb has 17 percent of the population and receives 11 percent of the funds. Additionally, projects are not well distributed within city limits. All of Atlanta’s transit projects and 19 of the 28 highway projects are located in the northern half of the city. While the northern half is growing more quickly, the large discrepancy between north and south is troubling.

The project list also dedicates a significant share of the region’s transit funds to rail. As a result of its low density and its large percentage of single-family homes, most of metro Atlanta is a poor market for rail transit. To create successful rail transit, the metro area would have to intensively increase population density. Building rail transit first and hoping that local officials will change density requirements later does not create successful rail systems. That said, even with Atlanta’s low density there are some rail lines that could move significant numbers of people somewhat more cost effectively. Unfortunately, these are not the lines the tax will fund. The transit project that receives the most funding is the Atlanta BeltLine. The BeltLine receives more than 10 percent of the total regional funding. From a transportation perspective, the BeltLine is one of the worst Atlanta projects.

Quite frankly, I like light rail, and I like subways. However, as the T-SPLOST report notes, rail based solutions in general will not work effectively in a city and metro area as sprawled out as Atlanta is.

However, the report does more than just point out the flaws with the T-SPLOST. It does offer a suggestion as to what a responsible and effective plan for fixing Atlanta’s mobility and congestion problems:

An Atlanta project list focused on mobility and congestion mitigation would include a network of upgraded expressways, managed arterials and enhanced Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service. Modifying the Downtown Connector or creating a parallel expressway west of downtown could substantially reduce congestion. The region could benefit from a second east-west expressway. Managed lanes could be added to each expressway, offering free rides to three-person carpools and tolled, reliable travel times to single-occupant vehicles. More importantly, buses and vanpools could use these lanes at no charge, providing reliable travel times. Studies, as well as Atlanta’s experience, show that creating reliable travel times with short headways – greater frequency of service – does more to increase transit ridership than other transit improvements. These managed lanes could also offer guaranteed free-flow conditions to emergency vehicles. Finally, better traffic synchronization, lengthened left-turn lanes and queue jumpers can dramatically decrease congestion on arterial roads.

State Representative for the 35th District Ed Setzler, who has been leading the anti-TSPLOST charge under the Gold Dome, recently sent me an e-mail highlighting three videos that take all the basic criticisms from the GPPF’s report and reduce it to bite-sized tidbits. The first one covers the basics of just why all these advertisements have popped up in metro Atlanta:

The second one compares Atlanta’s particular situation with those of other major cities (going after an issue the T-SPLOST advocates seem to love to hit upon):

The third one explains why bus service is a better idea for most of the metro area:

The folks at TrafficTruth have more information the issue. The site is definitely worth a visit if you live in Georgia.

A T-SPLOST is not a bad idea, in my opinion, but the proposal before Georgia voters would be too costly, too inefficient, and too ineffective at solving the problems the metro Atlanta area faces. It comes across as more of a series of pet projects and short-sighted rail ventures cobbled together by eager-to-please lawmakers lacking the backbone, and probably the clarity of vision, to address the real problems Atlantans face.

Georgia, we can do better than this. Vote “No” on the T-SPLOST referendum this July 31st.

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