15 Sep 2014
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Buckhead Asked to Support Penny Sales Tax for Transportation

The biggest prize for Buckhead in exchange for a proposed citywide 9 percent sales tax rate is Piedmont and Roswell Road works and bus rapid transit.

Buckhead Asked to Support Penny Sales Tax for Transportation

The biggest prize for Buckhead in exchange for a proposed new citywide 9 percent sales tax rate is Piedmont and Roswell Road works and bus rapid transit. But a key adviser to Mayor Kasim Reed says a yes vote on that new penny — to be levied across 10 counties to pay for transporation projects — would make metro Atlanta more competitive.

"There is a four to one payoff," from the tax spending worth $7.4 billion over 10 years, Tom Weyandt, senior policy adviser for transportation in the mayor's office, told the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods Thursday niight.

It comes in construction jobs, fewer hours in traffic and less pollution, plus permanent jobs fostered in a more pleasant atmosphere, according to  calculations by the planners at the  Atlanta Regional Commission whom he cited. Indeed, it should break even by 2026, just four years after the end of the tax, he said.

Relatively simple changes like fixing turning lanes and coordinating the timing of traffic lights can make roads as much as 40 percent more efficient, Weyandt said.

The tax would fund a  list of 157 major projects across 10 counties already approved by regional leaders. Under current law, that list cannot be modified.

In Buckhead, the money would add or convert lanes to accommodate bus rapid transit on parts of Piedmont and Roswell roads from the city limits to the Lindbergh MARTA station. That, plus other signal, turning lane and pedestrian improvements would cost $50 million.

The city's marquee projects are a bit farther south than Buckhead, in streetcars and MARTA funds, according to Weyandt's presentation to a meeting of some 20 people at the BCN meeting.

"It's the first time ever the region as a whole has contributed to MARTA," if the tax passes, said Weyandt. The transit system receives a penny from sales tax in Fulton and DeKalb, but no money from the state or other counties. The plan channels $600 million to MARTA maintenance.

There's another $600 million for streetcars to network downtown, Midtown and points on the Beltline.

Ten counties are lumped into one "region" for the vote. Its passage depends on a majority of votes regionwide during the general primary on July 31 this year.

Exactly 15 percent of the $7.4 billion will be redistributed to the region's counties and cities based on their population and road miles, to spend as they decide.

That's about $9.5 million annually for Atlanta. The city's first-five-year local list should be ready for city council discussion by May, Weyandt predicted.

That list is set to be split among three pots, he said: very small projects divvied up by council district, matching funds for outside grants and works on city-owned roads.

But that third category "seems flawed off the bat if you're not working on arterials," opined Jim King, chairman of the BCN. Roads like Powers Ferry are primarilly a state responsibility.

Weyandt acknowledged that the draft idea is, indeed, not to prioritize state roads. But he added that the drafting isn't done yet and asked that people e-mail him suggestions at tiacomments@atlantaga.gov.

Most of the e-comments so far, he said, are from people who want more bike improvements.

The tax would begin on Jan. 1, 2013, and last until $7.4 billion is collected or for 10 years, whichever is shorter. The $7.4 billiion is in 2012 dollars, not adjusted for inflation.

If the vote fails, road and bridge work funding would remain a function mostly of state and federal gasoline taxes. Georgia has  nearly the lowest gasoline taxes in the country. 

The Metro Atlanta Voter Education Network and Citizens for Transportation Mobility, a pair of organizations that began life in 2010 under the same roof as the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, recently began a public campaign in favor of the tax.

The 10 counties of the region are Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, Cherokee, Gwinnett, Rockdale, Henry, Clayton, Fayette and Douglas.

All figures in this story are 2012 dollars.

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