Rob Brawner serves as the Executive Director of the Atlanta BeltLine Partnership, the nonprofit organization that enables the Atlanta BeltLine project by raising private and philanthropic funds, engages the public through programming and outreach, and empowers the residents of the 45 Atlanta BeltLine neighborhoods through targeted partnerships in the areas of health, housing and economic opportunity.
City of Atlanta residents are casting a historic vote that will impact our quality of life, economic competitiveness, and physical health for generations. It is not the vote for President. It’s actually not just one vote – it’s two. And – as if the electoral powers-that-be wanted to save the best for last – these two votes appear at the very bottom of the ballot.
The referenda on Atlanta transportation and MARTA expansion would authorize a four-tenths of a penny local option sales tax for transportation (TSPLOST) and half-cent MARTA sales tax, respectively. Together they would provide more than $2.8 billion for a comprehensive set of citywide transit and transportation projects that would provide new mobility options and enhancements. These votes are an opportunity to profoundly improve the way we travel to our jobs, schools, and stores.
The City of Atlanta gained 40,000 residents between 2010 and 2015 – growth that hasn’t been seen in more than 50 years. Our new neighbors are adding to our city’s liveliness and livelihood. But without changes to our infrastructure, more people will diminish our quality of life. To remain economically competitive and to enjoy a thriving city, we must build transportation infrastructure to support our current residents – and the new residents projected to grow our city to 1.3 million by 2050.
The projects that would be funded include $66 million to acquire and light the remainder of the 22-mile Atlanta BeltLine corridor – and the local funding required to build Atlanta BeltLine transit. Thanks to strong political leadership from Mayor Reed, Atlanta City Council, and the Georgia Legislature, we have an unprecedented opportunity to ensure the Atlanta BeltLine vision is realized. We cannot afford to waste it.
While the Atlanta BeltLine is at the physical and inspirational core of the City’s transportation network, the investments that would be made extend well beyond the Atlanta BeltLine. In fact, 94 percent of all Atlanta residents and 98 percent of the city’s jobs are within a half-mile of a proposed transportation or infrastructure project funded by the TSPLOST, MARTA sales tax or Renew Atlanta bond approved in 2015. Investments in MARTA rail extensions and infill stations, complete streets with improved sidewalks safely accommodating cyclists and pedestrians, multi-use trails and neighborhood greenways, light-rail transit providing last-mile connectivity, expansion of bus service and the city’s bike share program, synchronized traffic lights, and more will greatly improve transportation access and options for all of Atlanta’s residents and visitors.
Building great cities in an equitable manner requires comprehensive solutions and diverse funding sources. Transportation costs are the second highest household expense according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Far from representing a choice between ensuring affordability and funding transportation, these votes are a critical opportunity to support families’ ability to access employment, education, and food without the expense of a car. The TSPLOST and MARTA funding will be enhanced with the advancement of policies like inclusionary zoning, permanent affordability, and the establishment of a housing trust fund – but mobility is not secondary to affordability; it is an inherent part of it.
This is our chance to physically connect a city that for too long has been divided by highways, rail lines, race and class. With this funding, we can create a healthier city, where people walk to the store, bike to work, and exercise outside. We have an opportunity to invest in continued economic growth, as companies continue to locate jobs where employees and clients can access them via transit and trails. We can ensure a sustainable, economically, and culturally vibrant future. You can help secure this future by voting yes (twice) for the TSPLOST and MARTA Sales Tax.