By Brian Gist
For too long, transportation in Atlanta has been synonymous with driving, with plenty of cars and congested roads, but few other options. Transit service has been notoriously infrequent or unavailable in many areas, making metro Atlanta among the worst in the country for the ability to access jobs via transit. Sidewalks desperately need repair and those willing to brave the traffic on two wheels know all too well that our roads weren’t designed with bicyclists in mind.
But a new day is dawning. The city’s population is increasing for the first time in decades and is expected to continue growing. Businesses are relocating to the city center, both from around the country and elsewhere in the region. Construction cranes are building mixed-use developments and city streets bustle with activity.
But evolving beyond the auto-oriented growth model and expanding transportation choices to prepare Atlanta for tomorrow will take money today.
When City of Atlanta residents go to the polls this election season, they will be presented with two referenda questions that could help build the city we want. At the end of the ballot, after all the candidates and the constitutional amendments, voters will be presented with two transportation funding questions. Although municipal tax decisions may not be the most headline-grabbing issue this election season, the outcome of these referenda could shape Atlanta’s future trajectory.
The first question is whether to increase the sales tax dedicated to MARTA by 0.5%. The revenue from this increase would pay for the largest expansion of transit in Atlanta since MARTA’s inception and would include new rail lines, enhanced bus service, and improvements to stations throughout the city. The second question is whether to dedicate a 0.4% sales tax for five years to fund scores of transportation projects: the Beltline, sidewalks, bike lanes, multi-use paths, and modernizing traffic signals, to name a few.
Together, these complementary referenda would fund a transformative investment in the City of Atlanta’s transportation infrastructure and shape what the city looks like for years to come. These two referenda will fund the projects we need today: the new rail lines, the enhanced bus service, the sidewalks, and the Beltline. But investing in transportation choices will also serve as a down payment on what we want Atlanta to become.
Even with these referenda, there is more work to do. The city must continue addressing its maintenance backlog and commit to additional, necessary investments in sidewalks and bicycle infrastructure. We must continue with the planning, zoning and land use efforts underway to position these new projects for success. And we must implement anti-displacement policies to ensure that our current residents can afford to live in the city if these transportation improvements are made.