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Stuck!

Voters are conflicted, wondering if the long, winding road of T-SPLOST has led Atlanta
to a transportation solution - or a dead end

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  • Hall Penn/Reader-submitted

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It was the Sierra Club, however, that lobbed the most effective grenade at the project list. In an act that bravely upset some of its own progressive members, the eco-advocacy group that normally was firmly on the side of boosting buses and rails, slammed the proposed package as unsupportable because too little of its funds go to transit. "The project list is too heavily focused on sprawl-inducing road expansion and will have a negative overall impact from an environmental perspective," the group said.

Missing from nearly all the criticisms was a clear explanation of what should happen next once the measure fails — a very real possibility if recent polls are any indicator. And in each there's a misunderstanding of the political realities not just in metro Atlanta, but under the Gold Dome.

Creating a new list of projects if the tax goes down in flames would require another vote by the Legislature. According to an analysis of the law by the Atlanta Regional Commission, the entire process could take as long as four years.

State and local leaders, including Gov. Nathan Deal and Mayor Reed, have made clear that there's little-to-no appetite among state lawmakers to revisit the issue, which has been time-consuming, public, and brutal, if it fails at the polls.

"If that is what happens, then I don't I believe there will be an immediate effort," Reed told CL the day after the project list was finalized. "This moment in the life of the region is as pivotal as anything you and I have seen in our lifetimes. I think what's going to happen is we'll be chasing Mississippi. That's what my T-shirt's gonna say."

Others have suggested that the state should raise the gas tax, which hasn't increased since the early 1990s. Even if that were to happen, the state Constitution stipulates that gas tax revenues can only be spent on roads and bridges. Efforts by the Sierra Club and other greenies over the years to change that stipulation to allow funding for transit have gone nowhere.

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In addition, there's no guarantee that a new roundtable — or the disparate groups now opposing the referendum — could cobble together a better list than what was approved last year. And God help us if we delegate the power to select metro Atlanta's transportation projects to the Legislature. The Senate and House Transportation Committee Chairman hail from Chickamauga and Ocilla, respectively. The Georgia Republican Party, despite a few back-benchers' fuzzy claims that they support commuter rail, has still not shown that its members are serious about investing in fixed-rail systems that would make metro Atlanta a better place to live, save fuel, clean the air, and create walkable, dense communities around stations.

Yet even if the tax passes, it's guaranteed to be challenged in court. At a recent panel discussion hosted by the Fulton County Taxpayers Association, Phil Kent, a GOP pundit and consultant, told the crowd that some anti-tax legal eagles are already preparing a lawsuit.

The T-SPLOST's fate remains a topic of debate. Polls taken during the roundtable process showed approximately 50 percent of metro Atlantans felt something needed to be done to fix the region's transportation mess. But in recent weeks, as efforts to block the measure have begun in earnest, fewer respondents wondered if the project list and the tax was the best way to solve the problem. A steady stream of polls showed support dropping to as low as 36 percent. The bad news helped convince Reed to release an internal poll commissioned by Untie Atlanta that showed support about even. He's jumped into campaign mode to pass the measure.

The reason, to him, is obvious: "I think that it will be very hard for us to maintain our current position as the most significant and leading economy in the Southeast," Reed says. "I really think that's what is at risk."

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DAVID DONNELL/READER-SUBMITTED
  • David Donnell/Reader-submitted

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