In addition to providing millions of dollars to develop — but not build — future MARTA rail expansion and continue planning for a long-delayed commuter rail line between Atlanta and Macon, the T-SPLOST includes several projects that could improve metro Atlanta. Here's a brief look at several, warts and all.
The Atlanta Regional Commission has built a website including information about all 157 projects.
The transformative project that envisions trails, parks, and transit circling the city's urban core would receive $602 million to build 10 miles of streetcar transit along two project segments and connect to MARTA in Midtown and downtown. One would stretch from Piedmont Park to the area around Inman Park before linking with the downtown streetcar currently under construction. The other begins near West End and travels north to Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway, where it would continue intown along 10th Street or North Avenue. Pros: Transit along the Beltline has always seemed far off. Officials say this cash infusion could make rail along the project a reality in five years. Cons: By relying on the sales tax, Beltline officials could delay issuing bonds to pay for project improvements, which means less money going into a trust fund that pays for affordable housing along the project. That's just as an important part of the Beltline as are the parks, trails, and transit. (See update below)
Roundtable members allocated $700 million to build nearly four miles of rail between the Lindbergh Center MARTA station and Emory University. Five stations would line the route. Pros: Consider this: The area including Emory and the CDC is metro Atlanta's largest job center that isn't served by rail or near an interstate. Cons: It's nowhere near as sexy as a rail system, but Emory already operates a free shuttle service that connects to the Decatur MARTA station and other stops. Critics have also pointed out that many potential riders aren't necessarily transit dependent and that the money could have been better spent elsewhere.
Bridges to somewhere
Atlanta would receive more than $80 million to replace three aging downtown Atlanta bridges. Or we could just let them rot.
The T-SPLOST would pay for signal upgrades and improvements on major thoroughfares, including Peachtree Street, Ponce de Leon Avenue, 10th and 14th streets, Howell Mill Road, and Piedmont Road from Martin Luther King Jr. Drive to Cheshire Bridge Road.
After more than two years without public transit, Clayton County residents would finally be able to hop back on the bus. If approved, $101 million would pay for bus service connecting residents to the airport, Clayton State University, Southern Regional Medical Center, and Fort Gillem, the former army base now being eyed for redevelopment, among other locations. Pros: In 2009, one year before shutting down because of budget cuts, transit officials estimated the often-overcrowded buses handled 8,500 boardings every weekday. Sixty-five percent of its riders lacked access to a car and nearly the same percentage used the bus to work. Cons: C-Tran shut down because a majority of Clayton County commissioners were too chickenshit and shortsighted to vote on funding the system. So that means we have to pay for their political cowardice.
MARTA "State of Good Repair"
Broken escalators. Out-of-order elevators. The stalactites made of God-knows-what dangling from station ceilings. If passed, the transit system would receive $600 million to fix some of these problems and repair its tunnels, tracks, and other broke-down parts. Pros: Federal transportation officials don't like seeing systems they fund atrophy. Neither do we. Cons: According to Beverly Scott, MARTA's rock-star general manager, the agency has a backlog of more than $2 billion in such needed repairs.
Should the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority not find cash to continue operating its popular bus system which shuttles suburban and exurban commuters into and out of downtown, it'll shut down next summer. The T-SPLOST allocates $95 million to prevent that scenario. Pros: Ridership on GRTA's "luxury coaches" has increased by an average of 27 percent each year since 2005. Those riders, some of whom aren't transit-dependent, would otherwise drive on the roads, waste fuel, and pollute the air. That's not a good thing. Cons: Remember, this isn't new transit service. It's preservation. Letting GRTA fail would put Republican leaders in the awkward position of leaving constituents stranded or finally paying to help operate transit, which it's never done for MARTA. That conversation is long overdue.
The tax would provide $695 million for "enhanced premium transit service" (think buses) between the Arts Center MARTA station in Midtown, the Cumberland area, Kennesaw, and Acworth. Pros: The route would connect the city and heavily populated northwest metro Atlanta with direct transit. There's a possibility that, depending on ongoing studies and additional funding, that light rail could built in the Hwy. 41/I-75 corridor. Cons: Buses, though useful, won't help spark the dense development needed as Cobb County grows more and more populated. Plus, future officials could roll back express bus systems much easier than they could rail.
Taming Buford Highway, metro Atlanta's most dangerous street
The seven-lane roadway and pedestrian's worst nightmare — according to Transportation for America, 20 people were killed while walking along the street between 1999 and 2009 — would receive $12 million for sidewalks, raised medians, and landscaping between Lenox Road and DeKalb-Peachtree Airport.
PRINT CORRECTION: This piece has been altered to fix an error about bus systems and the potential for transit officials to undo the transit lines.
UPDATE, 5:36 p.m.: An Atlanta Beltline spokesman says "funds from the T-SPLOST would not reduce any funding for affordable housing in any way." He adds that the availability of T-SPLOST funding could allow Beltline officials to use cash from the tax allocation district to support other parts of the project, including affordable housing.