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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Metro officials still need to trim, oh, just about $420 million from transportation-tax list (Update)

Ya know that one-cent transportation tax we've been talking a good bit about? The one voters will decide next year and that, if passed, could raise more than $6.1 billion in funding for new roads and transit? Some of which might include the Atlanta Beltline's long-awaited transit component, a rail line connecting Lindbergh and Emory University, and light-rail between Midtown to Cumberland Mall?

A panel of elected officials meets this morning to decide which roads and transit lines would receive a slice of that funding. But first they'll have to cut nearly $420 million in projects from the crowded list. (Here's a PDF, courtesy of the Atlanta Regional Commission, of what the so-called "roundtable" is working with.)

Staffers from the 10 metro Atlanta counties that would pay the additional tax met Wednesday to try and whittle down the list. Some projects, however, were added during that sitdown. Among them: $100 million in additional funding to maintain MARTA's infrastructure, $58 million in additional funding for the Atlanta Beltline, and $250 million to fund MARTA's I-20 corridor rail expansion. Some DeKalb County residents and officials recently said they'd oppose the tax at the polls if the project wasn't added.

Some things to consider:

* Will the protests of an advocacy group supporting a long-delayed commuter rail line between Atlanta and Griffin help sway the roundtable to reconsider the choo choo, which now sits on a list of "second-tier" projects?
* Will the $250 million allocated for the MARTA I-20 project, which might win DeKalb residents' needed support for the referendum, really build a sufficient transit line — or simply placate the angry masses ? (Keep in mind that the rail line's total estimated cost is $791 million.)
* What projects might see their funding level decreased — or get outright eliminated — to bring the list under $6.1 billion, as required? What needs to be added?
* Is the project list designed to actually relieve congestion, spur economic development, and give metro Atlantans a better quality-of-life? Or to win votes?
* Will the roundtable find common ground and approve the list tomorrow — or work over the weekend right up to the Monday midnight deadline?

Even if we discover the answer to that last question to be "yes," there's still a long way to go. The full 21-member roundtable must either approve or reject the transportation-tax list before Oct. 15. And members have been open that the selected projects could change between now and then.

We're at the meeting and, depending on our Wifi signal, will be spitting out the occasional tweet. Follow the action here. CCTGirl will also be tweeting. Hell, we might even liveblog the nonsense. Because life is crazy and everything is wonderful.

UPDATE, 12:31 p.m.: The roundtable's executive committee voted to give staffers the weekend to pore over the list and see what projects can be cut. They'll reconvene on Monday at 1 p.m. to decide once and for all. Ken Edelstein has a good rundown of what transit projects remain on the table.

Worth noting, regarding the MARTA I-20 project I mentioned above: MARTA officials tell me the $250 million would go toward building four park-and-ride lots and providing bus service — in other words, the seeds of a future rail line. One official compared the project to some of MARTA's newer transit stations, which he said began as park-and-rides and bus routes and only later received rail service.

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