City, county and regional planners and officials this weekend are expected to pore over a list of road and transit projects totaling $6.5 billion and cut, cut, negotiate and then cut some more. The slate of projects — which are vying for funding from a proposed one-cent sales tax voters will decide next year — must come in under $6.14 billion. A panel of metro Atlanta elected officials is expected to vote on the list Monday morning.
But Fair Share for Transit, a coalition of advocacy groups that want a large chunk of revenues from next year's transportation tax to be devoted to bus and rail, gave elected officials some interesting reading to help them with their decisions. They're asking for the roundtable to spend at least $4 billion of the tax revenues on building bus and rail throughout metro Atlanta — including commuter rail between Atlanta and Griffin and a MARTA rail line along the I-20 corridor. (Currently the tax would only fund park-and-ride lots and bus service.) What's more, Fair Share has identified some ways to free up cash to fund them.
Ray Christman of the Livable Communities Coalition, a smart-growth advocacy group and Fair Share member, says in a must-read letter delivered Friday to committee members that:
* many road projects being considered for funding from the transportation tax already have access to state, federal or other types of cash;
* more than $450 million worth of the proposed road projects aren't even in the region's long-term transportation plan;
* other proposals are local in scope and could instead be paid for with a special pot of cash the tax would generate for cities and counties' specific needs.
"For road projects, the Transportation Investment Act of 2010 offers an alternative funding source," Christman writes. "For transit, it offers the only funding source. On Monday, let’s send a strong signal to businesses, entrepreneurs, young professionals, residents, families and the world that the Atlanta region is serious about building an integrated transportation network."
Christman's letter, which includes links to supporting documents, follows after the jump.
Friday, August 12, 2011
Dear Members of the Metro Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable Executive Committee:
Fair Share for Transit applauds the Roundtable for already identifying transit projects totaling $3.6 billion on the current draft project list for Monday’s vote. But we continue to urge you to push this number higher in order to more fully meet our region’s transit needs.
§ Next year’s sales tax referendum is the only opportunity on the horizon to fund much-needed — and much wanted — transit projects in our region.
§ Fair Share for Transit’s goal of $4 billion for transit represents just 25 percent of the total $16 billion expected to be spent on regional transportation in the coming decade.
§ $4 billion for transit can leverage $1.5 to 2 billion in federal matching funds that otherwise will not come to the region.
What needs remain? The current draft project list:
§ Includes rail transit construction projects whose proposed funding falls short of cost estimates for full build-out, including the Clifton and Northwest corridors and high-capacity rail transit in the I-20 East Corridor (MARTA’s Heavy Rail Extension to Wesley Chapel Road is the current choice; Fair Share isn’t taking sides in the discussion over the merits of heavy rail to Wesley Chapel versus light rail from downtown to Candler Road).
§ Does not include worthy projects such as the downtown Atlanta to Griffin commuter line, leaving no transit commitments south of I-20 other than stretches of the City of Atlanta’s BeltLine and restoration of Clayton County bus service.
§ Leaves other worthy projects such as MARTA North Heavy Rail and the I-85 North Transit Corridor with seed money only.
From the outset, Fair Share has recognized the need to invest in roads as well as transit, but road projects have other funding opportunities. Without TIA funding, on the other hand, transit has no plan for funding. Advocates for projects not on Thursday’s $6.56 billion draft list are right to fear that if they don’t win a spot on Monday’s list, their chances for funding go away for another decade. Monday is the day to seize the opportunity for transit projects that only TIA can make possible.
How can the Roundtable Executive Committee find the money to push transit spending to at least $4 billion while also reducing the entire project list to no more than $6.14 billion? Through the careful reallocation or redirection of money dedicated to projects that have — or should have — other funding sources. Consider, for example:
1. Four proposed projects that are already on the region’s Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), which means that they have non-referendum funding identified. The total potential “savings” is $78 million. (Please see first attachment or link here.)
2. More than two dozen projects that were not identified as Plan 2040 “constrained” priorities. The total cost of those projects is $461.9 million. (Please see second attachment, column H.)
3. More than 40 projects totaling more than $1.5 billion that involve interstate highways, U.S. highways, and state roads, all of which have access to state and federal funding. Consider, for example, collector-distributor lanes for State Road 400 at $200 million and three grade separation projects totaling $135.9 million along State Road 316, where the state is already undertaking — at state expense — other grade separation projects. The state could pick up a greater proportion of the cost of these projects, freeing up scarce TIA funds for other uses. (Please see second attachment, columns I and J.)
4. Projects with limited or no regional significance, remembering that the 15 percent set-aside that will go to counties and municipalities will generate substantial amounts to fund purely local projects. Fulton, for example, can expect more than $22 million annually, Cobb more than $17 million. (See Page 3 in linked document.)
Fair Share does not suggest that projects in these categories aren’t worthy, only that they — unlike transit — already have or will have other sources of funding.
For road projects, the Transportation Investment Act of 2010 offers an alternative funding source. For transit, it offers the only funding source.
On Monday, let’s send a strong signal to businesses, entrepreneurs, young professionals, residents, families and the world that the Atlanta region is serious about building an integrated transportation network.
Thank you for your hard work and many hours in service of our region. We look forward to your vote on Monday.
Executive Director, Livable Communities Coalition, on behalf of the 81 organizations united in asking for a Fair Share for Transit.
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