Friday, May 11, 2012

Transit, sprawl, and heckling: a very brief recap of last night's Political Party

Posted By on Fri, May 11, 2012 at 12:24 PM

Ah, so last night's Political Party about the transportation tax to fund more than $7.1 billion of new road and transit projects. Where to begin?

There was discussion. There were inappropriate outbursts and questions prefaced by extra-long statements. There was even a mention of Nancy Pelosi and "Obamacare!" A true town hall! It was nearly impossible for me to take notes, as I was moderating the discussion. (CL Editor Eric Celeste livetweeted the discussion.) But here's a brief sampling of each panelists' views:

• Jeff Dickerson, spokesman for Citizens for Transportation Mobility: The representative from the business community's campaign to persuade voters to approve the 1 percent sales tax said that metro Atlanta needs the tax to pass to boost metro Atlanta's economy and ease traffic. But he admits the measure isn't a panacea: "We can punch holes in this till we're blue in the face. It's not perfect. But we must start somewhere." (He also handled several audience hecklers very well.) MARTA was an investment that was criticized, Dickerson said, but it has become the metro region's transit spine and attracted and handled conventions, tourism, and business.

• Colleen Kiernan, executive director of the Sierra Club's Georgia Chapter: The environmental organization's local chapter surprised many when it announced its opposition to the measure, which it says would fuel sprawl and not adequately fund transit. Kiernan said the region needs to return to the drawing board and put together a new list of projects. She pointed to Seattle, which several years ago rejected a 1 percent transportation tax. One year later voters approved a half-penny measure that funded transit.

• Ron Sifen, Cobb County community activist: The Vinings resident and regular guest columnist for the Marietta Daily Journal agrees that the region needs transit, but thinks that the proposed line between Woodruff Arts Center and Cumberland (which could ultimately stretch to Acworth) would saddle the region with billions of dollars in operations and maintenance costs. His advice: Reject the tax and revisit the plan.

• Brian Leary, president and CEO of the Atlanta Beltline Inc.: If the transportation tax measure doesn't pass, Leary says, the 22-mile public-works project circling the city — which would receive $601 million to build transit along the historic railroad corridor and into Midtown — would go to what he calls "Plan A." That includes the tax allocation district, the local funding source which relies on real-estate development and property values along the Beltline, and federal funding. Waiting two years, Leary said, would be a lost opportunity.

There wasn't nearly enough time for everyone to get the answers they wanted, including me (look for those in next week's issue).

Leave the questions you didn't get to ask in the comments below and we'll do the best we can to get them answered over the next several days. Thank you to the guests and audience members who took time out of their schedules to join us at Atlantic Station. There will be many more Political Parties in the future — including, possibly, another transportation tax discussion prior to the July 31 vote. Get educated and remember to vote.

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