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Friday, July 20, 2012

Reed, Fort debate T-SPLOST's congestion fixes, project-selection process, and 'Plan B' — or lack thereof

Atlanta News, Weather, Traffic, and Sports | FOX 5

Last night, Mayor Kasim Reed, one of the biggest boosters for the regional transportation tax voters will decide on July 31, and state Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, one of the measure's biggest critics, sat down with WAGA's Russ Spencer to discuss the T-SPLOST. For 20 minutes. You know us, we love this stuff. The station's made the entire video available, which we've embedded above. A few takeaways from the polite discussion:

* Fort questioned whether the road and transit projects that would be funded by the T-SPLOST would really ease congestion. He also thinks that the process wasn't fair — and that African-American contractors would have a hard time building projects funded by the tax. "Fact of this matter is, 85 percent of this money is going to go through Nathan Deal and the state DOT, which has an abysmal record in using minority businesses." He noted that some industries were able to carve out an exemption to the tax. "They wanted grandmama to go to the grocery store and pay a pennies on their groceries that they didn't want to incur." If the T-SPLOST fails, Fort says, he pledges to sit down with the mayor the following day and start cobbling together a "plan that works." Fort wants the Sierra Club of Georgia, Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation, DeKalb County and Georgia NAACP, all groups which oppose the measure, at the table. (To be fair, these groups weighed in with public comments during the roundtable process. It's not clear if Fort actually wants them to have a vote on a new project list.)

* The mayor said he doesn't "know what world my friend is living in." The transportation projects on the list would ease congestion, Reed said, and create the last-mile connectivity sorely needed to boost transit in Atlanta. He defended the entire year-plus process, which was "bipartisan" and "biracial." He stressed that top elected officials will not want to immediately revisit the divisive issue if the T-SPLOST fails. Even more important, the mayor says, the state and region have lost hundreds of thousands of jobs. Unemployment remains high and even higher in the African-American community. "What we've got to do is focus on where we are right now," the mayor said. "We are a region that was one of the most dynamic in the last 50 years... We have to make decisions that are not locked down in the present, not locked down in issues of race and class.... The nation is looking at our region." He also gives a tip of the hat to Millennials who want more transit.

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