SART Recap: Starting from the Bottom

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Robbie Ashe, Board Chairman of Marta, addresses the Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable audience on October 7. The panel also included Faye DiMassimo Director of Renew Atlanta, City of Atlanta; Brandon Jones, Head of Creative Placemaking, WonderRoot; and Dane Reuter (moderator), CEO, Reuter Strategy, LLC

At October’s SART about the upcoming transit referenda on the ballot, Robbie Ashe, Chairman of MARTA’s Board of Directors, Faye DiMassimo, Director of Renew Atlanta, and Brandon Jones, Head of Creative Placemaking at WonderRoot poignantly stated their cases for what improved infrastructure could do for the City of Atlanta, its MARTA riders and artist community.

On Election Day, November 8, 2016, the second to last question will read “Shall an additional 0.4 percent sales tax be collected in the City of Atlanta for five years for the purpose of transportation improvements and congestion reduction?” The last question will read “Shall an additional sales tax of 0.5 percent be collected in the City of Atlanta for the purpose of significantly expanding and enhancing MARTA transit service in Atlanta?

Both measures are designed to fund upgrades to MARTA and Atlanta’s car, bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

In total, the sales tax in Atlanta would increase from eight percent to 8.9 percent, with all revenue (an estimated $300 million from the 5-year T-SPLOST and $2.5 billion for MARTA over the course of its current contract with the City) going towards the projects listed below, which are based upon a series of guiding principles set forth by Atlanta City Council.

The T-SPLOST project list includes upgrades to:

  • Sidewalks and streetscapes
  • Atlanta BeltLine and Multi-use trails
  • Neighborhood greenways
  • Relay Bike Share
  • Complete streets
  • Signal coordination, and
  • Street, capacity and vehicular improvements.

The MARTA project list includes:

  • Increasing the frequency of existing bus routes
  • Expansion of Atlanta Streetcar/light rail, including the Atlanta BeltLine loop
  • Introducing new bus routes and community circulator service
  • Introducing bus rapid transit on Northside Drive and Metropolitan Parkway, and
  • Extending the heavy rail west from H.E. Holmes Station to I-285.

Of the utmost importance is that the projects are planned with the community at the table early and often, and implemented equitably. “The T-SPLOST project list shares the story of connectivity in Atlanta,” DiMassimo said. “They’re projects that would be ready to go, not just concepts.” The City of Atlanta wants to maintain the public’s confidence during this process, and transparency is key during and after the November vote.

Residents of Atlanta, employees and visitors who depend on a robust and connected transportation network—which includes all of us—should be informed and engaged in the process as these referenda present a generational opportunity to shape our residential and artistic life for years to come.

“The arts industry in Atlanta brings in roughly $2 billion per year,” said Jones. He is also a TransFormation Alliance member advocating for equitable Transit Oriented Development. “That tells us that the arts are a huge part of Atlanta’s culture. But our creatives would need to be making $30 an hour to afford a place to live in Atlanta. [Improved transit] could have an endless impact. How long is their commute? How much time do they get to spend with their family?”

Leading up to and after the referenda vote, these questions and concerns will be critically important for the livability and inclusivity of our city and region.

If approved, the T-SPLOST would take effect on April 1, 2017. This ambitious connectivity project would put 94 percent of all Atlanta residents and 98 percent of the city’s jobs will be within a half-mile of a proposed T-SPLOST, MARTA or Renew Atlanta transportation or infrastructure project.

“We’re a transit company, we’re not going to fix everything in Atlanta, but we can help make it a place where people want to come,” Ashe said, as he urged people to “vote in November to start the dialogue and the process.”

Don’t simply get lost in the presidential election—we have a once-in-a-generation chance to impact our city’s infrastructure and communities, particularly the most vulnerable. This November, start from the bottom (of the ballot).

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