On July 31, 2012, the Atlanta region soundly rejected a well-publicized and carefully orchestrated Transportation Special Local Option Sales Tax (TSLOST) which would have funded multiple billions of dollars of projects for the region. While those of us in the shell-shocked transportation advocacy world licked our wounds amidst the clearing smoke on the battlefield, pundits claimed that Atlanta would never get out of its perpetual traffic woes, which became emblematic for the city since the late 1990s.
Much like Phoenix rising from the ashes, however, the transportation community made a magnificent recovery over the last 5½ years. As is often the case, regional TSPLOSTs like this experience defeat the first time around, but victory comes later. In the wake of defeat, numerous groups began talking in ways they had not done before … and as Atlantans are prone to do, they reached across divergent tribes and political jurisdictions, and began to explore other ways that Atlanta could solve its perennial funding problem for transportation. Out of those discussions, Atlanta began its revival.
So, what changed? First, rural and urban (i.e. Atlanta) interests in the State of Georgia came together and under the strong leadership of Governor Nathan Deal, recognized that transportation improvements was something worth tackling. The result of this was passage two years ago of House Bill 170, which is now generating over $1B worth of additional State funding annually for transportation projects. While drivers complain about the orange cones and traffic barriers around our local interstate system, each of these represent projects that would have otherwise stood in line for nearly 20-years before being built otherwise. Under Russell McMurry’s steady hand, managed-lanes are being added all over the region, and major interstate interchanges are being designed and slated for reconstruction within a timeframe not considered possible even four years ago.
Second, Atlanta was fortunate to hire Keith Parker as general manager of MARTA. Under Keith’s capable hand, MARTA’s financial ship was righted, along with significant improvement in both protocol and customer service, resulting in a dramatic improvement of MARTA’s public perception as the way to travel. This had a huge impact on the State Legislature. And Clayton County joined the system, with Gwinnett exploring its options as well.
Third, GRTA’s long-distance bus service proved to be a phenomenal success with over 90+% positive customer service reviews, with clean efficient functioning motor coaches buses that will only become more well used in far suburbs as managed-lanes open around the region.
Fourth, both the City of Atlanta and Fulton County have each passed transportation SPLOSTs which are providing funding to improve both transit and traffic infrastructure around several parts of the metro region. DeKalb County and Gwinnett are not far behind.
Finally, the region has seen a proliferation of Community Improvement Districts (CID) with over 25 CIDs currently in place, with more being in the process of formation. These business-lead self-taxing districts have accelerated design and infrastructure dollars to help speed necessary improvements across the entire range of transportation alternatives, including pedestrian, bicycle, auto, transit buses, and other vehicles in literally every major business-hub within the Atlanta region.
It’s no secret to the economic development planners around the region that nearly 100% of the headquarters prospects looking at Atlanta the last ten years have focused their attention on being close to our heavy-rail transit systems. The success of the Central Perimeter in attracting Mercedes Benz North America, the recent move of WestRock, State Farm establishing its regional headquarters here, NCR in Midtown, as well as countless other companies, only underscores the need for the market response to our improving transportation network.
Would all this have occurred without the failed TSPLOST? Probably in part, but like the mythical phoenix rising from the ashes, Atlanta’s transportation network is reinventing itself as the 21st century unfolds.
Join us on March 7, 2018 as ULI Atlanta hosts a panel discussion comprised of representatives from MARTA, GDOT, GRTA/SRTA, ARC, City of Atlanta, Georgia Transportation Committee and others. This event will discuss transportation issues and upcoming projects from a regional perspective and will encourage robust dialogue between the panelists. For more information or to register, please visit ULI Atlanta’s registration page.