Atlanta-Area Residents to Vote on Tax for Transportation
Commuters battling traffic in the Bay Area or New York might protest, but Atlanta-area traffic seems to be uniquely awful.
For more than a decade, Atlanta has been among the fastest-growing regions in the country, but the road and rail system in a state that ranks 49th in per capita transportation spending just could not keep up.
Hourlong commutes are common, and more than 80 percent of commuters drive alone. Only 5 percent make use of the region’s limited train and bus systems, according to research by the Brookings Institution.
This month, Atlanta-area voters are being asked to approve an ambitious fix that would raise $8.5 billion by adding a penny to the sales tax for 10 years.
The proposal, which bundles 157 projects in 10 counties, is part of a July 31 referendum that will allow voters across the state to decide whether they want a new tax for transportation specific to their region. Voters in the Savannah area, for example, will decide on a $1.6 billion regional package of road and transit improvements, of which $229 million would be spent in Savannah.
The complex regional voting scheme could bring in more than $18.6 billion in new tax money, plus additional federal money, making it one of the largest packages of its kind in the country, transportation experts said.
The approach is also an attempt to thread the political needle in an era when the recession and smaller-government sentiment have made any effort at new public spending, especially one with the word “tax” attached, a Sisyphean task.
“It’s not a good time to be asking people for money,” said Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, which is at the forefront of the campaign to promote the tax.