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T-SPLOST: An Olympic-Scale Transformation?

Mentioning the Olympics only makes T-SPLOST look puny when trying to drive "yes" votes.

I travelled with fifty or so Northlake residents and community leaders to the Chick Fil-A headquarters in College Park this week, invited by Brad Spratt, the Northlake store operator for what is known as a “Backstage Tour”--about 8:30 AM. A great idea for community-building, establishing Chick Fil-A as the “Disney” of fast food.

As is the case every day, I witnessed the parking lot that is I-285 West toward Spaghetti and the Platinum Triangle (Perimeter Center to Galleria). This is clearly the worst congestion for both rush hours in DeKalb County. What is in TSPLOST to beat that crap? Zilch. Maybe the GA 400 improvements will affect it marginally in only one direction. TSPLOSTs contribution to transit down I-85 from Gwinnett to Doraville is for planning only—so work is 20 years out.

I mention I-285 to I-20 as only one example of what is clearly a problem of “regional significance” that won’t get worked on in any meaningful way by TSPLOST.  DeKalb should vote “no” for the South to North problem alone.

OK—that’s the project Rant of the Day. Now to the latest crime by the $250,000 TSPLOST PR monster.

The TSPLOST elite have taken their obvious panic to a new level of cynicism—although it shouldn’t be a surprise. They recently trotted out the generally respected Billy Payne, former head of Atlanta’s 1996 Centennial Olympic Games just as the 2012 edition is about to start in London—to charge taxpayers to “meet the challenge”—of taxing themselves. TSPLOST is apparently our next “Olympic moment”, the opportunity to continue our rise as an international capitol—even if the message comes in negative form—a warning that we will absolutely, definitely fall into provincial obscurity if we don’t meet our “responsibilities”.

Hasn't Atlanta clearly been a congested area since the last half of the 1990s (it hasn’t gotten much worse since 2000)? Curiously, our international enterprise has increased unabated. Apparently, the worldly and well-travelled view congestion as simply the cost of being globally relevant, as in London, New York and worse, Changhai—cities busting at the seams with commerce. In fact, we hear nothing from Atlanta’s increasing number of consulates (the same ones invoked by Master’s Tournament Chairman Payne) about the impending economic disaster that a “wasted” 9.6 minutes a day on our roads that congestion would bring. Foreign officials aren’t real vocal about troubles getting out of their driveways. However, you may find them giggling in their home languages at the silly Americans who insist on living 20 to 30 miles from their workplaces.

Ironically, instead of charging people up by invoking the Olympics, the relevance of the Olympic effort to TSPLOST might be lost on people. The Centennial Games and “Untying Atlanta” are apples and oranges. The Olympics may have been a tough sell for a while, but at least it was clear what was being sold—and it was big, bold and promised a clear dividend, possibly in perpetuity. TSPLOST? Not so much. The message isn’t selling because there’s nothing to sell. It confuses necessity with vision, remediation with aspiration. Road dogs say transit doesn’t “remediate” congestion—and is “only” for economic development. Transit fans and visionaries say “exactly, we need to build for a most certain paradigm shift.” Both sides are wrong about using a regional sales tax for their priorities, but they point to the right answer.

If you want to drive home the relevance of the Olympics to funding transportation, use the Games to invoke a transportation SYSTEM, heavily dependent on transit—then sell THAT (and finance it) the way nonprofit private sector organizers sold the Olympics. How was the Olympic effort organized? As a philanthropic venture. It started with pretty pictures, paid for by donations and ended up with concrete in the ground paid back with event revenues. There was a bunch of seed money for stuff in between, but you get the drift. Will the public need to pay SOMETHING for a transformative system? Of course, but if you continue with the Olympic theme, not taxed BEFORE any work was done—and taxation is only part of the overall finance scheme.

That’s a completely separate notion to making roads work better. Leave road improvements to state revenues (including gas taxes—increased if need be), the way they’ve always been paid—and realize we just can’t have as much anymore. Just don’t trot out the Olympics for something as mundane as building roads.

BTW—you’ll know how banal the whole TSPLOST effort has always been by the puny turnout that this so-“special” election will bring out, even with three months of interrupted press and four or five other fairly important measures on the ballot.

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