View of T-SPLOST from Briar Patch: The Commuter Catbird Seat

A selfish take on voting in the July T-SPLOST referendum. Do we need it here? One of a series by the author regarding the role regional transportation should take in building Atlanta's future.

I'm hoping the T-SPLOST referendum will provoke some fundamental questions about how we support suburban commutes while people have begun to choose "closer in", small cities (new or old) or just generally more dense living arrangements – all of which more are more easily served by transit. One example, since we are and will continue to be short of local and state funds, is can we afford to entitle ourselves to unimpeded roads and 30-mile across-the-arc access? Also, take the time to contemplate the things we've been told so often for so long that they have become "conventional wisdom" such as: We "waste" (do you?) 40 hours per year in traffic (that’s only ten minutes a day BTW); reducing congestion will eliminate delays (what about obstructions and accidents); companies won’t relocate here because of our highway congestion (tell that to New York and LA); and best of all, that a sales tax – not bonds, not raised gasoline taxes, not more proportionate federal funds capture – is the most fitting way for taxpayers in DeKalb to help someone in Douglas get to work. However, putting aside all of that philosophical stuff, you might base your T-SPLOST vote on a selfish, local point of view – the view from commuter heaven, the "catbird seat" as the expression goes, here in the Briar Patch.

First, here in the Briar Patch, are your needs URGENT enough to put yourselves in the role of savior for the region? The T-SPLOST referendum is framed around urgency, even if about half of the project list is a yawner. That's why the referendum slogan is the negative "Untie Atlanta," filled with scary warnings about hoards of people descending on the area by 2030 (which doesn't jibe with employers not locating here). Of course, the campaign should be aspirational instead of remedial, converging with the living arrangements, tastes and economic realities of the future—ie: close to work; millennial generational values and energy scarcity. But aspirations don’t create urgency. Anyway, along I-85 and Briarcliff, with all of your advantages, what’s the level of your congestion panic?

Location, location, location…we’re only twelve miles from downtown, so “congestion” is a minor irritation compared to Atlanta OTP, let alone much worse cities. (You don’t even drive into D.C. from twelve miles—you Metro). There may no easier place in the Atlanta region to get around than the Northlake area inside the Perimeter (ITP). Our local rush hour is maybe half as long as most of the region. If you are in the “inside nook” between I-85 and I-285, less than two miles to Shallowford or Northlake Parkway, you not only have freeway options, but also reliever roads Briarcliff, Lavista and “Larryville” Highway—even direct, relatively unobstructed car access to three MARTA stations: Brookhaven, Chamblee and Avondale. Heck—the best way to sneak into Decatur’s downtown if you are with two miles of the Perimeter is East Ponce (optional access via McClendon). Paradoxically, you can go south to go north by using I-85 to get to GA 400, avoiding the Perimeter West—and DOT will be completing the clover is another gift to North DeKalb (not paid for by TSPLOST).

Aside from those physical realities, TSPLOST is just bad policy—it makes taxpayers cut their own throats, needlessly. Without the pro-SPLOST urgency card, the Legislature would have to man up and increase “spending” by floating state bonds and increasing gasoline taxes. In other words, no referendum would be needed. If they spent as much money advocating increased fuel taxes, emphasizing Georgia’s are the lowest in the nation, the idea wouldn’t be a political liability … and before you say it, it’s a dodge claiming that gas taxes cannot be spent on mass transit. They change “inconvenient” laws all the time.

Again, my point is selfishly local—our gas tax bill increase in the Briar Patch would be less than a sales tax increase—and if you must think about the common good—gas taxes are a lot better for the environment. The bottom line question from the perspective of the commuting cat-bird seat is: why should the relatively unimpeded citizens along the Briar-Lavista Corridor bail out gutless elected officials by voting to kick ourselves in the butt? What would make me spend $3,000 to $4,000 (ten years of “pennies”) to add trees and benches along six-lane byways like Dixie Highway? (Streetscape makes up at least 10% of the cost of each suburban surface road project—congestion relief?).

You want really selfish? This is a stretch, but…have you ever considered what better “regional mobility” (as if that’s possible) would do to Druid/Briar’s housing market? What’s our best real estate argument—our CURRENT mobility. If anything, we should hope things get so bad outside the Perimeter that anyone with the means would move here to save gas and their annual “40 hours”. Remember, our property values rise as mobility gets worse in the outer reaches—to be grossly mercenary. So consider that when you wish for things like the Emory/Lindberg light rail line—it is intended to get regional employees to Emory from the outer limits. My take is, if we’re going to “get” a light rail line, let it be a federal decision—don’t ask me to pay to screw myself.

Let this suffice: voting “no” in July doesn’t stop regional transportation improvements, it simply makes the Legislature do its job and take the onus of taxing ourselves off of our backs. It forces elected officials to make tough funding decisions using the means that were designed for them to do so. It takes project selection out of the hands of local politicians and gives it to transportation officials who understand congestion relief and its relationship to economic development.

If anyone can allow that argument to guide their T-SPLOST vote, it’s people in the Briar Patch catbird seat.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jane Stewart June 08, 2012 at 11:05 AM
I don't ride MARTA anymore. Not since the day I was robbed on the train. I'd much rather "waste" some time in the comfort of my own car. How much time are they saying they'd save anyway? You still have to get to where you're going. You have to get to the station, wait for the train and poke your way to where you want to go. It still takes some time to get to work. Not sure where they came up with the time savings.
Bryan Farley June 08, 2012 at 03:23 PM
This was the most backwards article. "Don't pay for it ourselves, just wait until the feds and the state pay for it." Wow really?! Georgia is 49th in transportation spending but we are going to wait and magically they are going to start spending billions on transit and transportation. Or lets get the feds to help even though we aren't willing to help ourselves. We are going to get a ton of money from them! Support the T-SPLOST and get something going to build off of in future years. Or lets vote no and do nothing while traffic gets worse, we lose jobs, and the economy of ATL tanks because everyone is waiting for "Plan B."
Tom Doolittle June 09, 2012 at 07:40 PM
good discussion on the irrelevence and impropriety of the sales tax vehicle for transpo at the other Patch article: http://northdruidhills.patch.com/announcements/metro-atlanta-elected-officials-to-hold-wireside-chats#comments
Tom Doolittle June 09, 2012 at 07:50 PM
The legislature has "decided not decide", abrogating its responsibility to award a budget for transportation. It would rather that Bryan and the rest of us fight each other over throwing money against the wall to see what sticks. The situation clearly has not gotten anywhere near crisis proportions for these chicken hearts. You'll know when it does when they use the tools at their own disposal to work on transportation--the gasoline tax, state bonds and the general fund. Their stupid "no new tax" pledge has them boxed in. This article was intended as a cute way to consider the issue from a local perspective--but also to try to distinguish between paying for a new vision for the way we live (maybe worth the dough)--and a remedial effort to perpetuate an unredeemable way of life (so-called "congestion" relief--your 10 extra minutes on the roads each day).
Tom Doolittle June 14, 2012 at 05:02 PM
Deal's right--he didn't pledge away his right to express an opinion. He pledged AWAY his ability to advocate for ANY other form of funding. Boxed into a corner as all pledges do. Asking people to make decisions for decision makers is cowardice. What do we elect them to do--write referenda after referenda--and leave decisions up to the 15% of registered voters that show up for special elections? Hopefully we vote no just see the cowards squirm next legislative session. Force them to tax--or find better solutions than dolling out dollars and projects to buy votes. Force us to tax ourselves--and we end up hating our neighbors. Cynical and manipulative.


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