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.