Regional Solutions v. Local Interests: Why T-SPLOST is now T-LOST

The issue that may ultimately doom the statewide T-SPLOST is the clash between the need for regional planning and the ultimate self-interest of rational voters. An economically-rational voter might consider the benefits he or she will derive from their extra penny sales tax and decide it’s not worth the cost.

I think this is part of what underlies the widespread opposition of commenters on this blog, where any post mentioning TSPLOST becomes an opportunity for MARTA-bashing by OTPers, and for “we’ve been paying for it for 40 years now it’s your ” by the smarter and better-looking denizens of intown neighborhoods. I’ve been guilty of that last part myself, not just in regards to MARTA but also Grady Hospital.

In the 1990s, this dynamic played out along Johnson Ferry Road, where Cobb County residents pushed for widening in order to ameliorate rush-hour traffic but Fulton homeowners opposed the widening that threatened their front yards and homes.

With respect to the Atlanta metro area, we should understand that the benefits of a project are not necessarily constrained to its immediate area, but ramify outwards as bottlenecks are relieved, or demand sated elsewhere. OTPers who travel intown or across 285 benefit from the cars taken off the roads by MARTA, regardless of whether they ever step foot on bus or train. However, this type of benefit does not translate across larger regions, such as northwest Georgia where traffic hotspots tend to be local, population density lighter and the areas where transportation improvements receive more money are farther away.

17 comments

  1. bsjy says:

    While NIMBY issues may explain some of the opposition, it does not fully explain opposition to yet another tax. At its core, the T-SPLOST is yet another tax, and the government at all levels has demonstrated it is a poor steward of tax revenues. Transportation is particularly susceptible to white elephant projects that “everyone” (which is to say everyone Maria Saporta chooses to quote) supports. The Beltline, a college kid’s homework project, is repeatedly demonstrated to meet no need but gets millions in funding irrespective of the fact that it cannot actually form a beltline nor does it serve primary business centers. It is a solution in search of a need, and that kind of thing we will no longer tolerate. The Streetcar (named Desire to be like Portland) is another expensive transportation project that is economically unjustified. Taking up precious space on a highly used road, it will move at a speed slower than the road traffic and will run during the business day, which makes it completely useless as a mass transit option because it is too slow and too late to get to work on time. And what about that other great idea, the high speed train to either Macon or Chattanooga? All eleven inter-city commuters making either of those treks daily will benefit, but nobody else needs it. Atlanta taxpayers might support roads but Atlanta tax allocators refuse to invest in them. Enough Atlanta (and Georgian) voters have participated in the public events and read the public documents that they can see these “popular” projects are pet projects of an elite clique of planners, and their projects are being rejected in the general rejection of technocratic elites we see playing out across the nation.

    • It’s only another penny. Just forget about that last penny… and the one before that. And all those other pennies you send to various places.

      Furthermore, it seems odd to me that we have a company that makes a maglev system in Cobb and I believe one of the reports I read about them says they can implement entire systems for $20M per mile or some ridiculous number like that. I wonder how that compares to the nearly $900M for 13 miles that is in the proposed T-SPLOST to run to Cumberland?

      • BabyCorvid says:

        David – you forgot to add in the feasibility studies on sustainability. that costs at least $800 million per mile.

        then add a few more million dollars per mile to buy off and entertain the various stake holders (a/k/a politicians and backscratchers)

  2. griftdrift says:

    “It is a solution in search of a need, and that kind of thing we will no longer tolerate.”

    So what is the need and what is your solution?

    Let’s all roll down the rabbit hole once again.

  3. Junius says:

    We are seeing the problem with one party government. The GOP, due to its omnipotent control, can ignore the left and center and drifts to the right to placate potential primary opponents. Thus any solution to our transport problem that relies on government funding is doomed. With the base, only for-profit private “partners” pass the smell test. Of course, transport is not a money maker or someone else would have done it all along.

    So the only the solution the GOP legislature could ideologically support was to pass the buck to the public – on the primary ballot ; ). The TSPOLST will now suffer the death by a thousand cuts that anyone would expect from a complicated, expensive proposal being worked over by the general public. The GOP should have, and perhaps did, see this coming and owns this big time. But, alas, as was the case with the lack of a state wide trauma network, failure to address the problem will really have no political blowback. As long as there are other, more emotional and divisive issues the GOP can run against the inner-city welfare loving Democrats on, these failures will go unpunished.

    • Todd Rehm says:

      My point, though, is that you see the same dynamic playing out in other regions, only it’s not MARTA that’s being questioned, it’s expenditures in another, far-flung county that don’t benefit home county taxpayers.

      In the GPB article linked in the post, it talks about Whitfield County, which would collect $169 million in sales taxes, and have only $36 million returned to the county in projects.

      In the east Georgia region, Augusta citizens are balking at 40% of the total proceeds of the penny tax being used to fund improvements in the Central Savannah River Area.

      But if we just go back to every county gets back what it puts in, what’s the use in having regions in the TSPLOST in the first place? Why doesn’t every individual county have its own transportation penny tax and spend it as they wish? Now we’re back to square one and a lack of cross-county planning.

      • griftdrift says:

        “But if we just go back to every county gets back what it puts in, what’s the use…”

        Which goes right back to your apt analogy of the Johnson Ferry War.

        • 22bons says:

          Actually no. The Johnson Ferry War is not relevant in ex-urban and rural Georgia. In my region not a single one of the included projects is anything like the Johnson Ferry Project. The projects are local in nature while the funding is regional — in which case it makes no sense to take a regional approach. If a local county or city wants to fund a project, let them do it without requiring they ask their neighbors for permission.

          • Todd Rehm says:

            I think the point that griftdrift and 22bons make together is that what metro Atlanta needs and what other regions need are not the same thing.

            If you were talking about a region in the mountains getting together and doing something like the Blue Ridge Parkway through seven counties, maybe the regional approach makes sense.

            But what some rural areas need is not so much more interstate/state highways, but they may desperately need one or two intersections cleaned up. That may not make sense as part of a regional plan, but it’s the greatest transportation need for the area.

          • griftdrift says:

            Let me explain my point clearly. Maybe even step by step lest someone think that I might confuse the needs of the Johnson Ferry Crossing with the US 19 interchange at the Dougherty / Worth county line.

            Of course I understand there are different needs at different locations.

            My point is in resolving transportation needs, communities have to be able work together to solve knotty problems like the Johnson Ferry crossing.

            Of course that doesn’t matter to people who believe you don’t have true “local control” unless all decisions are made at your property line.

            • Todd Rehm says:

              I understand your point. My point is that cross-county monkey knifefights seem to be be much more of an issue in Metro Atlanta than in anywhere else in the state.

              • griftdrift says:

                Three reasons why.

                1. Density. More people. More traffic. More conflicts.

                2. Much like the hurricane, more media = more hype.

                3. Major arteries in the rural areas are state roads. They come under the purview of the DOT.

  4. benevolus says:

    This area is very likely going to keep growing. More population means we need more jobs, which require more transit of some type. These types of projects aren’t necessarily designed to solve today’s problems, but the problems that will exist 10 or more years from now. But you can’t wait until 10 years from now to begin the project.

    Unless one thinks growth is bad. Let Birmingham or Chattanooga grow. We can be like those northeastern cities that are losing population.

    • saltycracker says:

      Certainly a sound argument for “vote for it & we’ll let you know what you might get (TSPLOST & traditional fundings) by say….2012 planning…..maybe”

  5. Todd Rehm says:

    Ladies and Gentlemen,

    when we say “my area” or “this area” it is helpful to give a general idea where you’re speaking of.

    A county between Atlanta and Gainesville might have different needs from a South Georgia County between the coast and Alabama.

    The first of those may need to think in terms of growth over the next ten-to-twenty or more years, while rural south georgia maybe not so much.

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