In conjunction with this morning’s State of the Region breakfast, the Atlanta Regional Commission published the results of the 2014 Metro Atlanta Speaks survey. Over 4,200 people in the ten county metro Atlanta area responded to the 24 question survey that focused on the region’s quality of life. Topics covered in the survey reflect the Commission’s main focus areas of transportation, water supply, education, and lifelong communities.
What’s on the minds of the people in the region? Transportation, for one. 24% of respondents thought that transportation was the most pressing issue facing metro Atlanta, followed by the economy at 20% and a tie at 17% between education and crime. And, when asked what the best long term solution would be to address transportation issues, the most popular answer was to expand transit, with 42% choosing that option, followed by 28% wanting improved roads, and 21% supporting live/work/play communities where people could live close to work. Support for more transit options was highest in Clayton County, followed by Gwinnett and Rockdale. Support for live/work/play communities was strongest for millennials under age 25, while improving the highway infrastructure was strongest in the outer counties of Henry and Cherokee.
Digging in a little further, respondents were asked about the importance of an improved public transit system, which would include both buses and trains. Throughout the region, 92% felt improved transit was very or somewhat important. That included 96% of Clayton County residents, 95% of those living in Fulton County, and 93% in DeKalb County. Cobb and Gwinnett each had 90% support for better transit options.
The support for an improved transportation system with both road and transit options in the region contrasts sharply with the results of the 2012 TSPLOST, which crashed and burned. Post mortems on the TSPLOST found city residents not wanting to pay for highways in the outer counties while those in Gwinnett, Fayette and Cherokee counties resented their tax dollars paying for transit in the city. Many criticized the Rube Goldberg like list of projects that didn’t look like they could fix the problem, and of course, no one was looking forward to the sales tax that would be levied to pay for it all.
Yet, the issue hasn’t gone away.
In the last legislative session, a Transportation Study Committee was formed in part to determine how to fund the state’s transportation needs. A year ago, Gwinnett residents passed a continuation of the county’s SPLOST that will pay for some of the projects that had been on the TSPLOST to-do list out of local funds. Cobb Countians voted to pass that county’s SPLOST last week, some of which will be used to fund transportation infrastructure around the new Braves Stadium. Clayton County became the first new county in 40 years to join MARTA, and its residents will begin paying an additional 1% sales tax in exchange for bus service now, and rail service down the road. And in Forsyth county, which is not in the ten county ARC region covered by the survey, almost two thirds of voters agreed on a $200 million transportation bond issue that will pay for, among other things, widening Georgia 400, the main artery running through the rapidly urbanizing county.
In a state where the Republican Party passed a resolution opposing regionalism, counties acting on their own to fund transportation projects is a good sign. Yet, it’s clear that as a region, there is still an interest and need for improving the transportation infrastructure. That’s especially true for transit, as State Senator Brandon Beach illustrated last year.
Look for this issue to be on the table again during the 2015 legislative session.