By Matthew Tarleton, Project Manager.
On July 31st, 2012, residents of the ten-county metro Atlanta region can
vote on a referendum to support $8.5 billion in transportation
investments, funded by a one cent sales tax. If you aren’t aware of the
referendum – most frequently referred to as the “Transportation
Investment Act (TIA)” or the “Transportation Special Purpose Local
Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST)” – its implications for the region, or the
projects it will fund, you should take some to do a little research before casting your vote.
There are many great articles, editorials, and research studies
discussing the merits and benefits of the various projects and their
cumulative effect in terms of both traffic relief and economic
development. You can find out more about the measurable impacts by
and can read opinions on both sides of the argument at just about any
of our region’s media outlets. As many of my colleagues from the
business community have done in recent months, I would like to make my
own personal plea and explain to you why, in personal terms, I will be
voting “yes” on July 31st. First a little background on me and the ways
in which I interact with transit, roads, and walkways in metro Atlanta.
I live two blocks from Market Street’s office in Midtown Atlanta. I walk
to work every day, walk to the grocery store, meet our neighbors for
“happy hour” at one of many local bars and restaurants, and rarely leave
the neighborhood. Sometimes I realize that I haven’t left my
neighborhood in weeks and I yearn for a little drive in the car just to
escape and get some time alone. I’m delighted that Market Street’s
offices are located in one of the few parts of metro Atlanta where
thousands can truly live, work, and play. But I know that I’m in the
minority (only 1.3 percent of commuters in metro Atlanta walked to work
in 2010) and I’m thankful that Market Street’s offices are located in a
part of the region that allows me to be in this minority.
Despite this convenience and easy access to two MARTA rail stations, I
often feel like I’m trapped in a little bubble in Midtown. When it
comes to parts of this region that I would like to have access to via
reliable transit, I can think of six areas that I can access via MARTA
rail: Inman Park, Candler Park, Old Fourth Ward/Cabbagetown, Decatur,
Downtown Atlanta, and the airport. The places I’d like to access that I
can’t reach via MARTA rail: West Midtown, East Atlanta/Ormewood,
Morningside, Virginia Highland, Poncey-Highland, Emory, and Peachtree
Hills. And those are just the places inside the perimeter (I-285). I’d
love to be able to avoid 90 minute traffic jams headed north on GA 400,
I-85, and I-75 to visit friends and family that live in surrounding
areas outside the perimeter. I’d also like to have connectivity not
simply between my home and these locations, but between each of these
locations. The BeltLine will help this tremendously, at least between
the locations inside the perimeter.
This past weekend my brother and his girlfriend were in town visiting
from New York. We had dinner reservations at one of our favorite
restaurants, La Tavola, exactly two miles from our condo in Midtown
Atlanta. It’s a bit far to walk – about 45 minutes – and it was raining
torrentially that evening. We took the car. Later in the weekend, we
travelled to West Midtown, also exactly two miles from our condo, and
again, we took the car. In both cases, we could have taken the bus.
There are routes running every 40 minutes from the rail station closest
to our house, and each route takes about 12 minutes to get to these two
destinations. A completed BeltLine would have enabled us to travel to
and from our condo to all of the neighborhoods we visited during his
time in Atlanta. I could have shown him much more of this city without
being confined to the back seat of an automobile.
You can probably see where this is headed.
I’m voting “yes” because I wish I didn’t have to get in that car, pay
for that cab, or wait forty minutes between buses to travel with a group
of friends between the most vibrant neighborhoods in the heart of the
city that anchors the nation’s ninth most populous metropolitan area.
I’m voting “yes” because I expect the ninth largest metropolitan area in
the country and the 17th largest economy in the world to possess a
functional transportation system.
I’m voting “yes” because I know that the ninth largest metropolitan area
in the country will no longer be the 17th largest economy in the world
if we don’t build a functional transportation system.
I’m voting “yes” so that, when I’m 45 years and raising my children here, I don’t regret the decision to raise my family here.
I’m voting “yes” because I understand that, at 30 years old, if I don’t
pay for it now I will pay for it later, one way or another.
I’m voting “yes” because I am more than willing to pay for it now. I’m
willing to pay an extra $180 each year, or $15 each month (yes, I
calculated), to help finance something that is vital to my current and
future quality of life in metro Atlanta. And while I understand that
many in our region cannot afford an additional penny sales tax, there
are many of us that can afford it and many of us that can likely
identify a simple tradeoff. I really like that new show The Newsroom on
HBO and the replays of NFL games on NFL Network (valued by Comcast at
$9.95 and $4.95 each month, respectively), but I like functional
transportation systems more. Sorry Jeff Daniels, we may just have to
catch up on Netflix later. Oh wait, Netflix is only $15/month as well…
I’m voting “yes” because when I think of that additional $180 each year,
I’m also reminded of the fact that delays from traffic congestion cost
the average commuter in metro Atlanta $924 each year and that full
implementation of the TIA’s project list is expected to reduce the
average commuter’s traffic delays by 24%. Do the math. Hint: the
personal ROI is positive.
I’m voting “yes” because I understand opportunity costs. I know that
there may be a time in my life in Atlanta in which personal or career
circumstances may prevent my family from residing close enough to my
place of work or a transit station that I can avoid commuting via
automobile. And if at the end of ten years, the projects funded by the
TIA shave just one minute off my daily commute, that equates to roughly
240 additional minutes (assuming 240 work days each year), or four
hours, of extra time that I’ll have with my family. If the projects
effectively reduce my commute by two minutes, that’s eight hours each
year that I’ll get back. And if they shave six minutes off my daily
commute, which is entirely reasonable for anyone that will travel
through a new and improved interchange at GA-400 and I-285, I’ll earn 24
hours, an entire day, back with my family. And disregarding all other
reasons, this alone is worth the $180 each year.
I’m also voting “yes” because, unlike many intended “no” voters, I don’t
care that the project list isn’t perfect. Let me tell me about the last
time I voted for an elected official and thought “This individual is
the PERFECT candidate!” It was sometime between never and never…I can’t
exactly remember. Our elected officials aren’t perfect and the project
list isn’t perfect. In the case of imperfect candidates, the alternative
is another imperfect candidate. The alternative to a “yes” vote is
nothing. In fact, it’s worse than nothing. It’s regression. And this
region can’t stand any more regression.
And last but certainly not least, I’m voting “yes” because, despite some
disappointments and inconveniences, I really like Atlanta. And I don’t
want it to be the butt of the nation’s jokes. Folks, with the worst
housing market in the country, one the worst job markets in the country,
and some of the worst traffic in the country, let’s face it: we aren’t
So I’m voting “yes” on July 31st because I want this region to be a
better place. It isn’t a perfect project list and it won’t make metro
Atlanta a perfect place. But it will make it better. For my benefit, and
our benefit, I hope we vote “yes” on July 31st.