Nine months of forums, ad campaigns and rallies will come to an end next week as voters in metro Atlanta decided on a 1 percent sales tax for transportation.
“Every single day in metro Atlanta 38 percent of individuals cross a county line,” said Dan Reuter, land use chief for the Atlanta Regional Commission, during a June forum. “Sixty-eight percent of [those who] go to a job cross a county line. That’s one of the clearest reasons we have a regional transportation referendum.”
The Atlanta Regional Roundtable, composed of representatives from Atlanta and a 10-county region, voted on a list of $6.14 billion of regional transportation projects after seven months political maneuvering.
Of that amount, there are $1.1 billion in proposed DeKalb County projects, including a $700 million Clifton Corridor MARTA rail that would run from Lindbergh Center to Emory University and a $225 million I-20 corridor park-and-ride bus system that would eventually be converted to high-capacity transit stations.
“July 31 is a very important day not just for metro Atlanta but for the entire state of Georgia,” Reuter said.
If passed, the projected proceeds from the penny sales tax are “going to be able to build projects that really otherwise wouldn’t be able to be built for the next 10 or 20 years at least,” Reuter said. “It’s a big pot of funds to do things that we otherwise would not be able to do.”
Much of the opposition to the proposed tax in DeKalb has come from residents in the southern part of the county who are pushing for an I-20 rail system that connects Indian Creek MARTA station with Stonecrest Mall in Lithonia.
For more than 30 years, residents of DeKalb, Fulton and Atlanta, have paid a penny-sales tax to support MARTA. Opponents say that DeKalb County was promised the I-20 rail three decades ago.
“I know how many promises have been broken over the last 30 years,” said John Evans, president of the DeKalb NAACP. “If somebody keeps promising you something and keeps promising you something, eventually you’re not going to have any confidence that they’re going to deliver.
“We have been asking for rail for 30 years,” Evans said. “And these other counties didn’t want to pay a nickel. Vote no and kill that tax.”
Steen Miles, a former state senator and former member of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Oversight Committee, said she is “absolutely adamantly opposed” to the transportation referendum in its current form.
“In February 1972, the MARTA Act was created by the Legislature and they bought $12.5 million worth of buses, primarily to run down Peachtree Street so that the maids could get to their jobs in Buckhead,” Miles said.
“Essentially, what we’re being told 40 years later, for another penny on top of a penny, is that ‘we are not going to give you anything but buses,’” Miles said. “Aren’t we tired of being in the back of the bus?
“They want to give us BRT: Bus Rapid Transit,” Miles said. “It’s a bus. How many of you are going to get out of your cars for a bus? Not many. It is high time that we get rail down I-20.”
Proponents of the sales tax say that if it does not pass, there is no “plan B.”
“I understand the emotional opposition that we feel to paying a second penny and not having our promises kept, but the alternative is to turn down a billion dollars for DeKalb County,” Jeff Dickerson, a spokesman for the Citizens for Transportation Mobility, an advocacy group that is spending $8 million to urge voters the support the tax.
“I’ve paid the penny tax [for 30 years],” Dickerson said. “And now I’m being asked to pay a second penny. I know the frustration that we all feel of having been asked to pay that second penny.
“We have to consider the alternatives,” he said. “We have the opportunity right now to be competitive with other regions that are investing in transportation….that want to take our jobs and want to take our businesses.
“We have an opportunity to take advantage of a $1 billion investment in our community,” Dickerson said. “What are we going to do if we turn it down? You will never see that [I-20] rail if we turn it down.”
Leonardo McClarty, president of the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce said.
“If passed, it affects us positively,” “There are opportunities that would bode well for DeKalb County.”
The proposed projects address congestion issues in the county, particularly in the Clifton Corridor, McClarty said.
“That is a very important area for the county economically and from a health aspect,” he said.
If the referendum fails, “we’ll kind of trickle along as we have been doing,” McClarty said.