A Conservative Case for TSPLOST

With the referendum days away, a voice of support from an unexpected corner of the political spectrum.

Here is an op-ed piece from the executive director for The American Conservative Center for Public Transportation providing an out-of-state point of view in favor of Tuesday's Atlanta Regional Transportation referendum, or TSPLOST. Untie Atlanta, the pro-transportation referendum group funded by Citizens for Transportation Mobility, released its final ad on Thursday. The ad features real people from around the Metro Atlanta region explaining why they support TIA.

An Open Letter to Atlanta

By Glen D. Bottoms

On July 31st, you, the good citizens of the Atlanta metro area, get the opportunity to vote on a measure that would raise over seven billion dollars (over a ten year period) for highway and transit projects throughout the ten county metropolitan area. This is a momentous occasion that may determine whether Atlanta moves forward to invest in critical transportation infrastructure or begins to slide toward mediocrity and despair over its inability to achieve a simple 50% consensus to address what may be the nation’s worst traffic congestion.

Growing up 90 miles from Atlanta, I have always had a keen interest in Atlanta affairs. I’ve followed the city’s robust journey through the years, from the emerging years of the 1950’s to the congestion filled region that it has become today.

I despair over the decision of the local chapters of the NAACP and the Sierra Club to oppose the proposal because it does not address their parochial concerns. Indeed, they have proven the adage that “perfect is the enemy of good.” If it doesn’t give me everything I want, then I won’t support it. WII-FM (What’s In It For Me) is always broadcasting. I despair over the attitude that many Atlanta residents complain that the list of projects painstakingly chosen do not affect them or serve their neighborhood or community. No person (or community) is an island. Atlanta’s future will live or die on the health of its transportation arteries. As the transportation network becomes increasingly sclerotic, Atlanta will wither and stagnate. Am I too pessimistic? Maybe.

Atlanta is in competition with countless other cities in this nation and around the globe for business opportunities, relocating firms, and expanding economic activity. Those cities that “get it” and make the necessary transportation investments to insure the mobility of their residents will prosper. Atlanta is in great danger of missing that train. Need I mention the progress that Charlotte, NC is making? 

Many Atlanta residents lament that they don’t trust their governments to spend this infusion of funds wisely, that promises made in the past haven’t been kept.  I note that Governor Nathan Deal has recognized this feeling and moved to eliminate tolls on Georgia 400, which had been promised over twenty years ago when the highway opened. I applaud his bold move. Voters also see what the one cent increase will buy. Not vague promises, but concrete ones.

Atlanta didn’t get in this mess overnight and it won’t climb out of this mess quickly. But, this referendum can be the start of something good. Transit in the Atlanta area has clearly been underfunded for decades. MARTA is the only major transit system in the nation that receives no state money. When I hear residents say that transit doesn’t benefit them, that they don’t have access to transit, I think, well, what would you expect when the overwhelming transportation investments in this region have been for highways? 

Now, the automobile isn’t going away and will remain the preponderant mode of transportation. The suburbs aren’t going away either. An economically strong Atlanta requires transportation investment in all areas of the region. The mix of projects (52% transit; 48% highways) may not meet the goldilocks test but it does reflect what thousands of citizen meetings across the region have pounded out. Sounds like democracy at work to me.

To those who say no to raising taxes for any reason, I say this is a recipe for disaster. I’m for low taxes, a friendly business environment, and less government. I also think that transit is good for our national security, reducing our dependence on foreign oil over the long term. Yes siree. But let’s be realistic, if we don’t have the necessary resources, critical transit projects won’t get built, critical highway improvements won’t get built. And getting around Atlanta in the not too distant future will make today look like a cakewalk.

As a conservative and if I lived in Atlanta, I’d vote for a future that contributes to the economic strength and vitality of the region. That means a YES vote. You, the residents of the Atlanta region, don’t need to vote on July 31st like your lives depend on it, just your livelihoods and future prosperity.  

Glen Bottoms, a native southerner, serves as executive director for The American Conservative Center for Public Transportation in Arlington, VA and endures Washington, DC traffic congestion all too frequently.

Ken Cook July 29, 2012 at 03:10 PM
The TEA Party also opposes the HUGE TAX and an outsider RINO who writes an opinion really shouldn't have much affect on the outcome of the vote especially when they represent an organization which stands to directly profit from this huge tax. MARTA is all but a failure. The high capacity lanes were a joke and the idea to tax people for using "express" lanes is also a dismal failure. The issue is not the traffic the issue is the same old cronies who have run the traffic system in metro Atlanta from failure to failure. All you need to do to litmus test this huge tax is to see who is spending the most money on the very frequent television and radio advertisements and ask yourself, "Why does a coalition of construction companies and profiteers pour so much money into trying to hype this HUGE TAX?" The answer is clear - they stand to make BILLIONS in profit and I truly question whether they are capable of even delivering a system worthy of such a great city. VOTE NO to one of the biggest taxes in America right here in your own home. Demand a real solution with realistic costs and let the profiteers who attend meetings you've never heard of stew in their failed early investments. This MASSIVE TAX is to benefit THEM ... not US.
Catherine S July 29, 2012 at 04:47 PM
What's suppose to catch your eye in this post is the word "conservative", hoping it will sway voters who might ordinarily be turned off by big government spending and new taxes. In this case, "conservative" doesn't mean fiscally conservative, belief in limited govt, or in rights of the individual. The ACCPT was established by the American Ideas Institute (and Mr. Bottoms, the post's author, recently retired from 25 yrs with the Fed Transit Admin). Mr. Lind, Mr. Bottoms' colleague, and Director of The ACCPT notes this on their website: " “The American Ideas Institute’s American Conservative Center for Public Transportation will be a strong and effective advocate for a robust public transportation system. The Center will work to establish a conservative voice for enhanced public transit, including both urban and intercity rail. Conservatives have traditionally supported a strong national defense, and nothing is more essential to America’s security than reducing our dependence on automobiles powered largely with imported oil. Improved public transportation can be an effective partner in this process, with technologies, especially electric railways, that have been tested and proven in more than a century of service.” So, The ACCPT would like us out of our cars, and into transit. Just like the DC "land-use" expert Chris Leinberger, brought in for the AJC PNC Bank TSPLOST Forum. Funny how the pro-TSPLOST billboards aren't quite so clear about this. Vote NO
Jeff Clauser July 30, 2012 at 01:09 AM
Every large, world class city I have ever been in, from New York to Paris to London to Tokyo, has a huge mass transportation system. If Atlanta wants to join these cities and the rest of the world in the 21st century then you need to push for a large system. Or, you can close your eyes and stick your fingers in your ears and ignore the problem like conservatives do with most problems.


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