Sunday, May 2, 2010

TSPLOST Awaits Governor's Signature

I refrained from blogging about this for awhile because I was writing an article for my paper on it and I'm not supposed to compete with my own company.  Now that article has run, I feel better blogging about it.

This thing has been going on since soon after I first started working for my newspaper.  I remember it failing by three votes at the last minute in 2008, which meant the amendment would not be up for a vote in 2010.  That was somewhat irritating, although it might well be a blessing in disguise.  In 2012, the economy will have turned around and the voters might be more willing to vote for a tax increase when times are good than when times are bad.  Plus, the way the tax is structured, getting the projects together for each region to vote on will take time.

For the record, since this is a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST), it's not the same as a tax increase coming down from On High.  The people of the regions will vote directly to tax themselves (or not), on projects that are in their immediate area. 
One reason I support this is that it could provide a funding mechanism for passenger rail in Georgia.  Right now, there is an $87 million federal earmark to build and maintain passenger rail on the Southside for a few years.

(When the matter first came up, I think it was Atlanta-Lovejoy or Atlanta-Griffin for three years.  Now, since the current plan is Atlanta-Macon, it might not cover as long a period of time.)

Large-scale transit projects generally do not pay for themselves and thus require an outside source of funding.  This applies to roads, ports, and airports just as it does to large-scale passenger rail.  If I recall correctly, the only portion of the AMTRAK system that's self-sustaining is the northeastern line.

A regional SPLOST--although given the way the state is divided up, you'd need multiple regions involved--could be used to pay for the Atlanta-Macon line that's currently the first phase of Georgians for Passenger Rail's proposed network of passenger rail lines throughout the state.

Come 2012, it will be the task of rail advocates and those who support other necessary transportation improvements to convince the people of the regions to support the TSPLOST.  However, if gas prices return to their pre-Great Recession levels by then (they're trending upward now with the economy recovering), this will likely encourage people to support mass transit and other gas-saving solutions.  After all, hybrids and even full electric cars got a lot of attention when gas was $4 per gallon.

Though large-scale government projects seem antithetical to small-government conservatism, the state is facing a lot of transportation problems, particularly gridlock in the Metro Atlanta area.  If passenger rail was put in place, this would likely "thin out" traffic on the highways as people who do not need their car for work but live in the outlying areas will simply be able to take the train in and out of town.

(This could also make it easier for people to live in Atlanta itself and commute to jobs in outlying areas, although this would not be an option for me since I need my car for my job.)

Either way, that's less traffic on Atlanta roads, which will help with local air pollution and congestion.  Less demand for gasoline means lower gas prices as well.

Sometimes very big problems need very big solutions.

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