June Advocacy Issue: Atlanta Transportation Referendum (T-SPLOST)
If you live in the metro Atlanta area, you’ve heard the buzzwords: T-SPLOST, penny tax, transportation referendum, light rail...and if you read or watch any local news, you’ve probably heard conflicting stories and arguments. Civil discussions devolved to name-calling on my own neighborhood’s listserv last week: “It’s really a 13% tax!” “Get your gas hog off the road!” “Exactly, this money is all for roads!” “Even the Sierra Club is smart enough to oppose this!” “You’re really going to trust our elected officials?” “GDOT can do what they want—they aren’t elected!” “You really believe it’s a 10 year tax? How about 20?” “Hippie!” “Gas-guzzler!” “Tree-hugger!” “Ozone killer!” and on and on until the moderator had to actually end the discussion.
I recently moved from Cincinnati, a city with poor public transportation options that has been paralyzed for years in a transportation tax stalemate and a “street car to nowhere.” So when I heard about the Transportation Referendum (T-SPLOST) on the July 31 ballot in Atlanta, I assumed residents would be all for it. In a progressive city that prides itself in drawing large corporations that are the hub of the Southeast, and whose public transportation options are notoriously lacking, why wouldn’t people vote in favor? What my neighborhood listserv showed me was that the actual facts are hazy to most, the lingering concerns are exacerbated by hyperbole, and fear of change and the unknown seems to outweigh the benefits in many people’s minds.
So what are the benefits of passing this referendum? First of all, the scope is huge—passing this referendum will fund 157 projects across 10 metro-Atlanta counties. The tax will raise $7.2 billion over 10 years, with a hefty 52% of the funds going toward public transportation projects. It took the General Assembly over five years to get to this point, and I for one have serious doubts about whether more time will create an improved list of projects. Our air quality will improve. Atlanta recently earned an F on air quality from the American Lung Association. Thomas Weyandt, senior transportation policy advisor to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, estimates an increase of transit use by 39% and that the air quality improvements we will see are the equivalent of taking 72,000 cars off the road daily. Our obesity rate will decline. Research into transportation effects show that daily use of light rail transit result in an 81% reduction in someone’s chances of becoming obese. General health benefits of reduced commutes and improved access to transportation are almost too numerous to count. Poor fitness and low metabolism are associated with long commutes. Pedestrian sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike lanes will be improved. A regional mobility call center for the elderly will be created, enabling patients to access clinics and make medical appointments. Our unemployed population will have opportunities to work—34,000 construction jobs are estimated to be created as a result of the transportation referendum. Light-rail and pedestrian paths will provide easy access to over 15 schools and universities.
So, what can you do?
1) Get informed. The information is out there—check your sources and check your facts, get involved with local groups (or at least check out their webpages) such as Untie Atlanta (Citizens for Transportation Mobility), Transform Metro Atlanta, and Atlanta Beltline. You can also "like" their facebook pages or subscribe to blog and twitter updates.
2) Register to vote or apply for an absentee ballot, and
3) on July 31, Vote YES on the Special Election: Referendum 1, Atlanta Regional District T-SPLOST.
Georgia Secretary of State Voting Page: http://mvp.sos.state.ga.us/
- Register to vote
- Confirm your registration status
- Find your poll location
- View sample ballot
County by county list of all projects: http://www.atlantaregionalroundtable.com/local_projects.html
For any additional information or to get involved with HealthSTAT's advocacy, education, and service opportunities, contact Jen Burkholder @ email@example.com
MacDonald et al. “The effect of light rail transit on body mass index and physical activity.” Am J Prev Med 2010;39(2)105-112
“Commuting Distance, Cardiorespiratory Fitness, and Metabolic Risk,” by C.M. Hoehner, C.E. Barlow, P. Allen, M. Schootman (DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2012.02.020).
Stokes et al. “Estimating the effects of light rail transit on health care costs.” Health & Place 14 (2008) 45-48.