Atlanta mayor's transportation priorities include Buckhead, Beltline and streetcar

Atlanta's new mayor, Kasim Reed, has big dreams on transportation, and a limited toolbox.

Others control the big money and the suburbs. But previous Atlanta mayors have played important roles in the creation of the world's busiest airport, MARTA, and in moving the Beltline to center stage.

"I think [the mayor] has to be able to influence a lot of people and get a lot of people pulling together," said Harry West, who headed the Atlanta Regional Commission for 27 years. "Fortunately, in some cases we’ve had that."

Reed talked to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently about his transportation vision, from the potholes to the big-name projects. Questions and answers have been edited for space.

Q. You’ve recently been named chair of the Regional Transit Committee. What does that mean?

A. I think it means Atlanta will have a seat at the table as a partner. ... This  anti-Atlanta tone that has been pervasive for years, and that would have made an appointment like mine very challenging because of just the politics around it, is changing, and I think it's healthy for the region and I think it's healthy for the state.

Q. An alphabet soup of agencies oversee Georgia transportation, as well as the governor. What powers does the Atlanta mayor have with transportation, and how would you use them?

A. Having the ability to work in a coordinated fashion and to earn trust, I think, is what will allow Atlanta's interests to be protected.

Q. Is that another way of saying that the Atlanta mayor really doesn’t have the power to do something?

A. Oh no, that's not true. I think that the mayor of Atlanta has a good amount of influence because at the end of the day the referendum [in 2012 on a transportation sales tax] has to be passed. It is very difficult for my friends on the other side of the aisle to campaign for what many of their political opponents would characterize as a tax increase. ... Nobody's going to work as hard on that who's a sitting office holder by the 2012 referendum [as] I am. I do believe that does give you some balance, not in an outsized way, but to make sure that the city's interest is protected.

Q. Talking about that project list, you supported HB 277, the law for the 2012 referendum, in spite of provisions that angered some Atlanta mass transit advocates. As the project list for the 2012 referendum is formed, there will clearly be stiff competition to get on the list, with the needed projects totaling several times more than the $5 billion to $7 billion available from the tax. Some of those will be road projects, and some mass transit, most probably. Is there a level of transit, a minimum, below which you would not support the referendum?

A. I don't negotiate that way.

Q. As mayor, what are your priorities for transportation?

A. One, I definitely want to see some relief given to some of the infrastructure improvements in the Buckhead area, some of the exits that will actually help mobility in the Buckhead are are vital to me. Obviously I'm going to make sure that the Atlanta Beltline receives a significant amount of attention. ... And making sure that the Peachtree streetcar is supported is going to be a priority of mine.

Q. Supported or built?

A. I'd say supported.

Q. What do the MARTA service cuts right now mean for the people of the city?

A. The service cuts are very tough for the people of the city of Atlanta. That's why we're doing everything we can to get Atlanta's economy moving. ... MARTA survives off of sales tax.

Q. In late 2008, Atlanta completed a study that found nearly half of its 1,705 miles of streets were in disrepair and needed repaving. While Atlanta's Public Works Department has 700 employees, as of last month 13 workers were assigned to repairing the city's streets, potholes and larger calls. Is that enough?

A. The answer is no. That's why we increased the number of individuals working on it [to 16 ]. ... It's not enough. But no government right now has the money for the need.