Need practicality, not pie in the sky

According to the Sierra Club, the regional transportation referendum is “anti-urban.” The project list, the Sierra Club proclaims, “is too heavily focused on sprawl-inducing road expansion.”

Their prescription? A “parking tax” that penalizes metro Atlantans for driving. And a “multimodal gas tax” that will never see the light of day under the Gold Dome.

We need practical, not pie-in-the-sky, approaches if we’re ever to untie the traffic knot strangling metro Atlanta. We need a mix of road and transit improvements that do the best job of getting people out of traffic and to jobs and school and ballet recitals. We need a transportation system that allows for the movement of goods and services throughout our region in a way that is cost-efficient for businesses and doesn’t raise prices for the delivery of everything from pizza to pine straw. And we need more transportation options that reduce air pollution from engine idling, which makes the Sierra Club’s opposition particularly strange.

What we don’t need are extremes: those who advocate for all transit and no roads, and their odd bedfellows who advocate for all roads and no transit. To get our region unglued, we need a healthy investment in both. The regional transportation referendum strikes that balance.

We flat-out disagree with the Sierra Club that we should penalize drivers. We think the goal should be to relieve drivers — and this plan does so with an $8.5 billion investment that not only relieves traffic congestion — but creates and supports 200,000 new jobs, generates $19 billion in new income and addresses one of the main reasons companies don’t move here and college grads don’t want to stay here.

Of course, we can’t fix our transportation woes for free. But as opposed to a punitive “parking tax” or a brand new “multimodal gas tax,” a one-penny sales levy actually helps offset the fuel we waste and valuable time we lose stuck in traffic. That “congestion tax” costs the average metro commuter $924 a year. The one-penny sales levy can reduce the congestion tax over time — and most consumers won’t come close to spending $924 in additional sales tax (that would require annually buying $92,400 worth of stuff).

As for the Sierra Club’s criticism that the project list is a “hodge-podge of conflicting priorities,” we’re proud that it doesn’t reflect the priorities of one group with one agenda. Instead, it reflects the voices of more than 200,000 people who participated in compiling the project list — some of whom wanted more roads and others who wanted greater mobility through transit. The project list reflects the needs of the people of metro Atlanta.

We applaud the Sierra Club for the work they’ve done to protect Georgia’s environment. But on this issue they’re dead wrong: Some transit is better than no transit. By voting this down, they will get no transit.

Che Watkins is campaign manager for Citizens for Transportation Mobility.