Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed hit back hard at critics of regional Beltline funding, saying they "are either ill-informed or they’re not telling the truth."
Mayors from some north Fulton County cities earlier this month criticized the inclusion of $600 million for the intown Atlanta Beltline, a transit project in a corridor of parks and trails, on a list of projects that are proposed for regional funding. Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos and Roswell Mayor Jere Wood said it was not a regional project.
Following a meeting Friday of the group that will make the final decision on whether the Beltline and other projects can stay or go, Reed, without naming names, said such critics had not done their homework. He said the Beltline had scored "in the top three of all projects" by the Atlanta Regional Commission and had been approved by the regional panel months ago as a regionally significant project.
"They’re either ill-informed or they’re not telling the truth, and they know that they’re not telling the truth when they make the assertion," Reed said. "So I would be respectful and just rely on the fact that they’re ill-informed rather than being mean-spirited and asserting an argument that they know at the time that they make it is false."
In 2012, the 10-county Atlanta region is slated to vote on a $6.14 billion list of projects and a 1 percent sales tax to fund them. A "roundtable" of local elected officials has made a first draft of the project list and will finalize it by Oct. 15. ARC staff said Friday that the list drawn up so far would allow 590,000 additional commuters to get to work in 45 minutes or less by mass transit, and 250,000 more drivers would get to work in 45 minutes or less by car.
It is potentially the biggest pot of new transportation goodies to come the region's way in at least 40 years, and advocates across the region have spent months jostling for their own.
Asked about Reed's comments Friday, Wood repeated his position. "I would expect the mayor of Atlanta to be biased in favor of his city," Wood said. "I believe it’s not a regional project. It’s to move people in Atlanta and around Atlanta, and Atlanta’s not the entire region." He was not swayed by the argument that Roswell residents could work at the new jobs created by the Beltline.
And Wood threw in a twist: "It’s my understanding [Reed] was not supportive of extending MARTA up to the Roswell-Alpharetta area, where there are huge amounts of jobs," and the potential for creation of more than in the Beltline corridor, he said. "And we only got a small pittance compared to what he's asking for the Beltline."
Reed's staff said Reed thought the northern MARTA extension was a good project but did not support major funding for it over the three rail projects that got picked for the list. The northern MARTA extension won $37 million for study and preparatory work. North Fulton is thin on transit projects from the list but won its biggest road project by far, a $450 million interchange rebuild at Ga. 400 and I-285.
Although the Beltline scored near the top in a July study of 11 competing projects for the number of riders they would attract, its scope has been cut back and it now falls in the middle of the three rail projects selected. Some of the bus projects score better. Then and now, the transit project on the list with the highest ridership by far is a rail extension to Cobb County, according to ARC maps. That project is also drawing controversy.
In a broader ARC study last year of 40 metro Atlanta mass transit projects' regional impact, cost effectiveness and other factors, the Beltline scored in the middle, or in the top half.
But ridership and traffic mitigation were never touted as the main goals of the Beltline, Reed said. Instead, they were job creation, economic development and quality of life. The project is intended to make pedestrian lifestyles in the corridor more feasible and attractive, and thus attract denser growth like condos and office buildings to increase economic development. Reed noted that supporting economic growth was established as a primary goal for project selection, as approved by the roundtable, and that the Beltline was approved as an eligible project.
The roundtable's next meeting is Sept. 28. In the meantime, the roundtable is holding public forums in all 10 counties to gather input on the list. Locations and times are available at www.atlantaregionalroundtable.com.
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