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First of all, full disclosure:
My back yard is literally the Eastside Trail segment of the -- gasp -- Atlanta Beltline.
For two years, I've joined hundreds of my neighbors in eagerly watching bulldozers, backhoes and cement trucks transform a blighted, kudzu-covered rail corridor into an alternate means of traversing a historically fractured city, a 50-foot-wide thread of hope that paradigms are shifting.
In a couple of months, the trail will open as a whole new avenue through Atlanta, a walkable, bike-friendly gateway bereft of cars. You didn't pay a dime for this progress. And, unless we donated, neither did we.
But my "Yes" vote for the T-SPLOST referendum on Tuesday will have little to do with the Beltline --and a lot to do with this region's broader future.
Nobody holds any illusions that the 157 projects on the T-SPLOST list are a traffic panacea. But embracing them will broadcast a message that we're acting to fix our mobility woes, that we understand the status quo isn't working anymore, and that we're paying forward a new level of commitment to our children, and theirs.
When I announced several years ago my plans to move to metro Atlanta, the common response went like this: "We hear it's a fun, pretty place, but no way I'd waste away in traffic like that."
That thinking has infected the business sector (according to the unfathomable statistic that the number of jobs here, despite recent spasms of life, has dropped to early 2000s levels). Face it: In the nation's eyes, metro Atlanta has devolved from a progressive, rollicking, international hotbed of opportunity into an ill-planned, impenetrable, sprawling monstrosity that is choking to death --on itself.
That snickering you hear is Dallas, Austin, Houston and Charlotte, whose boosters will use a rejected T-SPLOST referendum as ammunition against us in job recruitment. I've watched relatively young, educated friends defect to each of those cities. And other cities (Baton Rouge, Charleston, etc.) that actually had jobs.
The reticence to help fund transit projects and road expansions that course through faraway cities is understandable. I feel the same way about chipping in for the proposed $295 million Sugarloaf Parkway extension, the $100 million for Clayton County bus services or $695 million for enhanced transit services beginning in Acworth. (I don't know where Acworth is). But at the macro level, an additional penny sales tax is a small price to pay.
Studies have estimated the cost per consumer in the neighborhood of $120 per year. That breaks down to the equivalent of one medium iced coffee per week, or about of an adult movie ticket. Even in the deepest economic malaise, I'd venture to guess that most people could part with an investment of $2 and change per week.
Call me a stargazing millennial, but I believe in the transformative potential of the Beltline and its complimentary spurs of transit lines. I know plenty of people itching to leave their cars and ride the rails to work, ostensibly unclogging the surface streets that clog the exit ramps that clog the multitudinous lanes of Interstate 85 that clog the onramps of Gwinnett.
People want to live near rail projects, to invest in the nucleus of our home region, which is poisoned by a city-versus-suburbs vitriol that other cities (Chicago, Indianapolis, etc.) don't wrestle with. To say the Beltline and other intown rail projects have no regional relevance is an untruth. A vibrant, functioning core will pay regional dividends.
T-SPLOST naysayers have manipulated "Beltline" into a profanity, which is a shameful tactic indicative of this region's sorely antiquated transportation preferences. Recent "Plan B" proponents have suggested scrapping the T-SPLOST project list in favor of a new plan with a focus on carving new roads and widening existing ones. Einstein had a descriptor for such behavior.
Josh Green covers cops and courts for the Daily Post. Email him at email@example.com.