I got an e-mail recently from Lee May’s office concerning the lack of rail service into South DeKalb. What was nice to see was his lack of enthusiasm for an additional penny to fund transportation improvements in the metro. Here are a few excerpts. Though he has not come out against it, it seems the tone of this e-mail suggests that we should take a long, hard critical look at what is being asked of us versus what we are getting in return.
First his argument against “Bus Centers”
It is also noted that one of the residents, though disappointed about the rail projects not being funded was quoted as saying “…I think it would have been much more beneficial than premium bus service because it’s already harder to provide an incentive to get people on a bus than it is with a rail line.” This has been one of the many reason for supporting funding for the I-20 East Rail project. Bus service, albeit, bus rapid transit service, is still buses —- which equates to still sitting in traffic.
The promise of rail decades ago
Proponents of the project list will say that DeKalb residents are getting $1.6 Billion from the total $6 Billion allocated for the region. On the surface this might sound like a great deal: for a mere additional one cent tax you get $1.6 Billion in roadway projects (minus the $700M for the Clifton Corridor project) — but no rail. You will receive Bike/Pedestrian improvements. But no Rail. And you will receive bus rapid transit — but again, no rail. Over thirty years ago, an agreement was made with the taxpayers of DeKalb and that agreement was in short, “pay the one percent sales tax and rail will be constructed throughout DeKalb.” Thus far no new rail projects in 20+ years have been constructed in Central and South DeKalb — Central and South DeKalb have been left alongside the road.
His question to residents
Review the list. Yes, there are roadway improvement projects in Central and South DeKalb but the crux of the issue is: does Central and South DeKalb continue to pay a one percent tax and not get rail?
Road improvement projects, in effect, are road widening projects and intersection improvements are to accommodate more traffic. South and Central DeKalb will have great roads that will continue to be clogged with bumper-to-bumper traffic. South and Central DeKalb will not be in a position to get people out of their cars and on to rail for another 40 years
These seem like reasonable grievances to me. Buses must be complimented by other forms of transportation including light or heavy rail. Buses are at the mercy of traffic conditions like any other road vehicle. Unless the buses have an exclusive right of way that no other traffic can enter into, then it is not a solution. I don’t need to speak about the promise of rail. If rail (light or heavy) goes out into Cobb or Gwinnett, we are truly being shafted. And to me that what this penny boils down to. Are we getting our money’s worth?
See the full text here of the May’s mailer
I must commend Commissioner Larry Johnson. He has taken the rail for South DeKalb issue and brought it front and center. The AJC which tends to only report about crime, corruption and the horrible schools in South DeKalb has had no less than three stories in the last month or so that talks directly about the rail issue in South DeKalb.( here, here and here) I think this is a testament to the power that South DeKalb wields in the upcoming vote for a penny sales tax to cover various transportation projects around the metro. It is a common belief that without Atlanta, Fulton and Dekalb this thing is dead on arrival. If South DeKalb feels it is getting slighted in all of this, which would not be surprising, then you might see a backlash with few voters willing to pay an additional penny on top of the one we already pay. For many of us in South DeKalb, it is a slap in the face to ask us to pay another penny in sales tax only to see other areas get transportation options and we remain gridlocked with 20th century options. I have previously written in support of the 1 cent, mainly because it was my belief that transit options would come to South DeKalb. Now I have become a fence sitter. I still believe the penny will help push transportation options for hundreds of thousands of residents all over metro Atlanta, but what disturbs me is that of those hundreds of thousands, few will live near or south of I-20. I fear that my lack of political influence and lack of money will ultimately have me paying an extra cent for goods and services and that money will go straight to Cobb or Gwinnett or one of the other far flung areas that do not have any of my interests at heart.
With all of that said, I must respectfully disagree with how some want to fund a rail line to South DeKalb. CEO Burrell Ellis, who sits on the roundtable that will decide the fate of rail in South DeKlab, wants to yank money from a GA 400 project. That idea won’t fly. GA 400 is a main artery between the wealthy and powerful North Fulton suburbs and the city of Atlanta. Polticians and business leaders who saturate that area will never allow that to happen. And a proposal by Lee May to strip some funding from the Clifton Corridor line is less likely to happen though it is more feasible than the GA 400 idea. I don’t like this idea because it would hurt residents throughout DeKalb. A third option floated by Decatur mayor and roundtable member Bill Floyd is to make the Clifton rail and South DeKalb rail one big project. This is less likely to happen given the price tag, but it has merits. If the Clifton segment is built to hook into the Avoondale station, and the blues line is extendided to Wesley Chapel, you would not have to travel all the way downtown to go to Sandy Springs or Dunwoody. That would make the Wesley Chapel idea much more attractive than one that only sends you to downtown.
So where does that leave South DeKalb? Well I think it leaves us in a sticky situation. If we vote for the tax without rail to South DeKalb it is highly likely that South DeKalb will be paying for improvements in transportation that will not directly improve our transit options. In fact we could be one of only a handful of geographic regions in the 10 county area to get little or no improvements for the 1 cent sales tax. On the other hand, I fear that if the referendum fails not only will we not get anything now or in the future, those areas that are clamoring for road inprovements and wider freeways will eventually get what they want through some other means. It’s the old classic damned if you do and damned if you don’t. The only win for South DeKalb would be a sales tax approved and a rail line.