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In this multimedia release, readers may click on the links or the media players to hear excerpts from the joint press event. Above, Environment Georgia’s Jennette Gayer and Mothers & Others for Clean Air’s Rebecca Watts Hull respond to WABE reporter Michelle Wirth’s question.
Atlanta’s 2011 “smog season” was a pretty bad one by any measure. This year Atlanta had 39 ozone violations, or days when ozone concentrations exceeded the 2008 ozone limit set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under George W. Bush.
Thirty-nine violations are bad enough, but the real public health tally is actually much worse. EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC), the group charged with making science-based recommendations to EPA on air quality standards, unanimously concluded that the limit for ozone should be significantly lowered. After several delays, in July EPA submitted its recommendation for a stronger standard to the White House. On Sept. 2, public health scientists and advocates were dismayed when President Obama announced that he would not consider the recommendation at this time, postponing a stronger standard for several years at least.
This decision has significant public health consequences in two ways. One, it means that Atlanta’s smog forecast system will continue to issue alerts and assign colors (green, yellow, orange or red) based on an outdated standard. As a result, on many days parents, coaches, and athletes will check the forecast and conclude an outdoor workout is safe, when in fact, the science indicates that outdoor workouts during peak ozone times should be limited.
What does this mean for Atlanta’s 2011 smog season numbers? If we use the least protective limit recommended by CASAC instead of the current limit, Atlanta actually experienced 65 smog alert days this summer. The delay in adjusting the ozone standard undermines efforts to effectively communicate risk to the public and to advocate precautions to reduce exposure.
Second, delays undermine the regulatory impact of the ozone standard. The purpose of setting health-based standards is to ensure that areas with unhealthy concentrations of air pollution take steps to improve air quality within a reasonable time frame. Since EPA expected the 2008 limit would be revised, it is only just now beginning to issue rules for states to meet that standard. It will be several years before the 2008 decision results in emissions-cutting measures in Atlanta, and even longer before we begin working toward the lower target recommended by CASAC.
What difference does it make, and to whom? The acute effects for people living with asthma and other respiratory problems may be easy to see, but ozone also is associated with widespread and less visible, chronic health problems. In addition to causing asthma attacks, shortness of breath and wheezing, ozone can cause long-term damage, reducing lung function in otherwise healthy children and youth. The health costs of acute and chronic conditions associated with ozone pollution are estimated in the billions, and there also are significant economic and quality of life consequences resulting from school absences and lost work productivity.
While the Obama administration’s decision is certainly a disappointment for public health scientists and anyone concerned about urban air pollution, it is not a time to give up. While many health hazards are largely out of our control, we know how to reduce ozone pollution. The proposed Transportation Special Local Option Sales Tax (T-SPLOST) project list provides an excellent opportunity for Atlanta leaders and voters to reduce vehicle emissions. If approved, this tax would provide a significant investment both in the existing transit system and in expansions to that system. The new projects together are estimated to attract tens of thousands of new transit riders, reducing road emissions responsible for roughly half of Atlanta’s ozone problem.
Every September in Atlanta we take stock and review the summer’s “smog alert” days, as we near the end of ozone season. It is time for Atlanta’s leaders and voters to choose to reach the “end of smog,” not just the “end of smog season.”
Rebecca Watts Hull is Director of Mothers & Others for Clean Air, an Atlanta-based education and advocacy nonprofit engaging parents, health care professionals and other concerned citizens in clean air initiatives and advocacy. More information at mocleanair.org.
In the news:
“Atlantans deserve clean air, but on far too many days children and seniors in Georgia and the Atlanta area and across Georgia are exposed to dangerous smog pollution.” – Environment Georgia policy advocate Jennette Gayer on WABE.
In Virginia Highland-Druid Hills Patch: Mother & Others for Clean Air steering committee member Jeremy Sarnat writes it’s about Getting to ‘End of Smog,’ not End of ‘Smog Season.’
Southeast Green runs OpEd urging a proactive approach to mitigating metro Atlanta’s smog problem.
(Above) Lind delivers the conservative case for transit at the June Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable. Along with 12 anti-transit myths, Lind outlines 3 common conservative misconceptions about transit.
During his presentation to metro Atlanta transit advocates earlier in the year, conservative transit advocate Bill Lind predicted the “anti-transit troubadours” would come and lend a voice to the political forces determined to see the transportation tax referendum fail.
Now that the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable executive committee has released the draft project list, the anti-transit whispers have become more strident, according to Atlanta-Journal columnist Jay Bookman.
Lind, and his former colleague and Republican political strategist Paul Weyrich,wrote Moving Minds: Conservatives and Public Transportation with the idea that the transit movement could use some conservative voices. In fact, as Lind asserts in his book and in speeches, transit is fundamentally a conservative issue.
“All we [conservative transit advocates] want is what we once had,” Lind said at the June Sustainable Atlanta Roundtable. “We had it all and threw it away.
What our society once had was a great deal better than what it’s got now. And, one of those things was our wonderful streetcar system.”
The Livable Communities Coalition invited Lind to Atlanta to help transit advocates make the conservative case for transit as the region prepares to vote on the transportation sales in a referendum scheduled for next summer.
The Livable Communities Coalition launched the Fair Share for Transit initiative in March to develop broad support for enhancing and expanding transit in Atlanta through the proposed 10-year sales tax. The draft project list proposes reserving 55 percent of the $6.1 billion the tax is expected to raise over its lifetime for transit projects.
“This is transit’s best shot at significant new funding, according to Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman says. ”We can’t afford to miss this opportunity.
Polls, surveys, focus groups and town hall meetings have all shown our region’s appetite for more transit. Tired commuters know that we can’t change traffic congestion in metro Atlanta if we don’t change what we’re doing to address it. We have to do something fresh and different if we hope to make a difference. The time to expand rail transit is now.”
The Transportation Investment Act requires the full 21-member roundtable to deliver a final project list by Oct. 15. There will be 12 public meetings, allowing roundtable members to get additonal public input. The first will be held in Douglas County on Sep. 7.
Twelve anti-transit myths, excerpted from Moving Minds: Conservatives and Public Transportation
- Light rail has been a failure everywhere. The estimated costs always prove too low and the ridership projections are too high.
- Transit is a declining industry. Despite massive increases in transit funding since 1980, transit ridership has declined. Rail transit has a very high subsidy per passenger, and transit use has declined as much in cities that have built light rail as in those that haven’t.
- Commuting by rail is slower than commuting by car or express bus.
- Transit does not relieve congestion. Congestion has actually increased in cities that have built light rail, and building more highways will relieve congestion better than building rail systems. A rail line has less capacity than a single lane of freeway or even a major arterial.
- Where transit is needed, buses are better than rail. Buses cost less and provide the same or better service.
- Most new jobs are in the suburbs, but rail transit can only serve urban cores.
- Rail transit does not spur economic development.
- Transit brings crime into a community.
- Most light rail riders are former bus riders.
- Transit is a blight on the economy, while highways are a net public benefit.
- On average, most of the seats on a bus or train are empty.
- It would be cheaper to buy or lease a new car for every rider thant to build a new light rail system.
Over the next two weeks, the Livable Communities Coalition will post Lind’s deconstruction of these myths.
Final details of the draft transportation project list that will be the focus of 12 meetings throughout the region in September were hammered out in a four-hour meeting of the five-person executive committee of the metro Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable the afternoon of Aug. 15. Listen to excerpts (above) to get a sense of the depth of support for various transit projects voiced by those present.
Now, the full 21-member roundtable has begun the work to develop the final project list by the Oct. 15 deadline.
The full roundtable may decide to strongly adhere to the executive committee’s recommendations. Or, the region may find that the full roundtable may go back and reconsider other projects that made the unconstrained list but did not make the draft project list.
Significantly, the draft project list reflects an emerging public sentiment that the region needs more transportation choices by enhancing and expanding transit, and that any project list must communicate a strong vision for relieving congestion, promoting economic development and creating jobs.
For the first time in more than 30 years, the region seems ready to commit significant resources to transit. The draft project list commits $3.4 billion to transit over the life of the proposed 10-year tax.
It is apparent how much the region has changed over the last 10 years by listening to locally elected officials talk about the region’s transportation needs. Most acknowledge the region needs transit to move forward.
As Livable Communities Coalition executive director Ray Christman has noted publicly and in a Fair Share for Transit podcast, this is a dynamic shift for the region.
The Livable Communities Coalition invites you to listen in to some of the audio highlights from the Aug. 15 roundtable meeting in the set list above to hear for yourself how our leaders are talking about the future of the region. A full audio file is available on the Atlanta Regional Roundtable website.
Deal-making has long characterized politics. Deal-making also came to characterize the task of identifying the region’s transportation priorities by Monday’s deadline.
Monday, the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable unanimously approved a draft final transportation project list.
The list will now be scrutinized by the full roundtable in preparation for approving a final project list by Oct. 15, as mandated by 2010’s Transportation Investment Act.
Monday’s draft list sets aside 55 percent of the $6.14 billion for transit projects, leaving 45 percent for regionally significant road projects.
As Mayor Kasim Reed said in an interview with Creative Loafing, “this is the end of the beginning.”
The next two months will test the strength of deals struck during Monday’s roundtable meeting.
The next two months will also determine whether a vision emerges from the draft project list. The roundtable will now take the list on the road and hold a series of meetings in each of 10 counties represented on the full roundtable. Effectively communicating a transportation vision will be critical to building support for next year’s tax referendum.
Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews and Mayor Reed proved critical to advancing Monday’s conversation to a vote.
Mayor Reed clearly came to the table ready to deal – to a point. When the conversation turned to gutting MARTA state of good repair and expansion of transit into south DeKalb County, the mayor drew a firm line in the sand, challenging other executive committee members to find different projects to cut.
“Basically, the major projects for Atlanta and DeKalb are taking the most significant cuts and there are other projects out here that can take equal cuts,” Reed argued. “I would just urge our team to try to resolve the last $130 million collaboratively rather than balancing it on the backs of Atlanta and DeKalb.”
Decatur Mayor Bill Floyd concurred with Mayor Reed, delivering an impassioned reminder to the roundtable about their obligation to ensure regional transportation solutions that make the local economy stronger and help get residents to jobs.
“This is not about spreading dollars in the right place; this is about getting people to work, “ Floyd said. “And I think that’s where we are losing sight of that for the sake of building roads.”
It was Mayor Mathews’ original motion that permitted the deal-making to begin, and it was his amended motion that finally carried the day.
“Mr. Chairman, I would like to offer up, just in an effort to get this thing closed out today, to take that $7.5 million from the northwest Cobb transit project,” Mathews said.
After 4 hours of conversation, questions about regionalism and old-fashioned horse trading, metro Atlanta finally got its draft final project list.
For the first time in more than 30 years, there may be a significant regional commitment to transit, possibly resulting in shoring up existing transit assets and expanding into new suburban territory. All that needs to be done is to refine and sell the promise of this resurgent transit vision.
Out of context, the numbers seem staggering.
On and on it goes.
However, within context of the expected transportation spending over the next 15, 25 or 30 years, $6.1 billion begins to sound like a bargain. The Atlanta Regional Commission recently reported that the region expects to spend $61 billion on road projects through 2040.
The politics of determing which projects will benefit from this relatively paltry sum of $6.1 billion have exacted a large toll on the elected officials and their staffs up to this point.
Thursday, the Atlanta Regional Roundtable executive committee postponed a vote on the draft list, opting to use the weekend to review the projects in more detail for the difficult task of project selection.
The Transportation Investment Act, as State Senator Doug Stoner reminded the roundtable Tuesday, intends to jump-start transportation projects that are regionally significant, mitigate traffic and promote economic development.
According to Ray Christman, Livable Communities Coalition executive director, the roundtable needs to fulfill the intent of the legislation by selecting special projects that promise special results. For the smart growth organization, which launched the Fair Share for Transit initiative in March, that means transit.
The organization’s own poll – as well as others – indicate residents in metro Atlanta want special projects and likewise believe that those projects should be transit projects.
Until Monday, when the roundtable executive committee must deliver its draft list, no one can be certain whether the intent of the legislation and the reams of data will sway the executive committee members and, later, the full roundtable. It all depends on politics.
The task of identifying the region’s transportation priorities is a difficult one. As much as there has been a call for a spirit of regionalism during this process, the looming deadline to develop the draft final project list and the task of creating a vision that will appeal to voters in next year’s referendum challenges that spirit.
Despite those challenges, at Thursday’s Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable meeting, the roundtable executive committee selected in a 3 to 2 vote the following 6 transit projects for final consideration for the final project list:
- Clifton Corridor MARTA service at $700 million;
- Atlanta Beltline streetcar at $600 million;
- Atlanta to Cumberland northwest corridor light rail at $825 million;
- MARTA state of good repair at $500 million;
- Restore Clayton County bus service at $100 million;
- I-85 northeast corridor preliminary study and planning at $100 million.
With the Aug. 15 deadline looming, the politics of this process have begun to emerge. Several roundtable members voiced the concern that the process mandated by the Transportation Investment Act must yield a project list that not only appeals to voters but offers enough of a vision for the region to ensure next year’s referendum passes.
For Nathaniel Smith, founder and convener of Partnership for Social Equity, it is critical that organizations and citizens remain involved to ensure the roundtable process delivers solutions to all parts of the region.
“All communities are not created equal,” Smith says. “There are opportunities for us to strengthen communities that need additional help.
It is transportation that decides who the winners and losers are in the region.”
Even though the task for the day was limited to transit, the conversation strayed into questions about the intent of the Transportation Investment Act and revived debate about the regional good.
The politics of decision-making, as the roundtable approaches the Aug. 15 deadline raises concerns about the ability of the roundtable members to deliver something to their constituencies. At this time, the referendum will be held next summer, when many of the members of the roundtable will also have to survive primary elections.
The stark reality of voter reaction seems to weigh on the minds of roundtable members, especially those who represent areas on the outer edges of the region.
During the public comment period, several interests urged the roundtable to consider other transit projects, such as the Griffin commuter rail line an expanding transit service along Interstate 20.
Transit advocates continue to tout the long-term economic benefits of transit.
State Rep. Roberta Abdul Salaam is encouraged to see Clayton County bus service reon the roundtable’s initial transit list. More important, though, she desires for the roundtable to establish a vision where transit and roads not only peacefully co-exist but also ensure metro Atlanta remains competitive for the next several decades.
“If you are stuck on Georgia Highway 85 for any length of time, you have the same need for an outlet for transportation, public transportation as everybody else does,” Abdul Salaam explains. “The decisions they make now are going to affect the entire state for the next, 15, 20, 25 years or more.”
At the Aug. 4 roundtable meeting, Georgians for Passenger Rail argued that the Griffin commuter rail line should be considered for the draft project list. According to a spokesman, the line meets all of the roundtable criteria for project selection. If the debate at Thursday’s roundtable is any indication, the group must still refine its vision, which will largely determine whether rails or roads will define metro Atlanta’s future.
DeKalb County Commissioner Lee makes the case to the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable for transit in the I-20 corridor at Thursday’s roundtable meeting.
During the meeting, the roundtable executive committee voted in favor of including 6 transit projects on the draft final project list. The process mandated by the Transportation Investment Act requires the roundtable to deliver a draft final project list by Aug. 15. The roundtable must deliver a final project list by Oct. 15.
Dear Member of the Roundtable Executive Committee,
Thank you for your commitment to our region through your work on the Roundtable.
As you work with other members of the committee to prepare a draft project list for consideration by the full Regional Transportation Roundtable, please remember these four reasons why a list that emphasizes transit makes so much sense for our region:
- In terms of jobs created, economic impact on a community, the ability to move people reliably between major job and population centers, and the positive impact on surrounding real estate development, rail transit offers an unsurpassed package of economic benefits. Businesses increasingly want to invest where permanent, reliable transit is available.
- “Atlanta tastes Dallas’ dust” was the headline in a recent issue of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The accompanying story explained that, among other things, Dallas has built almost three times the miles of transit rail track that Atlanta has, and it is building more. Other competitor cities in the Sun Belt that have made recent rail transit strides include Charlotte, Phoenix and Salt Lake City. Metro Atlantans are used to raising dust, not eating it. We need to get to the front of the pack again.
- A strong majority of our citizens consistently send the message – through polls, focus groups, telephone town hall meetings, and other means – that they see expanded transit as a top priority. They want a balanced and equitable transportation investment program.
- As the recent ARC board discussion on Plan 2040 demonstrated, there is no other new transit funding source potentially available to the region. Roads will receive the lion’s share of transportation funding that will be made available through the TIP, local SPLOSTS, and the TIA set-aside. If there is no significant funding for transit provided through the regional project list, there will be no expansion of the region’s transit system for the next generation. Without help from next year’s tax referendum, there is no Plan A for transit, much less a Plan B.
Bottom line: The project list should include at least 60 percent, or approximately $4 billion in transit projects. We’ve got to do something different if we expect to make a difference.
Transportation spending in our region over the years 2013 – 2023, including the projected sales tax revenues, will likely reach $16 billion. If we allocated $4 billion to transit, we’d still be spending just 25 percent of total transportation revenue on transit. Can our community afford to do anything less?
Thank you again for your time and for your hard work.
Former Atlanta resident Curtis Mayfield once sang Keep On Keeping On.
Metro Atlanta now ponders whether it can afford to keep on keeping on when it comes to its transportation investments.
The Civic League for Regional Atlanta hosted a town hall Saturday focused on metro Atlanta’s transportation future.
The process mandated by the Transportation Investment Act calls for the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable to deliver a draft “constrained list” by Aug. 15.
Earlier this summer, the roundtable voted to have the Atlanta Regional Commission winnow the $23 billion list into an $11.5 billion list.
If the transporation tax referendum passes next year, it is anticipated it will generate $6.1 billion to improve metro Atlanta’s transportation infrastructure during the lifetime of the tax.
The list the roundtable produces for the Aug. 15 deadline will be their first stab at a generating a list that meets that $6.1 billion revenue projection.
According to Atlanta Regional Commission external affairs manager Kathryn Lawler, the roundtable has spent the summer listening to residents through a series of telephone town halls.
The roundtable has also heard from other constituencies, such as the Livable Communities Coalition and its Fair Share for Transit stakeholders. Fair Share for Transit originally called for a significant transit investment of 40 to 60 percent at its March launch.
The Civic League’s Get a Move On town hall provided another opportunity for metro residents to deliver their message to the roundtable; yet, it remains unclear whether a true transit vision will emerge from this process.