By Mary Margaret Stewart, contributor
Back in 1999, Georgia Tech student Ryan Gravel wrote his master’s thesis about the creation of a Beltline in Atlanta.
Gravel says the upcoming Nov. 8 referendum is important for the Beltline’s future.
“This year, the city of Atlanta is facing a sales tax referendum in the fall for transit through MARTA, which could potentially build the Beltline,” Gravel said. “It’s a generational investment for transit, which is extremely important, not only for the Beltline, but for the city as a whole.”
With the help of a passing referendum, Gravel sees the potential for Atlanta to continue growing as the region’s leader for transit investment.
There were a series of public input meetings during May and June to solicit ideas and opinions about what projects should be funded.
Senate Bill 369 allows the city to hold two referendums: one to vote on increasing sales tax to a half-penny to pay for MARTA expansion and another for increasing sales tax to a half-penny for non-transit transportation projects.
The half penny for transportation projects is expected to generate $340 million over five years to pay for road improvements, bridges and pedestrian projects, according to the Atlanta BeltLine.
“At the half-cent level, funds would be sufficient (with 25 percent private sector matching funds) to purchase and build out the entire Beltline loop and city-wide connector trails within the next five years,” the Atlanta BeltLine website says.
The MARTA tax would be used to fund “light rail and streetcar expansion, heavy rail expansion, new heavy rail stations or improvements at existing stations, or new or improved bus service.” It is expected that the tax will generate $2.5 billion to $3.5 billion over the next 40 years, the BeltLine’s website says.
For a list of potential projects that could be funded with the sales tax, click here.
Gravel said, “making Atlanta competitive with other cities around the world is really critical,” and a positive response from the public in November will put the Beltline in “good shape financially.”
“We would certainly have resources to finish up the Beltline and make sure that it gets built in a way that supports people. Those two issues are related because the transit investment is essential to maintaining affordability in the city,” Gravel said. “If you live in a place where you don’t have to have a car and all of the expenses that come with it, then that reduces the cost of living substantially.”