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Atlanta’s Bad Traffic Situation Is About to Get Worse

4:18 PM EDT on August 1, 2012

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Well, the Atlanta region has spoken.

The proposed one-cent sales tax hike to support $7.15 billion in spending on transit and roads was roundly defeated Tuesday, with 62 percent opposing. Though approved by Atlanta city voters, none of the 10 counties considering the measure gave it the thumbs up, according to unofficial results.

The defeat "leaves the Atlanta region's traffic congestion problem with no visible remedy," wrote Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Ariel Hart. "It marks [a] failure not only for the tax but for the first attempt ever to unify the 10-county region's disparate voters behind a plan of action."

The immediate implications are huge. The most urgent is the funding situation at MARTA, Atlanta's already threadbare transit system, which sees half a million daily boardings.

MARTA will most likely see fare hikes or service reductions in the next fiscal year, said Ashley Robbins, executive director of Citizens for Progressive Transit, which advocated for the spending package. The region's transit agency, which receives no state support, has been spending down its reserves. Even with the $600 million earmarked for MARTA in the referendum, the agency was still facing a $2.3 billion shortfall over the next 10 years.

In addition, the region's suburban express bus service, GRTA, which serves about 10,000 daily, will most likely be forced to close. And Clayton County, a largely urban county south of Atlanta that lost its transit service altogether two years ago, will have no means to restore service.

And Atlanta can forget about expanding rail service. By state decree, the entire $600 million for MARTA in the package was for capital needs, not operations, according to a MARTA spokesman. Without the tax, there's also no identified major source of funding for the Beltline, Atlanta's innovative plan for a greenways and rail corridor that would circle the central city (though the region's downtown streetcar project is moving forward with federal funds).

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