Every man, woman and child in Fulton county has to pay a 7% sales tax which means a hundred dollar pair of shoes really costs them $107. Of that $7 tax one dollar goes to subsidize MARTA. It may not sound like much but over the course of a year it adds up to about $265 million dollars.
Now two hundred and sixty five million dollars is a lot of money no matter how you look at it but in a county with a million residents it might be justified if the taxes were going to something everyone uses, needs or wants. Unfortunately in a county plagued by congestion only a tiny percentage of Fulton County residents use MARTA trains during rush hour. The census charts below demonstrate only 2% of the county’s population ride MARTA trains to work.
More people work from home or even walk to work than ride MARTA trains but we pay hundreds of millions of dollars to subsidize the trains. It is a perfect example of why Fulton County already has transportation issues. Politicians allocate transportation money based on politics rather than sound fiscal policy.
Which brings us to this news story from 11 Alive News about Alpharetta’s own State Senator Brandon Beach who is proposing a 50% MARTA sales tax hike to expand trains into North Fulton. While I couldn’t disagree more with Senator Beach on this issue I do appreciate his consistency. He was pushing for heavy rail in his dual role as CEO of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce and President of the North Fulton CID long before he was elected to the state legislature.
But there is absolutely no objective justification for a massive tax increase to expand the least used, least efficient, least flexible and most expensive transit option available in Fulton County. Over the past few decades billions of dollars have been spent to subsidize a rail system which serves a tiny portion of our population while the roads that support 100% of residents have been sorely neglected. Any further diversion of transportation money to MARTA trains will only make the problem worse.
A transportation tax increase of hundreds of millions of dollars on Alpharetta residents dedicated to trains that would make traffic here worse would be unconscionable so as an elected representative for 63,000 residents I will not support this effort. Instead I will vigorously oppose any legislation which would permit a 50% MARTA tax increase and encourage my fellow elected officials in Fulton County to do the same.
Earlier I covered curious events surrounding a presentation to the Alpharetta City Council by Mr. Brandon Beach. Mr. Beach is a board member of the Georgia Department of Transportation and also serves as the CEO of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce as well as Director of the North Fulton CID which represents the commercial property owners in the Northpoint Parkway area of Alpharetta.
You can read the previous posts here and here for more details. But after Mr. Beach decided not to present his transit plan to our city council you can imagine my surprise when I heard that he had instead chosen to present the plan on WSB’s newscast last night. You can see the clip by clicking on the picture below.
I have seen Mr. Beach give a similar presentation but it didn’t mention taking the train through my neighborhood to Duluth. Needless to say I am not a fan of expanding costly and inefficient trains through my neighborhood and now I understand why he didn’t even bother presenting the plan to our City Council.
In a completely unrelated matter I noticed a few pictures of Mr. Beach in the Alpharetta Revue today. The odd thing was that standing right there with Brandon was Penn Hodge, the developer that owns the land adjacent to the Windward MARTA property. Looked like they were having a great time together at the Ritz Carlton. Small world isn’t it?
But back to the matter at hand, I did like one part of the WSB news story. The clip where Mr. Beach says,”You’ve got Windward… up here… with jobs.” The rest of the clip… not so much.
Last Friday an agenda item about a transit presentation by Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce CEO, Northpoint CID Director and Georgia DOT Board member Brandon Beach magically appeared on the Alpharetta City Council docket for Monday night. I was surprised to see such an item appear out of thin air and wrote about it in this post over the weekend.
Well apparently I wasn’t the only one surprised. Several City Council members told me that they didn’t know anything about it until last Friday either. Then yesterday, as magically as it appeared, the transit presentation disappeared and never took place. Curious stuff.
Maybe Mr. Beach saw the recent article “The Public Transport Revolution – Why does it never Arrive?” on Newgeography.com and realized that MARTA trains were a waste of time and money. You can read the whole article here but below are a few highlights.
Urban economist, Anthony Downs, writing in “Still Stuck in Traffic?” reminds us:
“….trying to decrease traffic congestion by raising residential densities is like trying to improve the position of a painting hung too high on the living room wall by jacking up the ceiling instead of moving the painting.”
One of the arguments used against building more roads – and especially against more motorways – is that as soon as they are built they become congested again because of “induced demand.” Such “induced demand” is surely the natural expression of suppressed demand. It seems unlikely that motorists will mindlessly drive between different destinations for no other reason than they can.
However, let us accept for a moment that “induced demand” is real, and suggests that improving the road network is a fruitless exercise. Advocates of expensive rail networks claim they will reduce congestion on the roads and improve the lot of private vehicle users as a consequence.
But surely, if the construction of an expensive rail network does reduce congestion on the roads then induced demand will rapidly restore the status quo. Maybe the theory is sound after all. It would explain why no retrofitted rail networks have anywhere resulted in reduced congestion.
This is the time to invest in an enhanced roading network while making incremental investments in flexible public transport. Roads can be shared by buses, trucks, vans, cars, taxis, shuttle-buses, motor-cycles and cyclists – unless compulsive regulators say they are for buses only. Railway lines can be used only by trains and if we build them in the wrong place they soon run empty. The Romans built roads and we still use them.
So maybe the incredible disappearing transit machine shows that local business leaders now realize raising sales taxes to pay for expensive, inefficient trains is a waste of time and money. And maybe the Georgia Department of Transportation will make up for decades of neglecting roads in what has been one of the fastest growing areas in the nation.
And maybe I’ll ride a flying pig to Braves games this Summer.
It comes as no surprise that Brandon Beach wants the Alpharetta City Council to accept his billion dollar vision for taxpayer subsidized public mass transit. Mr. Beach simultaneously acts as the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce’s CEO, the North Fulton Community Improvement District’s Executive Director as well as the 6th District representative on the Georgia Department of Transportation and I have personally heard him pitch his vision to the Windward Rotary Club as covered here at the Alpharetta Patch. I have also noticed that local Chamber of Commerce officials along with representatives of area Community Improvement Districts are currently conducting an extensive public relations campaign to promote taxpayer subsidized trains on the northern perimeter of Atlanta. You can see what I mean here and here.
So Mr. Beach’s proposal is not a surprise and there is nothing wrong with businessmen and their employees lobbying Metro Atlanta taxpayers to pay an additional 8 Billion dollars in sales tax which will be spent on transportation projects. When the projects could make them billions of dollars it just makes good business sense. Kind of like when the Cobb County CIDs spent $150,000 to make sure the local SPLOST tax passed.
The only surprise is that once again the Alpharetta City Council is making crucial decisions about the future of our city without actively soliciting the consent of their constituents. I pay a great deal of attention to what is going on in the City of Alpharetta and take care to read every public notice and press release I find. Yet the appearance of the transit item on Monday night’s Council agenda was a complete surprise to me.
I think it is fair to say that 99% of Alpharettans won’t even know the transit issue came up unless the local print media bothers to publish a story after the fact. The decision of approving Mr. Beach’s transit vision of the future is a crucial one. It is a decision that could affect every person in this city for generations to come and may decide how billions of dollars in taxes are spent. Yet there are only a handful of people that even notice what is going on.
Back in 2008 the Alpharetta City Council approved a high density mixed use project for the intersection of Windward Parkway and Northpoint Parkway. The developer of the project is a man named Penn Hodge and he calls the proposed project Windward Mill. Many residents were upset that the Windward Mill project would add 500 condos to the site and result in 12,000 more vehicular trips at the congested intersection but the Alpharetta City Council unanimously approved the project.
One of the justifications councilmembers cited for their approval was that as a condition of the rezoning the developer would be responsible for millions of dollars in road improvements to accommodate his enormous project. You may remember that the same talking point was recently used by City Council as they tried to explain their recent approval of the MetLife high density mixed use project on Haynes Bridge Road.
So imagine my surprise when I learned that I would be paying for road improvements to accommodate a 15 story condo tower that I didn’t want built in the first place. Well not just me, every tax payer in the state of Georgia is now paying for the road improvements that are Penn Hodge’s responsibility.
As you can see in this press release the North Fulton Community Improvement District has announced that the Georgia Department of Transportation will pay more than $600,000 to, “add a right-turn lane along Windward Parkway, from the north-bound exit all the way to North Point Parkway”. Curiously the press release doesn’t mention that one of the zoning conditions for Penn Hodge’s project on that corner was that there be “an eastbound right-turn lane along Windward Parkway”.
So how did Penn Hodge, who sits on the board of the North Fulton CID, convince the state of Georgia that taxpayers should pay more than $600,000 for the road improvements he was obligated to make? I don’t know but it seems like a great question to ask the executive director of the North Fulton CID, Brandon Beach. You see Mr. Beach just happens to also be the North Fulton representative on the board for the Georgia Department of Transportation. Small world isn’t it?
Today’s AJC includes an update on the wish list being compiled to sell voters on the sales tax increase proposed by the state of Georgia. The additional sales tax is expected to cost Atlanta metro area residents 8 Billion Dollars over ten years and the referendum will include examples of the projects that the money could be spent on.
So far municipalities around Atlanta have submitted over 29 Billion Dollars worth of projects that they want to include so there is going to be a lot of horse trading over the next few months as politicians are forced to give up on 21 Billion Dollars worth of projects. This should be fun to watch.
Below is the paragraph about North Fulton:
All those north metro drivers who motor down to MARTA’s North Springs Station have spurred talk of extending the train line further up Ga. 400. But no one requested such a project for the referendum, according to the ARC. (At least not yet, as the state DOT has yet to weigh in.)
Since the President and CEO of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce, Brandon Beach, is also the North Fulton representative on the Georgia Department of Transportation Board it will be interesting to see what is included after the DOT “weighs in”. You can read the whole thing here.
The city of Alpharetta issued a press release today inviting residents to come see their new plans for the Northpoint LCI center. Below is the release:
Open House Announced For Encore Parkway Improvements
Released on: Monday, April 11, 2011 10:00 AM
Major improvements are underway for Encore Parkway from Westside Parkway to North Point Parkway. Plans include widening Encore Parkway to include a newly designed bridge as it passes over Georgia 400 and shoulders that will house 6-foot buffer planter strips and an 8-footwide sidewalk/bike lane. To connect the newly constructed sidewalks and bike lanes on Encore Parkway to the Big Creek Greenway trail system, sidewalks and shared lanes will be established along the eastern side of North Point Parkway. The project will also incorporate enhancements such as trees, landscaping, lighting and furniture.
The Georgia Department of Transportation plans to unveil the visual elements of the proposed project at a Public Information Open House & Detour Meeting to be held between 5:00pm and 7:00pm on April 26th at the North Fulton Chamber of Commerce (located at 11605 Haynes Bridge Road, Suite 100, Alpharetta, GA). Residents are encouraged to stop by as the presentation is informal and will provide more details on the project and planned detour routes.
What the city fails to mention is that the projects discussed in the press release are a quid pro quo for the city’s adaptation of the Northpoint Area Livable Centers Initiative which includes the MetLife high density mixed use development. Back in 2008 the Mayor of Alpharetta, Arthur Letchas, and the City Council knowingly chose to accept the urbanization of our city in exchange for 4 million dollars worth of improvements in the Northpoint area. Now that the city has approved the MetLife project they can show us the precious new projects that they got in exchange for urbanization.
So if you live in Alpharetta and want to see why our City Council continues to approve high density mixed use projects please stop by and decide for yourself if the urbanization was worth it. While you are there you might also want to ask Department of Transportation board member Brandon Beach how spending that 4 million dollars is going to help relieve congestion for you and your family.