AJC looks at likely effectiveness of proposed transportation sales tax

The Transportation Investment Act of 2010 — commonly called TSPLOST — will be put to voters in 12 Georgia regions on July 31, primary day.

If passed in that region, there would be a 1% additional sales tax added that would go directly toward transportation infrastructure and transit.

Today the AJC has a really interesting piece that tackles a fundamental question: Will sales tax shorten Atlanta commutes, reduce traffic?

From the article:

As the vote approaches, the Atlanta Regional Commission’s traffic-simulation computers have gamed out the 10-year showdown between the tax and its mighty foe, traffic congestion. The resulting study predicts how the referendum’s $6.14 billion regional project list is likely to change metro Atlantans’ commutes and job prospects.

The lesson, say planners: The needle is really hard to budge.

Holding the line against decay is an accomplishment. If some spots edge toward transformation, that’s a bonus. Regionwide, metro drivers in 2025 would waste 128,000 fewer hours in traffic each day than they would if the referendum doesn’t pass, the ARC found.

But they’d still waste 1.8 million hours a day.

On average, the number of metro Atlantans able to reach job centers in under 45 minutes would rise just 6 percent by car, and about 20 percent by bus or train, if the projects are built.

The ARC study is not exactly new, but this seems a good time to cover it so extensively. The report was released in February: Travel Impacts of the Transportation Referendum.

The gains might sound slight, but 128,000 fewer wasted hours per day would mean huge things for affected residents — they’d have more time with families and friends, and more time to be engaged in other productive activities. They would presumably end up wasting less fuel and contributing less to air pollution.

At the same time, I have to wonder about the sustainability of cities like Atlanta where so many residents are so dependent on their cars and spend so much time, money, and energy in their daily commutes. Even though the TIA would be investing something around half the money in transit projects rather than road improvements, I suspect over the long run that far more transit will be needed. More importantly, unwieldy metro areas like Atlanta need to figure out how to get more workers living closer to their jobs. On the worst days, my daily commute to and from Armstrong takes less than 45 minutes — and sometimes takes less than 30. I cannot imagine how much quality of life would be reduced if that number were doubled.

I’ve got an image here from the ARC report.