It's Voting Season

Stephanie Weber

NOTE: An update on the outcome of this vote follows the original post.

I realize you might think I am being a bit premature with this declaration, but I am not talking about the November elections. I am referring to a critical vote—a referendum—in Georgia that will influence the direction of transportation funding in the coming years.

On July 31, 2012, state residents will vote on a one-cent sales tax to invest in a specifically identified list of transportation improvements in each of the state's 12 economic development regions. Each region's election is separate and distinct from the others, and each region's citizens will determine the fate of a new 10-year Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (T-SPLOST) on all sales in the counties in that region. The T-SPLOST referendum was authorized by the Transportation Investment Act of 2010 as a means for Georgia to increase funding for its transportation systems. 

So, what does that have to do with the Safe Routes to School National Partnership? 

Well, since the state network project began in 2007, we have worked with advocates and agency staff on Safe Routes to School in Georgia. When the regional network project began in 2010, the Atlanta region was part of the project. Doug Joiner, working under the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors, has served as the regional policy manager (RPM) for the Atlanta regional Safe Routes to School network since February 2011. We have a keen interest in Georgia.

Doug began working as the RPM in February 2011, just as the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), adopted PLAN 2040, the regional transportation plan. The region has begun to undertake a regional implementation plan, again a first. The outcome of next week’s referendum influences the implementation plan.

As with our other regional networks, the Atlanta network is funded through Kaiser Permanente. In Atlanta, there are three specific focus areas: 1) continuing to grow and maintain a Safe Routes to School regional presence; 2) promoting the Safe Routes to School platform; and 3) continuing a state/regional effort to support school siting policies in Georgia.

The Atlanta network and the Georgia Department of Transportation have been active in a project in the Pittsburgh neighborhood association (www.pcia-atlanta.org) in southwest Atlanta to organize safe, designated routes for three schools in this low-income community. This project is done in partnership with Morehouse School of Medicine, the City of Atlanta Urban Planning, Georgia Tech and the Atlanta Police Department. The partnership is using the Five E’s approach of Safe Routes to School as a way of developing a foundation for community wide awareness of health and safety.

Regardless of the outcome of next week’s vote, good things are happening in Metropolitan Atlanta with regards to Safe Routes to School. We’ll be providing updates regularly on this blog.  And we’ll also be watching the outcome of next week’s vote in Georgia with interest as a possible means for leveraging funds for transportation systems in other regions.

UPDATE:  This referendum failed by a large margin across Georgia, with nine of 12 regions voting it down.  State and regional decision makers are exploring other options for funding transportation systems.  

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