Atlantans approve $250 million bond package to fix roads, bridges, and sidewalks

Only 7.5 percent of registered voters cast ballots in special-called election


  • Joeff Davis/CL File
  • RED TO GREEN: Atlanta’s traffic lights haven’t been fully synchronized since the 1970s. By tackling this project, motorists could shave minutes off their commutes and reduce congestion.

In an election with one of the lowest turnouts in recent memory, Atlanta residents approved two ballot measures allowing City Hall to take on hundreds of millions of dollars in debt to fix bridges, pave roads, and repair sidewalks.

More than 85 percent of Atlanta voters today cast ballots in favor of the $250 million infrastructure bond package. Nearly 21,000 people — roughly 4.7 percent of city’s population and 7.5 percent of the registered voters — visited the polls. According to Fulton County spokeswoman April Majors, election workers experienced no issues at the polling precincts, in what she characterized as an “uneventful day.” Only 1,677 residents voted early for the bond referendum in the weeks leading up to St. Patrick’s Day.

Mayor Kasim Reed, who has spent the past several weeks rallying supporters to vote for the ballot measures, touted the bond package as the largest above-the-ground infrastructure investment in the past generation. Today’s vote will allow the city to pay for numerous large expenditures, including syncing all of the city’s traffic lights, fixing century-old bridges, refurbishing fire and police stations, and even building a new Martin Luther King Jr. Natatorium. It will also provide funds to resurface dozens of roads, repair sidewalks, install bike lanes, and buy school crosswalk signs.

Though both ballot measures passed by an overwhelming margin, critics had taken issue with the city’s decision to let voters cast ballots without seeing the final project list. According to Kevin Ross, who managed the campaign in support of the city’s last major transportation bond referendum in 1994, residents were able to see a final project list before heading the polls. Reed’s office disputes that residents received full project lists in the past.

The mayor, who this morning said the list was about 90 percent complete, told reporters outside his polling precinct at Fickett Elementary School in southwest Atlanta that the bond’s “scheduling” required a referendum to be scheduled in March.

“Once we vote on the referendum you have to go to markets to get the funding,” Reed said. “It’s about how much time you’re going to have to execute on the projects. And we’d like as much time to execute on the projects as possible.”

The vote paves the way to a five-year effort to complete the projects, one that will largely define the mayor’s second-and-final term in office. That construction work could begin as early as late June, Reed said. Atlanta Chief Operating Officer Michael Geisler said during a town hall meeting in February that work could begin even earlier if necessary using existing cash until the bond funding arrives. Projects that could have a large impact and are urgent could be first to move.

“Traffic light synchronization isn’t going to take a lot of debate so we’ll push that out,” Reed said. “Bridge repair isn’t going to take a lot of debate so we’ll push that out.”

Atlanta City Council must approve a final project list before the city heads to the bond market this summer. According to Reed, the set-in-stone list of fixes will be nailed down sometime in April. Council members, who this week created an oversight committee for the bond projects, must also decide how they want to spend the approximately $5 million that will be allocated to their respective districts.

As for when the next big chunk of the $1 billion backlog gets addressed, Reed this morning said it would likely come with a new administration — and likely some new council members.

“I think the city will be ready to address the next $250 million in four years,” he said. “As long as the public feels like they got a good value. And because we’re not going to raise taxes over an 8-years period of time and we’re investing in the 250, I think the public will feel they got a good value from this bond offering.”