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Curbed Awards 2012: ATL's Biggest Boondoggle!

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For the second annual Curbed Awards, we've whipped up a batch of virtual accolades and doled them out to the most deserving people, places and things in the real estate, architecture and neighborhood universes of Atlanta. Our final category includes just one champion, a futile voting initiative that stands alone atop Mount Boondoggle Olympus. He's a hint ... it rhymes with "We lost."

What killed T-SPLOST? Was it the commercial with homicidal seatbelts? The one where Spaghetti Junction morphed into a giant, sooty boa constrictor? More likely, the referendum's abject failure was the result of widespread distrust of local governing bodies, a deep-rooted history of regional noncooperation, general distaste for rail transit and the voting majority's miserly view of pitching in to solve metro Atlanta's transportation ills. Anyhow, those ingredients came together in July to make a big smoldering cauldron of boondoggle stew. Only 37 percent voted in favor of the 1 percent sales tax, and Dallas and Charlotte rejoiced! Doesn't this all seem like two years ago?

As the ashes settled and voting data was parsed, stark realities were officially established. The robust opposition to the proposed penny tax that would have funded transportation infrastructure projects was pretty clearly rooted in the suburbs. But the final voting numbers affirm that the "two Georgias" narrative that's plagued state politics for generations now officially applies to the bounds of the metro Atlanta area as well. T-SPLOST had strong support inside the Perimeter and extremely strong support in town. The common read on this data is that the folks that live in the suburbs are reluctant to support projects in town and want more localized spending control. While understandable, our stance is that this attitude misses the point underlying the entire affair: It's precisely because "Atlanta" is actually a spread-out collection of suburbs and small towns that a regional approach is needed.

Given metro Atlanta's rejection of the T-SPLOST, it's easy to forget that the measure didn't entirely go down in flames elsewhere. One of the three regions that passed it was the "River Valley District" — basically the greater Columbus area. How did they do it? In short, it seems like simplicity worked. With a budget of $200,000 (as opposed to metro Atlanta's $8 million) the campaign managed to help the T-SPLOST pass with the highest margin in the state. The message was short and sweet: YES on transportation. And instead of shying away from the fact that the goal was a new tax, they carefully embraced it. Calling it a penny tax was avoided — the 1 percent figure was used — and emphasis was placed on the fact that it'll only be in place for ten years.

And now for hyperbolic moping:

As predicted, within weeks the T-SPLOST issue felt like a topic du jour whose spotlight had dimmed. Politicians who championed the cause largely fell quiet. Drivers settled into blood-pressure-heightening traffic. Our collective attention spans migrated to NFL stadiums, gun control, Honey Boo Boo and — on a positive note — the grand opening and subsequent popularity of the Beltline's Eastside Trail. Atlanta's 800-pound gorilla has been caged until some other day.