Updated:FULTON COUNTY, Ga. —
Just nine days before voters decide on the transportation tax referendum, Mayor Kasim Reed is making a final push to rally support for the controversial plan.
Transit leaders from all over the country came to Atlanta to meet with Reed to address the current trends in public transportation. The annual meeting is held by the American Public Transportation Association.
“They came here to see what we are doing. If we are successful here, the nation is going to take notice and we’re going to be a model for national reform” Reed told Channel 2’s Sophia Choi.
Metro Atlanta residents will vote on the one percent sales tax on July 31 to fund 150 projects within 10 area counties. The tax is expected to raise some $7 billion to fund transit-related projects around 10 metro Atlanta counties.
The fight for votes has been intense, with supporters blasting the airwaves saying the projects will help the economy and ease trouble commutes. Opponents said the referendum and list of projects is flawed and won't ease traffic enough to justify spending the money.
Choi said transit leaders at the Sunday event believe the transportation plan would set the pace for not just metro Atlanta, but for the entire country.
“The Chinese, the Europeans and the Japanese are all going ahead of us with transportation and we seem to be going back. This is an effort to move us into the future,” said Oregon official Greg Evans.
“Public transportation provides jobs and access to jobs,” added Michael Melaniphy, president of the American Public Transportation Association. “It makes this country stronger and it makes this state stronger.”
Despite stiff opposition, the mayor said he is confident the referendum will pass, adding that no major transportation project in Georgia has passed easily in the last 50 years.
“MARTA passed by 50 votes. People vehemently were opposed to Georgia 400, so we have had major transportation initiatives that have been tough,” Reed said.
The mayor said if the referendum doesn’t pass, he doesn’t know what’s next for public transit in the metro area. He said metro Atlanta is already very behind with such infrastructure issues and doing nothing will put the area farther behind.
Over the weekend, Channel 2 Action News also caught up with opponents of the sales tax.
“I voted a big fat ‘no.’ I understand a lot of that money is not going to be allocated to the south side,” said Toni Gibson, an early voter from Fairburn.
Opponents, including state Sen. Vincent Fort spent part of Saturday canvassing metro area counties, urging them to vote against the referendum.
"You should know while Cherokee County will be paying one percent, you will be paying 2 percent," he told a group gathered inside a barber shop.
Recent polls have shown the referendum losing. A Channel 2-commissioned poll earlier this month found 56 percent are opposed to the sales tax, while 33 percent said they would support it.
If approved, the tax would continue for 10 years.
Early voting for the July 31 primary continues through next week.
Channel 2's Sophia Choi and Tony Thomas contributed to this report.