Johnson: TSPLOST Vote ‘Once in a Lifetime’ Event
Transportation investment act will help future generations according to Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson.
Gwinnett County citizens had the opportunity on June 20 to share their priorities for regional transportation projects during a telephone town hall meeting hosted by the Atlanta Regional Roundtable. Citizens who participated in the call were polled regarding regional transportation investment, light rail and specific local projects.
Participants also had the opportunity to ask questions of Gwinnett County commission chairman Charlotte Nash and Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson who heads the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable executive committee.
“This is a really important issue that we have potentially in front of us next year,” Nash said. “Those of us who sit on the regional roundtable are anxious to hear what the priorities of the public are.”
Johnson emphasized the importance of regional transportation solutions in light of the huge population growth in the metro area.
“This really is a once in a lifetime type of event,” Johnson said.
According to Johnson, addressing transportation is critical not only for commuters, but also for the economic success of the region.
“What I really see this transportation investment act doing is helping our children and our grandchildren in the future,” he said. “We’ll be continuing to spend existing funds that come in, but this will give us a huge kick-start and do some catching up and put us in good shape for the future and quality of life.”
Johnson and other members of the executive committee are currently working to develop a list of transportation projects to be funded with a 1 percent transportation special purpose local option sales tax or TSPLOST. The TSPLOST, if approved by voters in July of 2012, will remain in effect for 10 years.
According to the latest projections, the TSPLOST could generate as much as $8.4 billion in the 10-county metro Atlanta region that includes Gwinnett. More conservative estimates place the revenue totals as low as $6.8 billion. Of those funds, 85 percent would be allocated for a specified or "constrained" list of regional transportation projects. The remaining 15 percent would be sent to city and county governments to fund local projects. For Gwinnett, the estimated total available for local governments is $200 million over the course of the decade-long tax.
The basic question for the participants in Monday night’s town hall meeting was which projects should be included on the list that will go before the voters next year. Currently, members of the Roundtable have a list of 445 projects with a total estimated cost of $22.9 billion. That list must be significantly pared down by October and approved by the full Roundtable before next year’s referendum.
One of the biggest issues for Roundtable members is how to create a list of projects that will appeal to voters throughout a 10-county region that includes Fulton, Henry, Douglas, Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, Dekalb, Fayette, Rockdale and Gwinnett as well as the City of Atlanta.
A caller identified as Mike questioned the fairness of having revenue generated in Gwinnett County fund projects in some of the smaller counties.
“Wouldn’t it be more proactive for Gwinnett to work on Gwinnett’s problems and not to work on Henry County’s problems?” he asked.
Mayor Johnson said it is important to consider projects that will produce the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people. Johnson explained many of those larger projects will be in the more populous areas like Gwinnett.
“We have to look at it in a regional way,” he said.
During the meeting, Johnson also said several transportation projects designed to facilitate travel between counties rather than just within counties were being considered, such as additional funding for Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) Xpress buses and light rail.
“We’re now at a density where light rail makes sense, expanded Xpress buses -- we’re looking into all of those options,” Johnson said.
While light rail may make sense to Roundtable members, no aviation projects related to Briscoe Field are being considered according to Nash.
“Gwinnett County did not submit anything on its project list that has to do with aviation,” Nash said. “We’re not visualizing any of this money being used for that.”
Nash also said expanding the county’s bus routes are not part of the current project wish list after a caller asked when something would be done to help Gwinnett commuters who do not travel into downtown.
“The quandary we find ourselves in with the inter-county bus service is that the ridership is not very high,” Nash said. “To deal with managing our operating funds and curtailing the amount that has to come out of general funds to pay for those operating costs, we have really taken a hard look at what our routes are and the ridership.”
Nash said Gwinnett’s portion of local funding from the regional sales tax could provide the option to expand local bus service without taking the money from the general fund. Nash added the county’s cut of the TSPLOST proceeds would also fund projects that would be very beneficial to local communities.
Local governments, transit agencies and other organizations from the 10-county metro Atlanta region submitted their suggestions for the TSPLOST project list earlier this year. The City of Dacula submitted several projects for consideration on the regional list including replacing/widening the Dacula Road Bridge at Highway 29, widening Harbins Road to four lanes, extending Sugarloaf Parkway from Highway 316 to State Route 20 and building a Winder Highway bike trail from Dacula to Athens. Only one of the City of Dacula's projects, the $301 million Sugarloaf Parkway extension, made the unconstrained list.
Two other Dacula area transportation projects are also being considered for inclusion on the final project list. A $50.7 million project to widen Hamilton Mill Road from two to four lanes from Buford Highway to Braselton Highway made the unconstrained list as did a $160.2 million project to widen Braselton Highway from Highway 20 to the Barrow County line.
Nash said there would be more opportunities for citizens to provide input as the project list deadline approaches.
“The outcome, the future of this proposal, rests in your hands,” Nash said. “It’s really up to the voters across the region -- including those within Gwinnett County -- to follow what’s going on and be ready to express your opinion when we get to the point that we have a referendum.”
For more information on the TSPLOST, visit the Atlanta Regional Roundtable website.