Rail Projects Are Top Picks for Referendum List
The Executive Committee of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable will pursue several rail projects and extended funding for GRTA bus service. Dacula Mayor Jimmy Wilbanks says TSPLOST referendum should include a balanced list of projects.
Three billion down, three billion to go.
On Aug. 4, the Executive Committee of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable reached roughly the halfway point in choosing which transportation projects to pursue during next July’s Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax or TSPLOST referendum. The committee voted to include seven major transit projects totaling approximately $3 billion on the draft referendum list.
According to a press release from the Atlanta Regional Commission, rail projects comprise the bulk of the seven projects identified so far. Those projects include:
- Atlanta Beltline
- Clifton Corridor Transit Line
- MARTA State of Good Repair
- Northwest Corridor to Town Center
- Restore Clayton County Local Bus Service
- Study and planning for Northeast Corridor
- Funding the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority’s Xpress Bus service for 10 years, at a cost of $180 million
The committee must now identify roughly $3.1 billion in additional transportation projects for inclusion on the list. The committee has until mid-August to return a draft referendum list to the full 21-member Roundtable for adoption.
Bucky Johnson, Chairman of the Roundtable Executive Committee and mayor of Norcross said real progress was made in honing the draft referendum project list. Johnson said the committee will focus this week “on the large, region-shaping road and interstate exchange projects that can get our region moving in the future.”
Dacula Mayor Jimmy Wilbanks expressed concern the TSPLOST list will not be looked upon favorably by voters unless it includes a balanced list of projects.
“If you look at the map of the places where projects are suggested, it is evident that Dacula/southeastern Gwinnett doesn’t have many. What’s the chance of a SE Gwinnett voter looking favorably on a list that is weighted for heavy/lite rail?” Wilbanks wrote in response to an emailed inquiry. “Having said all that, Gwinnett and Dacula and southeast Gwinnett especially need to be thinking regionally. We need to be able to move in the region if we are to stay viable as an economic development engine in Gwinnett.”
The Executive Committee plans to finalize its draft list of projects on Aug. 11. The full Roundtable will have until Oct. 15 to adopt the list that will go before the voters next year.
Earlier this year, city and county officials were asked to submit a “wish list” of transportation projects to be funded with a proposed 1 percent transportation special purpose local option sales tax or TSPLOST. In March, local leaders met in Duluth to discuss the master project list for Gwinnett –- a list that originally included 73 projects.
Those projects, combined with projects from the 10-county Atlanta metro region, were vetted by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT). An “unconstrained” list of projects totaling approximately $22.9 billion in spending was delivered June 1 to the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable with about 30 Gwinnett projects struck from the list.
Among those eliminated were several projects requested by the City of Dacula. The city submitted four 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 Dacula's projects, the $301 million Sugarloaf Parkway extension, made the unconstrained list.
In early July, the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable received a draft “constrained” list of projects. The proposed constrained list is the result of whittling the $22.9 billion, 446-project unconstrained list to a list that can be funded with the estimated revenue the TSPLOST is expected to generate for regional projects.
Updated revenues projections released on June 15 by state economist Kenneth Heaghney show the Atlanta metro region could receive as much as $8.4 billion in tax proceeds for transportation. In the worst-case scenario, the metro area would only take in $6.8 billion. Of those funds, 85 percent would be allocated for regional transportation projects. The remaining 15 percent would be sent to local governments to fund local projects. Officials are currently working on the assumption the tax will generate approximately $7.2 billion of which $6.1 billion will go to regional projects and another $1.1 billion will be divided among city and county governments for local projects.
Though presented as a choice for voters, there are penalties if the public fails to approve next year’s TSPLOST referendum.
H.B. 277, the Transportation Investment Act, contains penalties for regions that fail to adopt the TSPLOST. If a region adopts the TSPLOST, local governments will only be required to pay 10 percent in matching funds for projects receiving funding from the Georgia Department of Transportation. If the region holds a referendum, but fails to pass the TSPLOST, local governments will be required to post 30 percent in matching funds. If the Roundtable fails to reach an agreement on the constrained list and fails to hold the referendum, local governments in the Atlanta region would be required to pay 50 percent in matching funds for state aided transportation projects.