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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 . The TSPLOST, if approved by voters in July of 2012, will remain in effect for 10 years.

According to the latest projections, . 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 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 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 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.

Jimmy Orr June 21, 2011 at 11:16 AM
Good morning, Kristi. Great (as usual) column. I plugged into the telephone town hall meeting via telephone call with associated pin number about 7:22 PM last evening. I had been listening to the happenings when my call waiting feature beeped in. When I answered, it appeared that my telephone number had been randomly selected. I remained on the line, although not selected to ask a question during the Q&A session, until the town hall meeting concluded. Afterwards, I verified via Caller ID that my randomly selected call came in from GA State Gov't at 7:36 PM. I surmise that Mayor Johnson must have thought it was Christmas as he appeared to have visions of light rail (I-85 corridor) dancing in his head which made listening difficult with those streetcars rattling around in his skull. I heard absolutely nothing that would sway my NO vote for TSPLOST on July 31, 2012. Ray Newman's commentary in today's (Tues. 06/22) Dacula Patch further solidifies my position. I am more resolute than ever to do my part between now and July 31, 2012, to "shorten the ring" and help deliver the knockout punch at the ballot box to prevent this issue from becoming another taxpayer debacle.
Jonathan Cates June 21, 2011 at 12:17 PM
I can't afford any more tax hikes, spending, or price hikes.....I'm broke.
Jimmy Orr June 21, 2011 at 12:59 PM
Jonathan, you are absolutely correct. Neither can I afford any new taxes, price hikes. or spending. I am retired Southern Bell/Bellsouth management (35 years) and this August (2011) it will have been 14 years since I last rec'd a COLA in my pension even though our pension trust fund makes more money than it pays out. I know from whence you come. Monday evening's telephone town hall meeting was pointless. The only purpose the town hall meeting served was to give Johnson a platform on which to defend light rail and mass transit. TSPLOST? Vote NO July 31, 2012.
STEVE RAMEY June 21, 2011 at 02:37 PM
Has everyone forgotten we are in a recession/depression? It is a known fact (proven by Obama) that you can't spend your way out of debt so why are we creating such a large transportation HOLE in which to throw taxpayer dollars into. In a previous letter to the editor of Patch I stated what I understood was said at the Cobb Galleria Regional Transportation meeting, and it was that most of the ridership would be those that did not have previous transportation. I will repeat that only 2% of the population is expected to ride anyway. Now please tell me how we will enable the roads to be less jammed without the riders in those vehicles riding rails or busses? I drove by the GWINNETT COUNTY TRANSIT parking lot at Indian Trail yesterday and it appeared from my vantage point to be at least half empty. If subsidized transportation is so great, why aren't we adding new parking spaces to the GCT parking lot? I need lower taxes, smaller government and less local, state and federal intrusion into my life! When in doubt ask WWTFFD (What Would The Founding Fathers Do?) You can't keep taking from the producers and giving to the developers, real estate agents, non-producers and creating new government departments and employees to manage them.
Karen A June 21, 2011 at 11:37 PM
Take the cars off the road and put the drivers on the commuter buses and you have less wear and tear on the highways, longer intervals between repavings, reduced pollution, and fewer accidents. It may take time to pry some out of their vehicles, but once they start commuting by bus to work, they too will be hooked!
Jonathan Cates June 21, 2011 at 11:44 PM
Karen, I do want to try the commuter bus one of these days....If I had used the commuter bus for work, it would have taken me 2 and a half hours to reach my destination from home. In the real world, that just doesn't work. You like those towns where the public transportation is free for all? Who does pay for that service?
Mary June 21, 2011 at 11:47 PM
Agreed Jonathan - I work just off the Access Road at North Druid Hills of 85... I battle the 50+ minute commute twice daily, unfortunately, no alternatives are available for me right now. Riding the bus would 1) cost me more in fare and transfers and 2) take twice as long as a bad traffic day since I would have to transfer to MARTA to get to my office. And, no vanpools that are available either. What to do!
Karen A June 22, 2011 at 01:33 AM
Jonathan, I never used the Discover Mills bus because of the added time for my commute and no real savings for me as Discover Mills is more than 15 miles from my house. The new GRTA Xpress bus stop in Dacula is less than 3 miles from my house making it time and cost efficient for me to ride the bus. What towns have free public transportation for all? I don't know any.
John Cook June 22, 2011 at 02:33 AM
The express busses already exist and people are not riding them. What makes anyone think that a "light rail" electric bus system street car trolley with overhead wires running down the center lane of our major roads in Gwinnett is the answer? Are people going to magically give up their cars just because we spend a few billion dollars? Mary indicates that the express bus system is not practical. How will a system that uses our surface streets, stops at trafic lights, gets delayed by accidents in intersections will magically pry people from the convenience of their automobiles? Most people are not aware that private companies offer van pools that pick passengers up within a couple of blocks of their homes and deliver them to the door of their workplace for less than it costs to drive to work. Yet our governments would rather spend billions on a street car system than to promote this existing alternative transportation. Read more about it on the Clean Air Campaign website. http://www.cleanaircampaign.org/Your-Commute/Improve-Your-Commute
Karen A June 22, 2011 at 10:43 AM
Many people use vanpools at my workplace, but there was not one available for me that ran the times I needed. We need a combination of solutions. The commuter buses and vanpools are a good start.
Ed Varn June 22, 2011 at 01:12 PM
I hope everyone following this scam recognizes it for what it is: a poorly disguised, back-door entry for MARTA into Gwinnett. They need that extra penny tax that Gwinnett would provide desperately, and they'll do what is necessary to get, especially since the citizens of this county resoundingly voted NO when approached. Mark my words--this passes, and MARTA is here within five years.
Jimmy Orr June 22, 2011 at 01:53 PM
I was listening to the comment a man from Bethlehem made on the telephone town hall meeting Monday evening. He implied that TSPLOST would bring us into the 21st. Century. Am I missing something? I thought we were already in the 21st. Century. As for light rail, whether it is called developer's choo choos, light rail, or streetcars, it is 19th. Century technology. Also, remember that to be effective, a public transit system must have a definitive "HUB" where the transit systems routes originate/terminate. Another thing to remember, and this might be a point Ed is making, is why would a group plan to spend an estimated $5 to $6 million dollars to "educate" the public as to why they should vote for TSPLOST unless there was an ulterior motive in doing so? Perhaps the concept of TSPLOST 2012 is to "educate" us and introduce us to the "new" Five Points in downtown Atlanta which, in my opinion, would be the new multimodal terminal being built on the former railroad properties in the area known as the "gulch." which supposedly would be an originating/terminating point for all means of transit in Metro Atlanta. As Ray Newman's coulmn in Tuesday's Dacula Patch implies, the public is not being told the truth.
The Other Donald July 18, 2012 at 03:34 AM
Bring in the transit lines and more bus services, as we'll sorely need it if we are to grow in Gwinnett! I ride GRTA daily to work and it's great! Looking forward to more improvements to make our transit quality of life better. Not even those who oppose the passage of the T-Splost  deny that transportation is a major issue for the entire metropolitan  Atlanta. Not since the development of the Interstate Highway system has this city had the opportunity to address the issues of transportation which could  influence the growth of the entire metropolitan area. That was also 50 years ago! It is an illusion to believe that any alternative plan to that which is provided in the T-Splost  such as ‘toll roads’ could provide adequately for the growth of our city  which includes  the outlying communities as well.   Now is the time for each of us to invest not only in our future, but in the future of our children as well.  If the T-Splost fails to pass on July 31st the future growth of our metropolitan city will be imperiled. The opportunity is at hand to take the necessary steps to see that our future as a city is secure.   Please vote ‘YES’ for the T-Splost
Karen A July 18, 2012 at 10:40 AM
I have been riding GRTA Xpress now for a year for my commute to work in Atlanta, and I love it!!!! I went from driving my car13,000 mi. a year to 1300 mi. Round trip bus fare ($7) is half the cost of gas for me; I have needed no oil changes and no tire replacement the past year, and I got a reduction on my car insurance and a reduction of stress for me. I went to New york City to visit my daughter over 4th of July week. She lives in the city, has no car and she walks, takes the bus, or subway to got everywhere! There are throngs of people on the streets and business is booming in New York! Like it or not Gwinnett is part of greater Atlanta, and we depend on and benefit from the business of our region. Mass transit options like the Xpress buses reduce commuter traffic on highways allowing businesses and trucking transport greater ability to do business. That is a good thing. I am voting YES to TSPLOST because our economy needs to get back on track, and reducing gridlock on the highways is one piece of that effort. If TSPLOST fails, the the legislature will be back next year to try another tactic. Vote YES to TSPLOST.
John Cook July 18, 2012 at 06:02 PM
HB277 created the TSPLOST list. There is no empansis on reducing gridlock. If they called this an Economic Development Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, no one would vote for it, so they are lying to us by calling it a transportation tax and lying about it "untying" gridlock. HB277, Section 7 (f) tells us the true purpose. State and Federal planning funds are to be used to continue the development of the Atlanta Region's Concept 3 transit proposal "including assessment of potential economic benefit to the region and the state, prioritization of corridors based on highest potential economic benefit and lowest environmental impact, and completion of environmental permitting.” Where's the part about resolving gridlock in that purpose statement? Hello? Anyone home? Wake up!

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