Metro Atlanta Transportation Wish List Sent to State

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(APN) ATLANTA — The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) has submitted to the planning director of the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) a “wish list” of transportation projects for the Metro Atlanta region.

This is a critical step in a process that could lead to a regional penny sales tax to fund transportation.

As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, in 2010 the Georgia legislature passed–after years of inaction–HB 277, a plan for regional referendums to occur in 2012 on whether to assess a penny sales tax in those regions for transportation projects.

In July 2012, each of the ten special transportation districts will vote on whether to assess a penny sales tax in voters’ respective districts.

Each district is responsible for creating its own transportation wish list, in cooperation with GDOT.

Over the last couple months, cities and counties across the region have been developing their wish lists for inclusion in the regional wish list.  Many county commissions worked with the city councils in those counties to present unified city-county lists, Jim Jaquish told APN.  But that was not the case with Fulton County, where Atlanta and numerous other cities submitted wish lists in addition to that of the county.

The ten-county Metro Atlanta region which makes up the Atlanta Regional Commission was also the same ten-county region created as a Special Transportation District by HB 277 of 2010.  The ten counties include Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, Dekalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, and Rockdale.

During March 2011, local governments around the region gave their “wish lists” of transportation projects to ARC for review.

The current, combined wish list sent by the ARC to GDOT is still in an early draft phase.  The list is a compilation of the lists sent in by local governments.

The City of Atlanta has requested a total of 24 projects, including several street improvements, funding for MARTA repairs and infrastructure, and several projects involving the Atlanta Beltline.

Atlanta Beltline proposals include Beltline segments from Northeast Atlanta to Downtown Atlanta, from South Buckhead to Midtown, Southeast Atlanta to Midtown, and Southwest Atlanta to Midtown.

Fulton County requested several road improvements as well as improvements to Fulton County Airport Charlie Brown Field.

MARTA has requested several infrastructure improvements as well as new MARTA rail line extensions.  MARTA proposes an east heavy rail line extension from Indian Creek Station to Wesley Chapel Road near I-20 East.

MARTA proposes a west heavy rail line extension from Hamilton Holmes Station to Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive near I-285.

MARTA proposes a northeast heavy rail line extension from Doraville Station to Norcross.

MARTA also proposes rail service through the Clifton Corridor and a new line to Turner Field.

“Our local governments, transit agencies and others have compiled and submitted a very comprehensive list of projects,” Bucky Johnson, Mayor of Norcross and chair of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable (Roundtable), said in a statement.

“This is an important step in a long process to get where we need to go. We look forward to working together as a region to craft an exciting list of improvements for voters to consider next year,” Johnson said.

If successful, the penny sales tax could generate approximately 8 billion dollars over a ten-year period, according to ARC.

The submittals includes projects from all parts of metro Atlanta and represent some 29 billion dollars in road, transit, safety, bike and trail, and other improvements.

First, however, GDOT Planning Director Todd Long will evaluate each of the 437 transportation projects submitted, using criteria developed by the Roundtable last year.

He will delete projects that do not meet the criteria and potentially add projects that meet the criteria but were not submitted by a local government.  Long will then present an “unconstrained” list of projects to the Roundtable by June 01, 2011.

The Roundtable will whittle Long’s unconstrained list down to a realistic list during the summer and fall of 2011.

During that time, the working list will be available for public comment.  A final “constrained” list, that is affordable with the projected 8 billion dollars in revenue, will be transmitted from the Roundtable to GDOT in October.

“The roundtable has the last word,” Jaquish said.  The list sent by the roundtable to the state will be presented to the voters in the region in the summer of 2012.

“From this point on, the roundtable is accepting public comment from anybody at any time,” he said, adding that people can visit atlantaregionalroundtable.com to submit comments and sign up for updates.

The next community briefing of the roundtable will be this Monday, April 18, 2011, at 930am at the Loudermilk Center in downtown Atlanta.  Subsequent meetings will be held on May 18 at 3pm, and June 09 at 730am.

The Atlanta Regional Commission also has been pushing for the Georgia legislature to create a regional transportation governance structure to supersede agencies like MARTA.  Advocates of this approach argue that it will make it more likely for voters, especially in counties other than Fulton or Dekalb, to support the penny tax.  This is sure to be another controversial issue should the legislature take it up next year.

Currently, Atlantans pay eight cents in sales tax on the dollar: four cents to the State of Georgia, three cents to Fulton County, and one to the City of Atlanta for water treatment upgrades.  Fulton County residents outside of Atlanta pay seven cents per dollar in sales tax.

In either case, one of the pennies received by Fulton County goes to MARTA; Dekalb County residents also pay one penny on the dollar into MARTA.

If the Metro Atlanta region approves an additional penny sales tax on transportation, Atlanta residents could end up paying as much as nine cents per dollar.  For Fulton and Dekalb County residents, the penny sales tax for regional transportation would be in addition to the penny already set aside for MARTA, not instead of.

While one of Fulton County’s three pennies which goes towards infrastructure improvements at Atlanta Public Schools is set to expire, APS is seeking for that penny to be renewed.

(END / 2011)

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