And one of the most expensive projects on the list of transportation improvements proposed to be financed through a one-cent regional transportation sales tax is a rebuilding of the intersection of I-285 and Ga. 400. That job is projected to cost $450 million.
The Atlanta Regional Roundtable reported Aug. 15 that its executive committee unanimously approved a draft list with $6.14 billion worth of transportation projects to be funded if voters approve a 1-cent sales tax, which some have nicknamed the “T-SPLOST” or transportation-special purpose local option sales tax. The tax would be imposed by voters within multi-county region and would pay for projects within that region.
The draft list still needs approval from the full, 21-member board by Oct. 15. There will be a series of public meetings to get input on the list before that vote, the roundtable said. The projects are spread across Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale counties, as and the city of Atlanta.
The committee’s decision to remove from the list a proposal to widen Hammond Drive from Barfield to Roswell roads immediately drew sharp criticism from Sandy Springs city officials. City officials had listed the widening of the two-lane portion of Hammond as the city’s top priority among potential projects.
“People in north Fulton are upset,” Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos said at the Sandy Springs City Council’s meeting August 16. “We feel like north Fulton got shafted.”
But city officials hope to convince the full board to reinstate the Hammond project.
“There is some work going on still to have that project added. We’re still cautiously optimistic,” City Manager John McDonough told the Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber of Commerce at its August 22 meeting.
Among the projects on the list were: $200 million for collector lanes along Ga. 400 from I-285 to Spalding Drive; $50 million for bus rapid transit on Piedmont and Roswell roads between the Lindberg MARTA station and the Atlanta city limits; and $5 million for improvements to Ashford-Dunwoody Road between Peachtree Road and I-285.
“We had representatives from all the major jurisdictions in the Atlanta region rolling up their sleeves to help the executive committee select projects with the greatest impact,” Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson, chairman of the executive committee, said in a press release the day when the list was released.
But their decision may touch off a new round of politicking over where and how to spend the sales tax proceeds.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, a member of the executive committee, told members of the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce on the day the list was released that they should get behind the regional plan.
“I know it’s tough and we’re going to have a lot of robust debates and back and forth …l,” Reed said. “If DeKalb’s not on board, it’s over. It’s done.”
And there were other points of controversy besides Hammond Drive and the omission of projects sought by residents in south DeKalb.
The $5 million approved for Ashford-Dunwoody is less than half the amount originally proposed for work on the road. But the proposal to spend sales-tax money on the road had touched off complaints from residents in the area and a petition to the roundtable. Hundreds signed the petition to oppose changes to Ashford-Dunwoody, said Jeff Turnage, a member of the board of the Ashford Alliance Community Association.
Turnage said he was disappointed Ashford-Dunwoody wasn’t taken off the list. “The project description is so vague that we’re still not clear exactly what they propose to do,” he said.
Also, he said, $5 million “could go a long way” if used to resurface the road or add sidewalks, but those were not “regional” road improvements to be financed by a regional sales tax. “For $5 million you can resurface the street, but how is that going to affect gridlock on I-285?” he asked.
But Rep. Mike Jacobs, a non-voting member of the roundtable and a supporter of using regional sales-tax money to improve Ashford-Dunwoody, said he’s convinced most residents in the area want something done about the road, which regularly clogs with traffic during rush hour.
Jacobs also said it was no surprise the amount of money for the project was reduced. “Most of the DeKalb County projects took a haircut in terms of funding,” Jacobs said. “Most of the DeKalb County road projects for the T-SPLOST were funded at roughly half of their original proposed funding.”
He said $5 million “isn’t going to fund large-scale improvements, but it is going to make some congestion improvements and probably some additional amount of sidewalks.”
“There is doubt in my mind that there is community support for improvements to Ashford-Dunwoody Road,” Jacobs said. “Now we need to talk about what those improvements will look like.”