The city proposes keeping most Buckhead area projects – including some previously threatened with cutting – on the latest version of its Renew Atlanta and TSPLOST program list.
About 70 residents attended a March 4 meeting at Sutton Middle School to review the proposals and provide feedback that might shift a few projects into or out of funding, but appeared unlikely to shake up the city’s overall approach.
“We’re going to get everything we wanted,” said City Councilmember Howard Shook in an interview while he attended the meeting.
That includes funding for the PATH400 multiuse trail, a Wiecua Road/Phipps Boulevard roundabout, a South Fork Conservancy trail bridge, and a variety of resurfacing, accessibility and school zone improvements. A study for the Blue Heron Nature Preserve’s Blueway trail is still $100,000 short, said Shook, but he hopes to find that money as well.
The city aims to set a final project list this month for approval in April, when it can then decide phasing – which ones will happen when.
“We’ll get all that. The question is, what year?” said Shook of the local projects. “We’ll get to that. The first part is just saving the projects.”
The Renew Atlanta and TSPLOST programs were both approved by voters based on project lists, created by former Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration, that city leaders now acknowledge were unrealistic and lacking in priorities to deal with funding shortfalls.
That leaves the city in a bind as it tries to fulfill a promise to construct various transportation and infrastructure projects now estimated to cost more than $940 million with funding sources now estimated to total around $540 million.
Two main programs are involved. Renew Atlanta is a bond approved by voters in 2015 that raised $250 million to go towards an estimated $1 billion backlog in repairs and upgrades to streets, public buildings and other infrastructure. TSPLOST is a 0.4-percent special local option sales tax dedicated to transportation and transit projects. Approved by voters in 2016, the TSPLOST was projected to raise $380 million over five years, but which the city now believes will raise only $260 million partly due to bad calculations.
Other factors in the funding shortfalls include higher budgets and construction costs; projects that grew larger than originally planned; and additional projects added to the programs after “stakeholder” input.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ administration is now creating the priority list for projects that are not yet finished. The overall method is using three alternative priority lists or “scenarios,” intended to bump certain kinds of projects up the list based on different overall transportation goals. One list is “Complete Streets,” focused on projects that make streets friendly to all types of users, not just drivers. Another is “Foundational Investments,” focused on basics like repaving and traffic signal upgrades. A third list is “Max Leveraged Funding,” focused on major projects that are boosted by other funding sources; they include bridges, intersections, streetscape improvements and street widenings.
At an earlier, much better attended meeting at Sutton in January, the main public input was that such jargon was confusing, as was the data on hundreds of projects. However, at the March 4 meeting, the jargon remained, though the presentation and input methods were simpler.
The “Complete Streets” list was preferred by 75 percent of votes taken in the previous round of public meetings around the city, said Michelle Wynn, Renew Atlanta’s interim general manager. That’s not an exact count, since confusion at the previous Sutton meeting led many people not to vote on “scenarios” at all. But it’s the one the city went with, adding in some resurfacing and other projects from other “scenarios.”
The meeting materials, including lists of major projects, are available on the Renew Atlanta website here. A survey for further input will be on that site by March 8, according to Joshua Williams, the deputy chief operating officer overseeing the process.