Panelist Tom Leslie may have best summed up a public information meeting on the upcoming TSPLOST referendum held in Roswell on Monday when he concluded: "we're not going to change each other's minds."
It seemed few who attended the meeting at Roswell City Hall hosted by Roswell Councilwoman Betty Price on Monday evening, May 21, were undecided about TSPLOST - and many expressed distrust for a government that promised the end of the Ga. 400 tolls, only to have them extended.
Monday's meeting allowed for some dialogue among the varying TSPLOST viewpoints, facilitated by a panel of transportation experts and governmental issue advisors, including: Bob Ross, a Fayette County Issues Tea Party representative; Tom Leslie, a representative with Citizens for Transportation Mobility; Steve Brown, Fayette County commissioner; Brandon Beach, president of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce, executive director of the North Fulton CID and Georgia Department of Transportation commissioner; Mike Lowry, Transportation Leadership Coalition representative; and Steve Acenbrak, Roswell Transportation Department director.
On the issue of the transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST) referendum - a one-cent sales tax over the next ten years slated for transporation project improvements - the proverbial line-in-the-sand has been drawn and residents from throughout the 10 county region represented in the Atlanta Regional Commission's transportation project list have rallied on either side, hoping to sway those who are still undecided. Regardless of the current back and forth, each side will have their answer come July 31, when voters will decide the fate of the one-cent tax.
Prior to TSPLOST summaries from each of the panelist and a question/answer session with attendees, Acenbrak presented the three local projects that are set to be funded by TSPLOST:
- State Route 140 (Arnold Mill Road) from Cherokee County Line to Rucker Road to be widened; Rucker Road from Hardscrabble Road to Willis Road to get better turning and traffic flow functionality
- State Route 400 at State Route 140 (Holcomb Bridge Road) to get interchange improvements and enhancements
- State Route 9 (Atlanta Street) from Chattahoochee River to State Route 120 (Marietta Highway) to be widened and reversible lanes are to be discontinued
The panelists for the TSPLOST spoke to the traffic-relieving merits of similar projects throughout the metro area, while those against offered up statistics they believe prove otherwise.
"I'm not opposed to the [Transporation Investment Act] per se, but this project list is underperforming," said Ross.
It was a sentiment echoed by many who argued against the TSPLOST and, in particular, the amount of money it sets aside for funding MARTA. If MARTA extends its rail line north to Holcomb Bridge Road, it's expected to cost $37 million.
"Transit won’t work in Atlanta because we’re not high density," said Lowry, who spoke to the fact that the metro-area is network of cluster cities and transit doesn't appeal to most.
Lowry proposed voting down TSPLOST to "fix the Georgia Department of Transportation" and innovate a better project list, which could include more innovative solutions to traffic congestion, such as flyovers, high capacity exits and continuous flow lanes.
But TSPLOST advocates steered around the issue of MARTA, for the most part, and spoke to the need for roadway improvements.
"We're getting to a point we’re going to be able to maintain only," said Beach. "If you want new capacity, this helps. If you’re okay with status quo, vote no, but if you want new projects, I’d encourage you to vote yes."
According to Beach, if the tax passes, $75 million of the expected $8.5 billion collected in the Atlanta region will go toward North Fulton projects.
"If it was a social program I’d be against," he said. "But it’s local, it's audited and it sunsets."
Still, Lowry cautioned that TSPLOST projects could be left only half finished at the end of 10 years, making a continuation of the tax inevitable.
When questioned about the potential of Roswell projects left unfinished, Acenbrak told meeting attendees, "Given this funding, I’ll tell you we’ll get these done in the 10 years timeframe."