If some DeKalb County officials get their way, some $76.6 million will be allocated for corridor improvements on Covington Highway from I-285 East to Turner Hill Road.
And another $70.4 million would be used to widen and improve Panola Road from Snapfinger Road to Covington Highway.
Those are two of the 25 DeKalb County projects, which would cost an estimated $655 million, still remaining on a list of metropolitan Atlanta transportation projects being considered for funding through a regional referendum. The updated list was released July 7 after a meeting of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable.
Last year, Georgia’s legislature enacted the Transportation Investment Act (HB 277), which provides for regional referendums in 2012. As a result of this referendum, voters in the Atlanta metropolitan area will be able to vote on a penny sales tax to fund various transportation projects, including transit, roadway, safety, bicycle and pedestrian improvements.
A major part of regional transportation planning has been geared toward improving and expanding the MARTA system.
“We are heavily focused on our investments that we’ve made in transit and the expansions to the system as well as the state of repair [in] the existing MARTA system,” said DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis, who, along with Decatur Mayor Bill Floyd, represents DeKalb County on the regional transportation roundtable.
“We are heavily focused on making sure we can get people to work…because we think that’s the key to really stimulating economic activity and reducing congestion,” Ellis said.
Of the 217 projects on the current regional list, 31 are transit projects costing $5.5 billion, including $4.3 billion for expanding the transit system and $1.1 billion for maintenance and modernization.
DeKalb and Fulton officials have complained about how their counties have been the only counties supporting MARTA for decades.
“MARTA is a great system but it’s just two counties,” Floyd said. “Its problem is it’s not regional. If we pass this tax, we begin to spend 1 percent of 10 counties’ money on the MARTA system.
“People have to understand that there is no backup plan,” Floyd said. “If we want to solve the MARTA issue—equity in funding—we have to pass this tax. If we don’t pass this, you can forget equity in funding.”
The goal of the referendum is to raise funds through a penny sales tax for transportation projects that can be completed within 10 years.
“We’re making a 10-year promise,” said Kirk Fjelstul, chief counsel for the Georgia Regional Transit Authority. “A sales tax is a promise. It takes a lot of commitment and focus and up-front decision-making to make the right choice for 10 years.”
The estimated cost of the remaining regional projects is $12.2 billion. Since this amount is double the target amount of $6.1 billion, the projects will be reduced further. The penny sales tax is expected to generate approximately $6 billion to $9 billion over 10 years.
Ellis said he is “cautiously optimistic” about the chances of the referendum passing.
“It’s about an investment that we’re making in the quality of life of our citizens,” Ellis said. “Essentially we have to help people understand what the investment is and what the return on that investment will be.”
The regional roundtable has until Oct. 15 to finalize the project list, which will go to voters in a regional referendum in July 2012.