A move to increase possible sales tax funding for a proposed south DeKalb rail system failed to get the necessary approval on Oct. 11.
The amendment by DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis to increase funding for the I-20 corridor project by taking funding from a Ga. 400 project did not receive a second, indicating there was no support on the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable for the proposal.
In 2010 Georgia’s legislature passed the Transportation Investment Act, which provides for regional referendums in 2012 on a penny-sales tax to fund various transportation projects including transit, roadway safety, and bicycle and pedestrian improvements.
In a draft list passed by executive committee of the transportation roundtable, the proposed $500 million I-20 rail project was left off. But Ellis, a roundtable member, was able to get $225 million for the project.
MARTA officials said that amount would not fund a rail system, but would pay for five park-and-ride stations at Stonecrest Mall, Fairington Road/Lithonia Industrial Boulevard, Wesley Chapel Road, Candler Road and East Atlanta. The stations would eventually be converted to high-capacity transit stations.
DeKalb County Commissioner Lee May, who has supported the I-20 rail proposal, said he was not surprised the project did not get additional support.
“We knew [Ellis] wouldn’t get a second,” said “When he placed the motion on the floor, he knew it didn’t have a chance to pass.”
May had proposed that funding for the I-20 rail project be reallocated from other DeKalb County projects. He proposed the funding for the $700 million Clifton corridor rail project be reduced to $462.5 million. Under the proposal, the I-20 project would be increased from $225 million to $462.5 million.
“That would have had overwhelming support of this regional roundtable,” May said. “No one was going to give money out of their own county’s funds.”
May said Ellis’ actions have “put DeKalb County’s vote at jeopardy.”
“The region as a whole needs DeKalb County to overwhelmingly support this in order for it to pass,” May said.
Ellis agreed that DeKalb County’s vote is needed for the regional referendum to pass.
“I think there’s a lot of work and education that will need to be done between now and the referendum date,” Ellis said. “I don’t think the referendum passes without the support of DeKalb County.”
But he also sees the $225 million allocated for the I-20 project as a success.
“At the end of the day, DeKalb County will get almost $1 billion of funding,” Ellis said. “That’s more in DeKalb County alone than we’ve seen in the region in the last 40 years. That’s significant.”
Commissioner Jeff Rader, whose district includes the Clifton rail project, said Ellis should be congratulated on “his commitment to serve in the interests to the entire county” despite not getting as much funding for the south DeKalb transit project as supporters wanted.
“Ultimately, it is short-sighted to focus only on all or nothing,” Rader said. “We need to recognize that this investment of $225 million will substantially improve the mobility options to anyone in south DeKalb.”
Rader said an express bus system “can penetrate farther in the neighborhoods and can support the commuting needs” of south DeKalb.
“I think that mobility will improve in south DeKalb,” Rader said. The proposed bus service “will meet the needs of the existing transit demand there, and it will make [the community] a much more livable place by giving people more sustainable access to jobs in metro Atlanta.”
The final roundtable vote on the proposed project list will be on Oct. 13.