Gwinnett leaders had a meeting of the minds on March 17 about the Transportation Investment Act--the or TSPLOST, that could be put before voters in a 10-county region in summer of 2012. The challenge the leaders now face is putting together a list of projects that will get citizens to vote it through.
At the meeting, a draft list of 73 potential Gwinnett projects was unveiled which will later be sifted through by local leaders and then the Executive Committee of the Regional Transportation Roundtable, which is chaired by Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson, along with the nine other counties’ project lists.
The sales tax would generate an estimated $7 billion, according to Johnson. Of the money, 85 percent would be committed to regional projects, while 15 percent would go to local projects. “This would be a huge economic shot in the arm for the region,” said Johnson.
Todd Long from the GDOT Department of Planning, described as the “father” of the bill, stressed the importance of getting the job done since he said he’s looking at a 25 percent reduction in federal funds for an already ailing transportation budget.
State Representative Donna Sheldon said that a few things have become apparent as the process has unfolded. “It’s a quality of life issue and it is all about job growth,” she said to open up the meeting. She said the recent release of Census data about Gwinnett County showed growth but that the system of taxing motor fuel is just not keeping pace.
One reason, Sheldon said, is that we’re driving more fuel-efficient cars. Though they have a positive impact on the environment, they’re having detrimental impact on transportation budgets.
Many agreed that putting local projects that appeal to people on the list would be the key to getting the referendum passed. “I like to talk about beginning with the end in sight,” said Johnson. He has asked the various groups and government bodies to put their project descriptions, which plans to post on Atlantaregionalroundtable.com, in plain English.
Some projects involving Dacula made the early wish list: Dacula Road/Bridge, widening Harbins Road to four lanes, Sugarloaf Parkway extension phase II (Highway 316 to State Route 20) and a Winder Highway bike trail from Dacula to Athens.
The final list would be a mix of road projects and transit projects. “Transit has always been a problematic thing,” said State Representative Tom Rice. “People in my area have always opposed transit.” Long recognized, too, that there would be “organized opposition” to transit projects on the list.
Jann Moore, Senior Director at the Gwinnett Chamber, said the region would have a $6 million budget that would go to campaigning and educating people. “We know it’s an uphill battle,” she said. But, by her account, it is necessary to keep Gwinnett County economically viable and a good place to live.