Officials unveil combined transit wish list

muter rail, local bus service, a "super" road, and wider highways to Clayton and Henry counties survived the first round of cuts to a list of proposed projects for an upcoming regional transportation sales tax vote, the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) has revealed.

The regional commission has compiled a $23 billion, unconstrained wish list of projects that could appear on the ballot next year, during a regional referendum on a one-cent transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST). The vote is being held in accordance with the state's Transportation Investment Act of 2010, which broke the state up into 12 transportation regions.

The unconstrained list is a slightly-paired-down compilation, made Todd Long, the director of planning for the Georgia Department of Transportation, of wish lists submitted 10 counties, and the City of Atlanta. Clayton and Henry counties are part of the metropolitan Atlanta region, which also includes the City of Atlanta, and Cherokee, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett and Rockdale counties.

The list includes $1.6 billion for projects in Clayton and Henry counties, although it is expected to be cut down further between now and the fall.

"Our region's ideal transportation-priorities mix will create and retain jobs, expand our mobility options and reduce the amount of time we spend stuck in traffic," said Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson, in a written statement. Johnson is the chairman of an ARC roundtable made up of local county commission chairpersons and mayors, that has been tasked with compiling a final project list for the regional tax.

Over the next few months, the ARC's regional roundtable will work with its executive committee to cut the list down to a more affordable mix of projects. The final list is expected to total $8 billion, according to an ARC news release.

"This list needs to be completed Aug. 15, 2011," Long said in a letter, which is addressed to the regional roundtable's executive committee.

Johnson said the roundtable will work to create a final list that "will have the most positive impact on our quality of life in the shortest amount of time."

This month, residents across the metropolitan Atlanta area will be invited to participate in "telephone town hall meetings" with their respective county's roundtable representatives, to ask questions about proposed projects in their area, according to an ARC news release. Exact dates for those town hall meetings have not been released the ARC.

Eldrin Bell, the chairman of the Clayton County Commission, said the roundtable is in the process of determining how it will whittle down the unconstrained list, into a final list the ARC is expected to submit to the Georgia Department of Transportation in October.

Henry County Commission Chairman Elizabeth "B.J." Mathis, a member of the roundtable's executive committee, could not be reached for comment on Thursday. Kay Pippin, president of the Henry County Chamber of Commerce, said she sees the regional transportation sales tax effort as, possibly, the first step in future efforts to address issues on a regional, rather than community-by-community, scale. "It probably is laying the groundwork for future regional initiatives," she said. "All of the major issues facing us are regional issues."

The biggest — or at least highest-priced — item among the local projects is a $463.6 million Atlanta-to-Griffin commuter rail line that would cut through Fulton, Clayton and Henry counties. Other high priced items in Clayton County, include turning Tara Boulevard from Interstate 75, to Ga. Hwy. 54 (Fayetteville Road), into an elevated "Super Arterial" roadway ($254.2 million), and bringing local bus service back to Clayton County ($182.8 million). Also, an $8 million "Jonesboro Connector," which will go from Tara Boulevard to Lake Jodeco Road, is on the list.

"I am incredibly pleased for the people of Clayton County," Bell said. "Many thanks to Todd, for looking favorably upon those things we have asked for."

Advancing projects from Henry County's wish list include several road-widening projects, as well as an extension of McDonough Parkway, from Atlanta Street, to Conyers Highway ($23 million); an extension of Ga. Hwy. 20, from Richard Petty Boulevard, to Ga. Hwy. 92, in Fayette County ($20.7 million), and a "Western Parallel Connector," that will go from Hudson Bridge Road, to Jonesboro Road ($17.2 million).

The local projects will have some competition to get on the final list, however, from expensive projects in other parts of the metro area, including: A streetcar system for the City of Atlanta ($1.58 billion); a fixed guideway transit system that would run along U.S. Hwy. 41, from midtown Atlanta to the Town Center Mall area, in Kennesaw ($1.5 billion), and a light-rail transit service that would extend from the Doraville MARTA station, to the Gwinnett Arena ($1 billion spread across five phases).

The full, unconstrained list of projects that the ARC roundtable will be working with can be found online, at www.atlantaregional.com/.