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Bus service, Tara revamp top Clayton T-SPLOST list

One of the most controversial votes on the July 31 primary ballot is a referendum on whether to approve the T-SPLOST, a tax that would finance the Transportation Investment Act. The tax would bankroll about $8.5 billion worth of road and transit projects throughout the 10-county metro Atlanta area. Proponents include civic and business leaders who say the bigger picture demands immediate action to address inadequate roads and transit that stymie economic development. Critics say it costs too much, over-emphasizes public transit and is short on details. They're also skeptical that the sales tax proposed to fund the projects will disappear in 10 years, as its proponents say it will.

What does T-SPLOST stand for?

Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

How much is the tax?

It would cost an extra penny for every dollar spent. If you spend a dollar on a candy bar, it would cost you an extra 1 cent. If you spend $15,000 on a car, it would cost you an extra $150.

How long will the tax last?

Ten years or until the planned projects are paid for, whichever comes first.

Who has to approve it?

A majority of voters in the 10-county metro area. That means that even if Clayton County doesn't approve it, if everyone else does the tax will pass.

What if it's not approved?

Two years must pass before it's put on the ballot again.

How much of the money to be raised by the tax will go to Clayton County?

About $61 million over 10 years. While 15 percent of that will be used at the county's discretion for the little stuff — lane stripes, turn lanes and the like — the rest is earmarked for the following major projects, which include returning bus service to Clayton and revamping Tara Boulevard:

(A) Tara Boulevard — $102.2 million

This project will make traveling Tara Boulevard from I-75 to Battle Creek Road faster by turning that section into a “super arterial” road — essentially a limited access highway with frontage roads on each side to access existing businesses. Although the exact details of the revamp are yet to be planned, that stretch of Tara would look much like a similar stretch of Peachtree Industrial Boulevard in DeKalb County north of I-285.

The TIA fact sheet says: “With over 55,000 daily vehicles on Tara Boulevard and over 95,000 vehicles utilizing the Upper Riverdale Road intersection daily, the redesign’s purpose of separating through traffic from local traffic will provide long range regional mobility. Also, local multimodal travel on the parallel access roads will have a safer and more manageable operation. The project will be a catalyst for corridor wide economic redevelopment opportunities and land use changes as it is the primary roadway through the heart of Clayton County.”

Bus service — $100 million

Bus service, gone from Clayton County since the demise of C-TRAN in 2010, would return. The new service would connect directly to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Clayton State University, Southern Regional Medical Center, Clayton County Justice Complex, Fort Gillem and Southlake Mall, with connections to other systems and other routes yet to be planned. Potential routes include Tara Boulevard, Ga. 85, Ga. 54, Upper Riverdale Road, Forest Parkway, Ga. 139 and Mt. Zion Road.

The TIA fact sheet says: “As the need for transit is evident by the dynamic ridership growth previously experienced, exceeding 8,500 weekday boardings in 2009, this project provides increased mobility options for the County’s citizens and expand existing economic development opportunities ... The desire for service is evident by a nonbinding referendum where 70 percent approved participation in a regional transit system, including levying a sales tax to support system funding.”

(B) Ga. 85 — $39.4 million, plus $17 million of federal money

Two different projects are proposed for Ga. 85, also known as State Route 85. One runs from I-75 to Adams Drive and would be supplemented with federal money, while the other runs from Point South Parkway to Roberts Drive. Both would widen and add a median to Ga. 85. Five-foot-wide sidewalks will be built on both sides. Also, the interchange where Ga. 85, Forest Parkway and I-75 meet would be re-worked.

The TIA fact sheet says: “SR 85, with over 41,000 daily vehicles, is identified as the most congested corridor in Clayton County by ARC and the Clayton Transportation Plan identified high frequency crash locations at 3 intersections. This road is a bottleneck during the morning with over 2,000 vehicles per hour traveling to I?75 … SR 85 provides a critical travel corridor within Clayton County between the Cities of Riverdale and Forest Park and provides regional capacity for traffic from Fayette County through Clayton County to I-75. This project has been in Georgia DOT’s program for many years with design originally authorized in 1992.”

(C) Conley Road — $28.5 million

Conley Road from I-285 to Ga. 54 would be widened to four lanes to increase safety and encourage business growth in the area. A median and five-foot-wide sidewalks on both sides will be added.

The TIA fact sheet says: “The approved Concept Report (December 2006) indicates that crash rates along this corridor exceed the statewide average for similar corridors. The project supports the Mountain View and Fort Gillem redevelopment plans to encourage redevelopment in an economically depressed area for industrial and commercial use, access to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (HJAIA), and connection to the proposed Southern Crescent Transportation Service Center.”

Atlanta to Griffin commuter rail — $20 million

The money would fund more planning for a proposed commuter rail line from Atlanta to Griffin, thus allowing the state to access federal money to actually build it by making it shovel-ready.

The TIA fact sheet says: “This project will continue development and engineering activities for the Atlanta to Griffin Commuter Rail Project, positioning it as a strong candidate for construction in the future.”

(D) Jonesboro connector — $15 million

A bypass would be built on the southern edge of Jonesboro, connecting the area around Tara Boulevard, Ga. 54 and Flint River Road to Lake Jodeco Road. The idea is to relieve congestion in downtown Jonesboro.

The TIA fact sheet says: “This project would support Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) activities in downtown Jonesboro, enhancing the ability to walk and bicycle on downtown streets, by encouraging vehicular and freight through-traffic to bypass the center city thus decreasing traffic within the downtown area.”

(E) Highway 54 — $8.1 million, plus $32 million of federal money

Ga. 54, also known as State Route 54 or Fayetteville Road, would be widened to four lanes from McDonough Road in Fayette County to Tara Boulevard. Bike paths and sidewalks would be added. The project would be funded mostly with federal money.

The TIA fact sheet says: “Several intersections within the project limits experience a high level of crashes … SR 54 provides a critical regional travel corridor between Clayton County and Fayette County and between the Cities of Jonesboro and Fayetteville.”