T-SPLOST battle rages as ‘moving protest’ looms

Opponents plan I-285 ‘drive-around’ Saturday

McDONOUGH — Opponents of the July 31 Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (T-SPLOST) referendum are planning to drive two laps around Interstate 285 on Saturday, as a moving protest. Supporters of the referendum challenged the idea.

“Untie Atlanta, the campaign advocating for passage of the referendum, called on these opponents to try driving two laps around I-285 at rush hour instead,” said Henry County Chamber of Commerce President Kay Pippin, in a letter to Chamber leaders this week. She is also an Untie Atlanta member.

Gail Engelhardt, of Cartersville, is assisting organizers of the planned protest as part of the Lights for Liberty organization. Engelhardt said the weekend protest is scheduled to avoid interfering with traffic patterns, and to allow 50 to 60 participants to take part in it.

“Saturday was the only day that everybody could get together,” she said.

Engelhardt, a semi-retired paralegal, hails originally from Chicago. She described Atlanta’s traffic problems as “a piece of cake” compared to other large cities.

“Taking an hour to get from Atlanta to Cartersville is nothing, compared to what I used to do in Chicago,” said Engelhardt. “The real reason for congestion is construction, and people who don’t know how to drive,” she said.

Fayette County Commissioner Steve Brown, also T-SPLOST opponent, said efforts like Saturday’s protest are becoming more common in the area.

“All sorts of people are coming in all sorts of ways to oppose the T-SPLOST,” said Brown. “I just find it fascinating.”

Brown said support for the T-SPLOST is backed by “sophisticated and well-financed” endeavors. Opposition is growing at the grassroots level, he added.

“Every poll thus far has shown that our side is winning,” said Brown. “The people are just not going to put up with taxation for projects that make no sense.”

Voters will decide the issue during the Republican and Democratic primaries on July 31. The measure advocates a 1-cent sales tax to fund $6.14 billion in road projects, over 10 years, for a 10-county area that includes Henry and Clayton counties.

“The good news for commuters is that the transportation referendum will fund projects at three major I-285 interchanges that snarl traffic for miles every day,” said Pippin. “More than $450 million will be used to completely rebuild the I-285/Georgia 400 interchange in North Fulton, one of the busiest bottlenecks in the Southeast.” 

The T-SPLOST calls for $53 million to be spent at I-85 and I-285, known as Spaghetti Junction, in DeKalb County, rerouting the northbound exit ramps to Northcrest Road and Pleasantdale Road, and improving operation on the ramps from I-285 to I-85 northbound, Pippin added.

“The third major project on I-285 will fund a $149 million reconstruction of the interchange at I-20 and I-285 in western Fulton County,” said Pippin. “This project is a top priority of commuters in south Cobb and Douglas counties.”

Pippin was joined by other Chamber leaders in support for T-SPLOST, in a letter to the Henry Daily Herald Wednesday. Those leaders include: Danny Brown, owner of SERVPRO of Henry & Spalding Counties, SERVPRO of Decatur, and SERVPRO of Clayton County; Eddie Ausband, managing partner of Revanta Financial Group; and Marcia Taylor, president and chief executive officer of Bennett International Group, LLC.

“The Henry County Chamber of Commerce supports the July 31, transportation referendum because our members see the impact of traffic congestion on their businesses every day,” the letter states. “Let’s be clear about what opposition to this plan means. It means going back to the drawing board and starting all over again. That means it will be years before we will have this chance to improve our infrastructure again.

“Businesses cannot afford to wait years to see us begin to fix congestion,” the Chamber letter continues. “Every day that goes by represents another day with hours of wasted productivity, inefficiency, and associated cost — not to mention decreased quality of life.”

Chamber leaders said although some have questioned the timing of the referendum, now is the time for it.

“Actually, the right time to take this type of action was six years ago, when the business community first started asking the legislature to finally do something about our traffic,” Pippin and her fellow supporters wrote. “Because of this same kind of opposition, it took this many years to finally get our politicians to act. Who knows how long it will take them to act again if we don’t pass this vote?

“Our support is based on the belief that a prosperous economy depends on a safe, efficient transportation network,” the group added. “Metro Atlanta was built as a transportation hub, and we have grown into a dynamic region because of that infrastructure backbone. We are in danger of falling behind other regions that see the wisdom of investing in transportation improvements — this vote is really about the future of our region.”