Photo by Jim Massara
Deborah Matheson (left) and her mother Mary Bridges, both of Morrow, say they’re skeptical that the T-SPLOST will end in 10 years as promised.
Elder-friendly issues — including the possible return of transit service to Clayton County — dominated audience questions Thursday at the first of two extra Town Hall meetings scheduled to discuss the proposed Transportation Investment Act.
The act and the tax to finance it, popularly known as the T-SPLOST, will bankroll about $8.5 billion worth of regional road and transit improvements throughout the metro Atlanta area. About $62 million of that will go directly to Clayton County for local use. A referendum on the tax will be held on July 31.
Two so-called regional projects, bringing buses back to Clayton and overhauling Tara Boulevard, will have a huge impact on the county. But from audience members’ points of view, the devil was in the details — and those details are not yet clear.
Several seniors wanted to know about bus routes and changes to Tara but couldn’t get specific answers.
“There’s not a plan (for specific bus routes), because it would cost a lot of money to put that plan together,” Clayton County Commissioner Wole Ralph told the 30-some seniors in attendance at Charley Griswell Senior Center in Jonesboro. “We don’t want to spend that money without knowing whether or not the tax was going to pass in the first place.”
County transportation director Jeff Metarko did take pains to explain that while a new transit system would provide the same amount of service that the old C-TRAN provided, it won’t necessarily duplicate its routes.
“C-TRAN had some institutional problems in the way it was set up from the beginning,” Metarko said. “We know that now. Hopefully, when we go through this process, when the tax passes, you’ll see a whole different way of bus service in Clayton County.”
Exactly how different?
Metarko couldn’t say for sure, but he suggested possibilities, including service to Ellenwood and Clayton’s panhandle.
“Are you going to put a bus everywhere you want to go? No. That’s not practical, that’s not cost-efficient,” Metarko said. “But there are areas that C-TRAN never serviced that we want to at least consider.”
Michael Woodman of The Collaborative Firm, which conducted the town-hall meetings for Clayton County, told the audience that the Atlanta Regional Commission 200,000 additional jobs would be supported by the Act, two-thirds in “high and mid-paying sectors.”
“Is there anything in place that guarantees that all construction jobs go to Clayton County unemployed?” asked Odette Florence of Rex, to a round of audience applause.
Ralph answered that Clayton County had no control over how jobs were distributed on regional projects but that the county is working to establish a “local-preference” requirement in hiring for companies that bid on non-regional projects.
Details aside, transit service appeared to be the most popular issue with senior citizens. “I have so many friends that need dialysis and doctor’s appointments, and they can’t drive any more,” said Lorraine Dye of Jonesboro. She added that she was unsure about whether she would vote for the T-SPLOST but would favor it if transit included smaller buses.
Deborah Matheson of Morrow was also concerned about health-related issues. But because she uses Georgia 400 to travel to doctors on the north side of Atlanta — and because the Georgia 400 toll was extended beyond when originally promised — she said she doesn’t trust politicians to end the T-SPLOST in 10 years as they promise now.
“Are you going to have more accountability than 400?” Matheson asked Woodman. “They promised us 400 would fall off. It has not. They lied to us.”
After the meeting, Matheson repeated her concerns. “I pay that toll a lot, and I was looking forward to it dropping off and it did not,” she said.
“They want a blank check,” added her mother, Mary Bridges, as they left the building. “And that’s just not going to happen.”
The second extra town-hall meeting is scheduled for noon Friday at Frank Bailey Senior Center in Riverdale.