As transportation sales taxes roll in elsewhere, metro Atlanta ponders how to provide traffic relief

By David Pendered

Three regions in Georgia where voters in 2012 passed the 1 percent sales tax for transportation have raised a total of $54 million from January through May, according to a report last week from the state finance commission.

Voters in three districts approved the 1 percent transportation sales tax: Central Savannah River; River Valley; Heart of Georgia. Credit: Georgia Department of Community Affairs

Voters in three districts approved the 1 percent transportation sales tax: Central Savannah River; River Valley; Heart of Georgia. Credit: Georgia Department of Community Affairs

That may not seem like a lot of money in comparison to the billions of dollars the tax would have collected if metro Atlanta voters had approved it. But it’s a pot of construction money some may envy as municipal officials in metro Atlanta continue to raise the question of how to ease traffic congestion in this region, where voters rejected the sales tax referendum.

Transportation was the sole subject discussed during a June 24 luncheon that was part of the annual conference hosted in Savannah by the Georgia Municipal Association. More than 120 municipal officials attended the lunch, according to the July newsletter of the Metro Atlanta Mayors Association.

A number of ideas were discussed, according to the newsletter. They include:

  • Additional toll bridges/lanes to help address infrastructure costs;
  • Reversible lanes on I-75;
  • Managed lanes;
  • Regional transit in at least in the 5-county inner core;
  • A bicycle connectivity plan;
  • Tax incentives for flexible commute times
  • More HOV commuter lanes;
  • A change in state law to create a multi-jurisdictional funding mechanism.

Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson, who chairs the Metro Atlanta Mayors Association, said in the newsletter that progress continues on these ideas and others. The progress, however, is slower than if voters had approved the sales tax.

On the topic of managed lanes, the Georgia Department of Transportation has scheduled two meetings next week to gather public comments about the three proposals it has received for the planned managed lanes project along I-75 and I-575 in Cobb and Cherokee counties, a segment called the Northwest Corridor.

GDOT intends to select a winning proposer later this month and begin final contract negotiations. The deadline for public comment is July 19, following meetings set for July 9, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. in Woodstock; and July 11, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., in Atlanta.

Click here for more information on the times and locations, and how to submit a written comment.

Meanwhile, road construction is underway in Toombs County with money collected through the transportation sales tax. Toombs is in the Heart of Georgia/Altamaha Regional Commission District.

Another project funded through the transportation sales tax, this one in Randolph County, is to be announced next week, a GDOT official said Friday.

The road project in Toombs will add a turn lane into a new pet food manufacturing plant, located off Ga. 130 north of Lyons. The turn lane is expected to cost $162,000 and improve access to a plant that’s to bring $25 million in private investment and from 100 to 150 jobs, according to a statement from GDOT when the contract was let in April.

Sales tax collections in the three districts are expected to run slightly behind projections, according to the latest projections, in December, from the Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission. The GSFIC estimated that collections in 2013 would trail initial projections by 2.8 percent in the Heart of Georgia and Central Savannah River districts, and by 2.1 percent in River Valley.

GSFIC reported the following collection totals in its latest report:

Central Savannah River

  • Total collection: $24,297,559.40
  • Portion reserved for local jurisdictions: $6,074,389.86

Heart of Georgia

  • Total collection: $11,470,022.48
  • Portion reserved for local jurisdictions: $2,867,505.62

River Valley

  • Total collection: $18,215,679.61
  • Portion reserved for local jurisdictions: $4,553,919.90

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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