ARC to provide some project oversight if voters approve transportation sales tax

By David Pendered

The Atlanta Regional Commission will help handle some duties of project management for the $8.5 billion construction program the region would embark upon if voters on July 31 approve the proposed transportation sales tax.

The task would put the region’s metropolitan planning organization in the position of helping to develop the projects as intended by the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable, the panel of 21 elected officials that approved the $6.14 billion regional project list in October.

During discussions last autumn, roundtable members expressed concern that they would lose their ability to maintain accountability for the list after their work on the roundtable was complete.

The purpose of ARC’s involvement is to ensure the projects are delivered on time and on budget, said Kathryn Lawler, ARC’s director of external relations who has been closely involved in planning for the proposed transportation sales tax.

The ARC board’s executive committee formally agreed in June to ask its staff to devise a system by which the ARC could help smooth over some of the challenges of developing a regional construction program. The ARC’s board voted Wednesday to take on the task.

Upon the urging of Clayton County Chairman Eldrin Bell, the board also specifically included a provision to determine the cost of providing the oversight and to determine how it will be paid.

In its oversight position, the ARC would help with projects both regional and local – as in the $6.14 billion list of regional road and transit projects, and more than $2 billion in local projects being contemplated by cities and counties.

The board approved a check-list of tasks that includes:

  • Concept planning, assistance for local government sponsors;
  • Coordinate communication and marketing;
  • Support the citizens review panel;
  • Transportation Investment Act advisory group;
  • Support implementation of 15 percent (local) projects;
  • Workforce development;
  • Regional human services transportation (the $17 million regional call center).

The issue is that the region has experience with public works projects, such as roads and transit, only when the state or a single local government is responsible for a job. That situation is expected to raise questions ranging from identifying the officials who will be in charge of a cross-boundary project, to determining which government will own and be responsible for maintaining the completed project.

One way to think of it is to compare a completed project to maintaining the lights over interstate highways – at least back in the era when most of the lights were on.

For several years in the early 1990s, the lights over the Downtown Connector were turned off. That was the result of a dispute between Atlanta and the state Department of Transportation over which governmental entity was to pay the light bill. GDOT wanted Atlanta to pay, and Atlanta balked.

Likewise, there are no lights over the interchange at I-285 and I-85 because DeKalb County and GDOT could not resolve the issue of maintaining the lights, according to comments made by county officials during the planning process nearly 30 years ago.

 

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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