Rockdale residents asked questions and raised concerns about the proposed Transportation Investment Act projects list Tuesday as part of a forum serues held before the 21-member Atlanta Regional Roundtable votes on the list Oct. 15.
The Regional Transportation Referendum Forum was hosted by the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) at the JP Carr Community Center. On hand to field questions was a three-member panel made up of Transportation Director Miguel Valentin and ARC’s Kathryn Lawler and Matthew Fowler. Rockdale County CEO Richard Oden and Conyers Mayor Randy Mills, who sit on the Roundtable, were also on hand.
The 10-year penny sales tax, also called the TSPLOST, will be put before voters in the 10-metro county region next July. Three specific projects in Rockdale County made the list: widening and corridor improvements on Sigman Road from Lester Road to Dogwood connector, an overpass over I-20 from Old Salem Road to Old Covington Highway and widening Flat Shoals Road from Salem Road to Old Salem Road.
These projects and others across the metro area would be funded by the estimated $6.14 billion raised from the tax. With 85 percent going towards designated projects, the remaining 15 percent returned would be returned to local jurisdictions. “If the basic design of one of the projects doesn’t have all the properties we would like this percentage could be used for upgrades such as bike lanes,” said Valentin. He said it could also be used for intersection and safety improvements.
Valentin indicated the funds would “advance projects we would not have been able to do on our own for many years to come.” Explaining the benefit to Rockdale, Valentin said the projects would “allow for better access to the interstate and quicker access around certain areas of the county and city.” He pointed out there are 20 or so other projects in different design stages funded through GDOT and other sources, but these TSPLOST projects would “address the bigger ticket items.”
Fowler spoke to the question of funds oversight, describing a citizen’s review panel that would report annually to the General Assembly. Lawler added the “vote is the ultimate responsibility.” She pointed out the law is specific to the list and it cannot vary from it.
Fowler also pointed out the tax only requires a majority vote in the region to go forward.
To some of the roughly 50 residents gathered at the forum these measures weren’t enough of a reassurance. After the panel answered questions, people were allowed to voice their comments.
Resident Dr. Jim Sendelbach expressed concern over the historic mismanagement of funds. “I have no confidence the funds generated will be used the way it is told to us,” he said, “Instead of giving the money to the state and getting 15 percent back, let’s keep it all here.” His comments were met with applause.
Current SPLOST Oversight Transportation Subcommittee Chair Mike Houchard was critical of the gap between the proposed return of $3 million per year and the current $7 million per year required to sustain the level of transportation infrastructure now in place.
One commuter reiterated the need for I-20 improvements as it takes her a minimum of an hour and 15 minutes each way to her job in Buckhead.
Another citizen, Pauline Hudson, requested a regional mobility call center for senior citizens and persons with disabilities be included on the project list.
For those wanting to voice their opinions before draft investment list is finalized October 15, go to www.atlantaregionalroundtable.com and complete a survey by October 5.