ATLANTA - In wish lists submitted to state transportation officials, requests from local governments in metro Atlanta heavily favored more trains and buses, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission.
Local leaders had until the end of last month to submit their wish lists for projects to be considered for a regional sales tax that voters will see on the ballot next year, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. The Atlanta Regional Commission on Friday handed over a list of 436 projects to the state transportation planning director for review. A regional group is set to choose the final projects over the summer.
The list submitted Friday isn't final. It will have to undergo state scrutiny and regional debate and then will be cut to an affordable size. Some projects are ineligible, and there are some overlapping requests. But a preliminary look at the lists from 10 counties and the cities and government agencies in them shows a lot of requests for expensive mass transit projects, according to the newspaper, which got an early look at the list.
Voters will decide in a 2012 referendum whether they want a 1 cent sales tax for 10 years to pay for the projects. They won't know until this fall which projects make the final cut for the referendum.
Backers of the proposed tax say it is crucial to help deal with metro Atlanta's traffic problems - which they say are making the area less livable. Opponents say the region can't afford another tax and doesn't need more public transportation.
Some of the biggest requests came from suburban counties asking for new rail lines from downtown Atlanta to towns in Gwinnett, Cobb and Clayton counties. The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority asked for 43 projects, with some support from Fulton and DeKalb counties and the city of Atlanta.
Other projects include interstate interchange improvements, arterial widening, bridge replacements, paving projects and computerized traffic management proposals. About $1 billion was requested for various bicycle and pedestrian projects.
About $13.5 billion of the $22.8 billion in formal applications was for mass transit projects, compared to $8.5 billion for road projects, according to the regional commission. But the regional commission said that the dollar estimates are fuzzy and that the figures could be lowered significantly by eliminating overlap.
Even if the tax proposal passes, the expected $8 billion in revenue that it could generate wouldn't be enough for the whole list of mass transit requests. And the region has already set a general guideline to spend a lot of the money on roads and other projects.
Traditionally, a majority of metro Atlantan residents travel mostly by car. Efforts to expand MARTA into surrounding counties have faced strong opposition in the past. But many newcomers in those counties, including lots from areas with rail systems, are shifting attitudes.
State transportation planning director Todd Long plans to work through May eliminating ineligible projects, adding new ones he thinks the region should look at and cleaning up cost estimates. A roundtable of local elected officials will then choose the final list.