Voters on Tuesday in Cherokee and the nine other counties in the metro Atlanta region will consider imposing a 1 percent sales tax upon the region to fund transportation projects over the next 10 years.
In Cherokee, while the majority of those who’ve gone public are against the measure, Woodstock Mayor Donnie Henriques and Cherokee County Chairman Buzz Ahrens noted they weren’t surprised at the backlash the proposal is receiving.
Ahrens, who is in support of the plan, did add he was disappointed the debate has turned negative.
“When people fuel the flames, it’s really hard to put them out,” he said, adding he’s had more success in communicating with people one on one rather than in larger groups.
Local leaders who were once in support of the proposal have come out against it, including Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock), State Rep. Sean Jerguson (R-Holly Springs) and Holly Springs Mayor Tim Downing.
Along with Ahrens, Downing was a member of the Atlanta Regional Roundtable made up of 21 elected officials, including the commission chairman and a mayor from each of the 10 metro Atlanta counties as well as the mayor of Atlanta, which compiled the list of projects.
The tax is expected to generate around $8 billion over the next decade in the region.
Projects in Cherokee County are the widening of Highway 140/Hickory Flat Highway between I-575 and the Fulton County line and replacing the bridge on Bells Ferry Road over Lake Allatoona. Highway 140 will be widened from two to four lanes and the project will cost $190 million.
The bridge project is expected to cost about $7 million.
About $279 million of the tax is expected to be generated in Cherokee and $268.5 million of that will remain in the county.
Of that $268.5 million, the county will keep 15 percent, or $71.5 million, and divide 15 percent of that among its six cities.
With the 15 percent, the county plans to use the money to make smaller bridge repairs, road and intersection improvements, and adding sidewalks.
Henriques, who is a member of the ARC’s board, said that while none of the projects in Cherokee directly affects Woodstock, the replacement bridge over the lake impacts the entire county.
The Cherokee County School District now re-routes its buses to take Interstate 575.
“That impacts all taxpayers because, if it’s replaced, it’ll save in fuel costs the school system has to spend to send the buses around to 575,” he said.
Along with local elected officials, local residents have also expressed opposition to the proposal.
The Cherokee Tea Party Patriots and the Canton Tea Party Patriots have actively campaigned against the measure’s passage, alleging the bill is nothing short of a “MARTA bailout.”
Ahrens said the bill does not “bail out” MARTA, and disputed other arguments against measure, which he said are false.
He noted other false arguments include opponents believing another layer of government will be created and it doesn’t do enough for traffic congestion.
“If you add 20 years to today with no improvements, what do you get?” He asked. “You’ve got gridlock.”
He noted “substantial” improvements in congestion will occur in many areas throughout the region, including the infamous gridlocked Interstate 285 interchange with Georgia 400.
“It’s a very hollow statement in my view because they haven’t looked at it in the order of magnitude of the improvements,” he added, referring to T-SPLOST opponents.
Duluth resident Billy Wise of TrafficTruth.net, an organization that’s rallied against imposing the tax, said the way the T-SPLOST measure is set up is “wasteful.”
He noted the Transportation Investment Act of 2010 alludes to providing relief of traffic congestion across the state as misleading.
“I don’t think there’s any congestion in Plains, Georgia,” he said in a joking manner.
Wise said the tax will have “zero impact” on congestion and noted those who are in support of the plan just want to “build big things” such as more rail and roads.
Those things, he added, are the wrong way of solving the problem.
Wise said he would promote the idea of “stretching” the rush hour to allow commuters to come and leave work at later hours.
He also said he’d propose promoting telecommuting and encouraging local entrepreneurs to consider relocating to economic development centers outside of Atlanta proper.
He also floated the idea of implementing the use of tolls, which he said is “a perfect solution to transportation” as users pay for the access.
Both local leaders say if the TSPLOST proposal fails in Cherokee and across the region, the impact won’t be felt directly or immediately.
Ahrens said things will go on like “business as usual” among county leaders and the county will continue using its Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or SPLOST, funds for designated projects.
“It doesn’t change anything we are doing,” he said. “It will hurt us indirectly because it will keep businesses out of metro Atlanta.”
Henriques echoed Ahrens’ sentiments.
The noted he also believed the measure’s failure could impact commuters who work in Atlanta on where they decide to buy their next home.
“It stands to reason to me that if we don’t have a better way of getting people to and from their offices, at least in the planning stages, we’re going to suffer in the long run,” he said