Cherokee County commuters have a lot riding on the proposed TSPLOST since more than 75 percent of the residents drive out of the county each day to work, most of those heading south.
But even so, voters here appear poised to reject the plan, along with the rest of the region. Maybe it’s the fear of another layer of government or the emphasis on rapid transit, or maybe it is just that people are fed up with paying so many different taxes.
Some local leaders continue to promote the tax, including Cherokee Board of Commission Chair Buzz Ahrens. Woodstock Mayor Donnie Henriques, who now represents the county’s cities on the Atlanta Regional Commission, has pointed out how valuable the improvements Cherokee County could expect to get would be to local residents. Cherokee would get $190 million for road improvements for Highway 140, $7 million for a new bridge over Little River on Bells Ferry Road, and another $71.5 million for the county and cities to use for local projects at their discretion.
But most residents seem to think there are better ways of getting more road “bang” for Cherokee’s tax dollars than the project list now on the table.
As with many SPLOST proposals, this one has awakened spirited opposition. Opponents of the tax warn the tax would not cover maintenance and operational costs of proposed rapid transit included in the project list, and that taxpayers would be on the hook for them essentially forever.
They also point out that even if passed, the TSPLOST would have a negligible effect on commute times.
While congestion on state Highway 140 would be relieved for commuters headed in that direction, the plan does little or nothing for the I-575 corridor.
Meanwhile, the TSPLOST has metamorphosed from a transportation initiative into a stimulus program. Instead of congestion relief, the main reason to vote for the TSPLOST is that it would translate to more jobs and development, say those who are still touting it.
Many of its original supporters in Cherokee have changed course from their earlier support, including Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers, who now calls the TSPLOST ridiculous and a total waste of money. Local Tea Party members have been especially loud in blasting the transportation tax, and almost every political debate on the local level has seen all candidates sporting anti-TSPLOST stickers.
EVEN TSPLOST SUPPORTERS now concede the project list will not cure congestion in Cherokee or the metro region — or even reduce it significantly. They admit that if it’s built “the other guy” will ride the rail cars or buses, thereby reducing congestion for you on the highway. And what was initially portrayed to the public as a visionary transportation initiative has now metamorphosed into a grandiose public works program. A “stimulus” program, if you will.
There’s no question that we have severe transportation challenges in this area, and no doubt that the TSPLOST would provide plenty of jobs in coming years as the new infrastructure was added. But would those jobs be the best use of tax dollars? No. Taxpayers don’t mind paying for public works projects when they fulfill an obvious need. Yet despite our traffic problems, most Cherokee residents are yet to be persuaded that most of the projects that would be funded by the TSPLOST — especially the big-ticket items, like the “premium” bus service and the possible rail line — are truly needed.
ONE OF THE MOST frequently heard arguments made on TSPLOST’s behalf in recent days was “It’s not the perfect project list, but …” That’s hardly a ringing endorsement. In fact, it’s like saying that of one’s future bride that, “She’s not the wife I had hoped for, but …” And we suspect that by Tuesday evening it will be abundantly clear that this was not the transportation fix that Cherokee residents wanted and is not a tax they want to pay … and pay … and pay.