DOT to sift through regional tax projects

Final project decisions up to 21-member ‘Roundtable’

Now that Fayette County and its cities have nominated projects for the proposed regional transportation sales tax, the waiting game begins.

The Georgia Department of Transportation is taking a first crack at the lists submitted in the 10-county metro Atlanta region which includes Fayette County.

DOT’s intent is to weed out projects based on a variety of factors, including whether or not their impact will be regional in nature.

After the list is approved by DOT, it will be forwarded to the executive committee of the Regional Transportation Roundtable, which will vote on which projects to submit to the full 21-member roundtable for approval.

The full roundtable has the power to add projects back in from DOT’s list that might be thrown out by the 5-member executive committee.

Although Fayette County does not have a representative on the executive committee, it has two voices among the 21 voting members of the roundtable: Fayetteville Mayor Ken Steele and Fayette County Commission Chairman Herb Frady.

Steele and Frady have both said they will wait to see the final approved list of projects before determining if they will support the referendum for the regional transportation sales tax.

In addition to road construction and maintenance, a sizeable chunk of the tax proceeds will also be going towards transit projects. The Atlanta Regional Commission recently confirmed that Fayette County would not get any transit projects in the future since rail and bus projects are not wanted here.

One key factor in sorting through the road projects is whether the project can be completed within the 10-year time frame for the sales tax. That goal was set to make sure tangible projects from the tax proceeds are on display to voters so they might be more likely to re-approve the tax when it comes up for a vote again.

That’s assuming the vote is initially approved in June 2012 by voters in the entire 10-county region.

Because the vote is tallied region-wide, it means that even if Fayette voters shoot it down, the tax could still be enacted here if it is approved by a majority of the aggregate of votes tallied across the entire region.

That scenario led Peachtree City Mayor Don Haddix to lead a failed attempt to have Fayette County withdraw from participation with the Atlanta Regional Commission. The move failed in large part because Haddix couldn’t convince other elected officials of his opinion that Fayette would be a “donor county” in that it would be paying for projects outside of the county as part of the regional sales tax.

In fact Haddix was originally one of Fayette’s roundtable representatives, but he was booted off after he campaigned for the county to withdraw from ARC.

Fayette is anticipated to chip in about $205 million over the 10-year period of the tax if it is approved by voters.

That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the anticipated region-wide take of $7.8 billion, nearly two-thirds of which would come from three counties: Cobb ($1.3 billion), Gwinnett ($1.4 billion) and Fulton ($2.3 billion).

Also, the tax is approved, Fayette County and its cities will get some revenue back that can be used on any transportation project it desires, whether it has a regional impact or not. The county is expected to get about $46 million back in that regard.

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