Regional sales tax transportation project list for Fayette now must face voters

Now that the project list for a proposed transportation sales tax is complete, voters have quite a bit to chew on between now and July 2012.

But the sales pitch is only just beginning, for those favoring the tax, and for those who vow to oppose it.

Last week the project list received unanimous approval, and elected officials on the 21-member roundtable lauded the fact that they were able to agree on the list.

But the list contains a heavy economic lean on transit, with nearly half of the $6.1 billion in projected revenue aimed at bus and rail projects. None of those projects would operate in Fayette County, which remains the only county in the metro area that is not at least operating a commuter bus to and from downtown Atlanta and parts beyond.

Nonetheless, the transit projects have drawn the ire of more than a dozen metro Atlanta mayors who have pledged to rally against passage of the sales tax on the basis that the project list spends too much money on transit.

The most significant project on the list affecting the commute of west Fayette residents is already on the preliminary drawing board. Just two weeks ago, the DOT met with transportation representatives for Fairburn and Fayette County to discuss a solution for improving traffic flow at the interchange of Ga. Highway 74 North and Interstate 85, which has significant delays in the morning and afternoon drive times.

The most recent meeting focused on traffic counts, which must be firmed up before a direction to proceed can be developed, officials said.

Fayette County Commissioner Steve Brown has said the $22.5 million budget for the project is far under what will be needed. But that remains to be seen, as plans for the interchange improvements have not yet advanced beyond the engineering stage.

Half of that total will come from anticipated federal transportation funds, and the other half would come from the sales tax proceeds.

One of the driving factors behind the roundtable’s project selection process was how quickly the projects could be completed. As a result, the projects have been sorted into three phases for the beginning of construction.

The Interstate 85 interchange is planned for the second phase, sometime between 2016 and 2019. That’s the same time frame for the extension of MacDuff Parkway in Peachtree City, which could provide some traffic relief for the often-clogged artery known as Ga. Highway 54 West.

The MacDuff extension would link Ga. Highway 74 near Kedron Drive North to MacDuff Parkway’s signaled intersection on Hwy. 54 West. That would be a boon for residents living in subdivisions currently off MacDuff Parkway and also east Coweta commuters as well.

Other projects on the list and their associated time frames are:

• Both segments of the East Fayetteville Bypass, a combination of new and existing road that will reach from Ga. Highway 85 north at Corinth Road to Ga. Highway 54 east of Fayetteville and then southward toward a terminus at the intersection of County Line Road, Inman Road and South Jeff Davis Road. These would happen in the 2016-2019 time frame;

• Widening of Ga. Highway 85 South from Grady Avenue to Bernhard Road. Slated for 2016-2019;

• Operational improvements on Hwy. 85 from Bernhard Road south to Hwy. 74. Slated for 2013-2015;

• Two projects to add new cart paths in Peachtree City extending from the new Flat Creek bridge. One of the paths will head north and link with several industrial buildings before reaching Crosstown Road. The other will use a tunnel being built under the widened Hwy. 74 south to reach the city’s Baseball and Soccer Complex, going northward from there on the west side of the highway all the way up to Dividend Drive. Both projects are targeted for the 2013-2015 time frame.

• Widening of Ga. Highway 92 from Jimmie Mayfield Boulevard southward to McBride Road in unincorporated Fayette County. Planned for the 2016-2019 time frame;

• A newly-proposed “connector” between Hwy. 92 and Ga. Highway 138 north to link Fulton and Fayette counties. Also planned for 2016-2019; and

• Operational improvements on Hwy. 92 northward from Hwy. 85 in Fayetteville to Oakley Industrial Boulevard in south Fulton County. Also proposed for the 2016-2019 time frame.

None of the Fayette County projects was targeted for the third “wave” of construction, which spans from 2020-2022.

Georgia Tea Party representatives have strongly opposed moving the vote to November, based on the theory that more Democrats will vote in that election to cast ballots for President Barack Obama, thus increasing the chances of the vote passing region-wide.

The sales tax legislation was structured for the vote to be tallied in aggregate across the 10-county region. That means Fayette County has precious little clout at the ballot box because it is one of the least populous counties in the metro region.

So the possibility remains that Fayette County itself could vote down the tax, but if it is approved region-wide the tax will be assessed here and in the other nine counties.

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