The Atlanta Regional Transportation’s Roundtable conducted a public input meeting Monday for Cherokee County residents to review the draft list of projects approved by the roundtable’s executive committee.
Between 30 and 40 people, including residents and officials from county and city governments, turned out to review Cherokee’s list of projects as well as maps of where projects in other counties would be located.
The constrained list includes widening Highway 140/Hickory Flat Highway between I-575 and the Fulton County line and replacing the bridge on Bells Ferry Road over Lake Allatoona.
The list, which totals $6.12 billion of projects in the 10-county Atlanta region, must be approved by the roundtable’s full committee by Oct. 15 and submitted to the Georgia Department of Transportation.
The Transportation Investment Act divides the state up into 12 regions and voters in each of those regions will vote next year whether to impose a 1-cent sales tax to fund transportation projects in their regions.
The act stipulates projects must be completed or underway within the 10-year period.
The act allows for 85 percent of the funding received to be allocated to the specific projects outlined in the referendum. The other 15 percent can be allocated to local governments to spend on projects of their choosing.
Residents submitted questions in advanced to be answered by Jayne Hayse, transportation planning division director for ARC, Matthew Fowler, assistant planner with the Georgia Department of Transportation, and Geoff Morton, the county’s public works director.
Overall, residents were not too thrilled with the thought of the TSPLOST.
Debbie Staver, a county resident, asked the county leaders why they would consider supporting another sales tax when county residents are faced with losing their jobs and homes.
“I can’t imagine where the heart is with putting Cherokee County through this,” she said, adding the county in the fall would be asked to consider continuing the Cherokee County Board of Education’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
County Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens, who, along with Holly Springs Mayor Tim Downing, serves on the regional roundtable, said the decision to have the county participate was made by the Georgia General Assembly.
Downing added enhancing the region’s transportation network is tied directly to the economic vitality of the Atlanta region.
“Transportation in the Atlanta area equates to opportunity,” he said. “Our Atlanta region and what happens in Cherokee County as far as jobs and economic development is tied directly to things such as transportation (and) education. If you had a substandard transportation network, you’re going to have corporations that don’t come here.”
Resident John Hiland viewed the proposed TSPLOST as something that’s “another case of…where we have to pay more taxes in order to have more money.”
Carolyn Cosby of Ball Ground said she was concerned with how the projects would be funded.
She noted “voters would be held hostage” with contributing yet another penny towards local governments.
“This is nothing more than a Washington-based transportation plan,” she said, adding the county would be better off using its own sales taxes to fund its own projects.
Dennis Burnette, a citizen member of the ARC’s board and president of Cherokee Bank, added the TSPLOST is truly a regional plan to solve the area’s transportation problem.
“All of us are on those roads,” he said. “We just don’t operate within the county lines.”
Randall Bagwell of southeast Cherokee County agrees.
Bagwell on Monday said it takes him 50 to 65 minutes to drive 27 miles from his home off Highway 372/Birmingham Highway to his workplace in Kennesaw.
While he said he won’t directly benefit from the widening of Highway 140, he believed the widening will relieve the smaller back roads residents use to avoid traffic on major thoroughfares.
Bagwell said Cherokee County has grown so much that it’s well past the time for the roads to accommodate the growth.
“These are good choices,” he said of the Highway 140 widening.