The Joint Cherokee County Transportation Study and Planning Commission met for the first time Friday to begin its part of the process to pass the 1-cent levy. The commission is made up of the county state legislative delegation, Board of Commissioners and city mayors.
It was created as part of a bill passed by the state General Assembly and signed by the governor that divides Georgia into 12 regions, and voters in each will be asked in 2012 whether they want a new 1-cent sales tax to pay for transportation projects in their region.
The new tax would remain in place for 10 years, and individual counties are not able to opt out. Money raised in the district stays in the district.
The Atlanta metro 10-county region, to which Cherokee would belong, would generate a total of $8 billion through the new sales tax over 10 years. Cherokee County's estimated contribution to that total is $300 million.
A 21-member roundtable will be formed for each region to approve a list of transportation projects.
For the metro Atlanta region, the roundtable will include the county commission chairman of each county, a mayor from each county and the mayor of Atlanta.
From that group, five members, along with a planner from the Atlanta Regional Commission, two state representatives from the area and a state senator will develop the proposed list of projects.
The regional roundtable will meet for the first time on Nov. 15, with the last meeting scheduled for August of 2011. The local joint commission will meet again in October.
"It is going to be long and tedious," State Rep. Sean Jerguson (R-Holly Springs), who headed up the meeting of the county's joint commission on Friday, said about the planning process. "It will be political to say the least."
He said Cherokee leaders through the local commission should work together to ensure the county isn't "short-changed" in the final list of metro projects that will go before the voters, but added that transportation will require a regional solution
"If Interstate 75 doesn't flow, Interstate 575 never will," State Rep. Calvin Hill (R-Hickory Flat) said.
Improvements to state Highways 20 and 140 were among the top regional projects in Cherokee the joint commission wants to focus on, as well as improvements to I-575.
"Those roads have been under funded in the past," Holly Springs Mayor Tim Downing said about Highways 20 and 140, adding that widening those roads would alleviate traffic on the interstates. "Those two are the biggest areas of improvement."
If the new sales tax is approved, $6 million a year would be earmarked for local projects in Cherokee. One of the local projects mentioned at Friday's meeting as a possible recipient of this money was the expansion of Bells Ferry Road, specifically at the bridge, which County Commissioner Derek Good called "critical."
Leaders also talked about the need to communicate to local voters what projects are on the final list and why it's important to approve the new sales tax.
"It is going to be up to a committee like any other SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) to get it out," Commissioner Karen Bosch said of promoting the vote.