ARC makes pitch about regional transportation sales tax

A proposed $8.5 billion 10-year regional transportation sales tax for the Atlanta area, including Fayette County, would address a number of bottlenecks that have made Atlanta’s traffic problem a negative mark for companies wishing to locate here, a representative of the Atlanta Regional Commission told the Fayette County Commission last week.

Some local residents were skeptical about the purported benefits.

At Wednesday’s workshop meeting of the county commission, a presentation was given by ARC planner Cain Williamson about the proposed sales tax projects and the state of commuting in metro Atlanta.

Williamson noted that with more fuel efficient vehicles on the road, less federal money is available for transportation projects. And the state’s gas tax hasn’t been increased since 1971, he added.

“We’re running our transportation system on basically the same revenue that we were running it on almost 40 years ago,” Williamson said, adding that Georgia is 48th in the nation in the amount of money spent by the state on transportation.

The net result is that Atlanta has seven of the worst bottlenecks in the country, Williamson said. But the sales tax would accelerate the ability to address them, he added.

To some local residents, the main concern about the proposed sales tax isn’t congestion on metro roadways, but the fact that more than $3 billion is allocated to public mass transit projects.

While none of those transit projects is slated to operate in Fayette County, a number of residents are concerned that somehow in the future Fayette will be put on the hook for transit costs.

Peachtree City resident Bob Ross asked Williamson how the new transit services created by the sales tax would be funded beyond the 10 years of the tax. Williamson replied that he didn’t know at this point how it would be funded over the long term, adding that transit fares only recover about 37 percent of costs, so local governments have picked up the tab to maintain transit systems.

Ross later said that the transit projects, while taking up half of the available revenues for regional projects, would actually only serve 2 percent of the region’s commuters.

Williamson noted that the sales tax projects were picked by local elected officials from the region who served on the 21-member Atlanta Regional Roundtable, not the ARC. He also noted that under the law creating the sales tax, revenues could not be spent on the MARTA system as it existed Jan. 1 of this year. Funds could, however, be spent on additions to that system after that date, he added.

Commissioner Allen McCarty said he felt the public would rebuff the tax but might be willing to look at it once the economy improves.

Commissioner Steve Brown said he thought the transit proposals for the sales tax are “half funded” and aren’t as comprehensive as they’re being portrayed.

Commission Chairman Herb Frady noted that no transit program is slated to operated in Fayette County due to the sales tax.