Safety is a main concern for Sandy Springs drivers on Ga. 400. Its expansion is looming, and this weeek's Ga. 400 Summit covered the questions surrounding the project as well as its funding.
The event took place at the , Thursday, and was co-hosted by the , the Dawson County and Dahlonega-Lumpkin County Chambers of Commerce.
The presentation began with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta spokeswoman, Linda Cole expressing parent's concerns over Ga. 400 becoming a problem when it comes to reaching the healthcare facility efficiently.
“It’s fairly common for parents to arrange their children’s appointments around the traffic pattern on Ga. 400,” Cole said. “In an emergency situation, every second is critical.”
Following Linda Cole, Todd Long, Deputy Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Transportation, addressed the topic of TSPLOST for funding the expansion of Ga. 400.
Long spoke about the need for an additional revenue stream to fund transportation projects, including those along the Ga. 400 corridor.
"TSPLOST (Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) is an opportunity to increase revenue. I can't speak openly on my support of the sales tax, but we need an additional revenue stream."
Long explained the general schedule for the Ga. 400 expansion project slated for completion should it be made possible through TSPLOST.
"The widening of Ga. 400 is scheduled to take place during the first three years of the sales tax. If this region votes 50 percent plus one person (in favor of TSPLOST), taxes will start being collected in January of 2013, he said."
Long explained that TSPLOST is a 10-year tax regardless of how much revenue is raised.
"It ends in 10 years no matter what."
He also described the provision in the bill stating that if revenues are reached (the number local officials have estimated is $1.26 billion) before the 10-year period, the tax ends.
"And vice versa, if you go to 10 years and the economy is not doing so well, and you've reached $1.1 billion, the tax stops at the end of 10 years no matter what," said Long. "So this does not go forward."
"There is an opportunity to extend it, but it's got to go through general assembly approval and it has to go before the voters again. A lot of people say this is going to be a tax forever, but that is not how the bill is written whatsoever, and somebody who says that to you doesn't know what they're talking about. The bill is very clear that this tax does end."
Other projects determined by local officials of the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission (GMRC), include the installation of ITS (Intelligent Transportation Systems), improving Bethelview Road and intersection improvements in Forsyth County. Long advised voters to explore the full list of projects at the Georgia Department of Transportation.
Read the PDF file to the right for the final investment list for the Georgia Mountains, including projects in Forsyth County
Long discussed a popular highlight of the TSPLOST bill stating that the project list only reflects 75 percent of the tax money collected. The bill allows for the remaining 25 percent to be immediately redistributed to the cities and to counties for use at their discretion on transportation uses.
"There are strict guidelines on what you can use it for. You can't build parks or education buildings. You've got to build transportation. This 25 percent portion, as I call it, the local share, is very important. Local officials, city counsels and county commissioners, they decide where that money is spent, not GDOT," he said.
Long also explained that every dime raised through TSPLOST in the Georgia Mountains region stays in the Georgia Mountains region.
"It can't be spent in Atlanta, and vice versa, every dime raised in Atlanta has to stay in Atlanta."
Gena Evans, Executive Director of the State Road and Tollway Authority answered questions about the Ga. 400 Express Lanes study and the growing concerns over a possible toll lane being added to Ga. 400 if the TSPLOST is approved.
"We are examining the future of Ga. 400 and of the six options that we are looking at, not a single option includes converting a general purpose lane to a toll lane, so everybody can sleep at night,” she said.
Voters will decide on TSPLOST at the polls on July 31.
"This Summit has been a great opportunity for key business on people on the 400 corridor to hear about and discuss the importance of the transportation referendum," said Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce President, James McCoy.
As the county moves closer to voting day, continue to travel safely, wear your seat belt, and attend public hearings to maintain an informed voice on how Forsyth County makes decisions that affect your commute, safety and income.
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