Transportation tax could see a bumpy ride

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

LAWRENCEVILLE — The economy and distrust in governmental leaders could come into play in the upcoming referendum on a regional transportation sales tax, if questions during a telephone town hall meeting Monday are any indication.

Participating in the call with thousands of residents were Gwinnett Chairwoman Charlotte Nash and Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson, who sit on a panel of elected officials formulating a list of projects to be funded with the $5 billion in sales taxes that could be collected if the referendum passes next year.

They heard from people interested in a light rail connection to Atlanta’s public transit system and those concerned with local projects, such as the widening of Ga. Highway 20 into Sugar Hill, overpasses on Ga. Highway 316 and a pedestrian crossing to Club Drive Park.

But while many are hoping the tax could bring an end to the traffic gridlock in metro Atlanta, the issues that have plagued county officials for a year came back up again, including two questions about the controversial proposed expansion to Lawrenceville’s Briscoe Field, even though the airport is not involved in the sales tax program.

“It seems like government has been notorious for saying we have the money, then we get bilked for more and more money from taxes and fees, which I can’t afford,” said one participant, identified as Carol, one of several people who expressed distrust in the government officials.

Others questioned why they should approve a sales tax in such a poor economy or, for one woman, if no projects are earmarked in her area.

Nash and Johnson tried to answer both concerns, saying the tax could improve mobility and therefore help the Atlanta region become more competitive in drawing businesses. Plus, Gwinnett and its cities will share about $200 million to spend on local projects on top of the projects that make it to the regional list.

In one of several poll questions, participants could vote in a survey as to whether the proposed extension of Sugarloaf Parkway through the Dacula area or a light rail transit system connecting to Atlanta were more integral to freeing Gwinnett’s traffic. But Johnson said the light rail project is a “longshot” to be a part of the sales tax list because it would take a lot longer to deliver than the 10 years in which the tax will collected.

But, he added that several officials are working on the projects and a portion of it could be included in the list, which officials have until the fall to whittle down.

“There’s a number of different ways this can move the ball forward for light rail in Gwinnett County,” Johnson said.

Chosen at random, 170,000 people were called and asked to participate in the telephone town hall meeting. Others were able to call in to participate. An audio recording will be available at www.atlantaregionalroundtable.com.

While the results of the polls were not immediately available, at least one caller, a senior citizen named Eugene, said he would be in favor of the tax.

“We may or may not live to see this through,” he said, “but I would love to pay the 1 cent sales tax to bring this area into the 21st century.”