Gwinnett seeks $3.6B in road funds

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Gwinnett officials' biggest ideas for transportation culminated in a $3.6 billion wish list sent to state officials Wednesday for consideration of funding from a proposed 10-year transportation sales tax.

Among the 74 projects are $138.4 million to replace the Jimmy Carter Boulevard and Pleasant Hill Road bridges over Interstate 85, $19 million to build a continuous flow intersection where U.S. Highway 78 and Ga. Highway 124 meet in Snellville and $463 million for an extension of Sugarloaf Parkway from Ga. Highway 316 to Peachtree Industrial Boulevard.

A little more than $1 billion encompasses projects to extend a light rail passenger line from the Doraville MARTA station to the Arena at Gwinnett Center, and another $140 million would build a heavy rail extension from the Doraville station to Oakcliff in DeKalb County.

"Our list is unconstrained," Transportation Director Brian Allen said. "Obviously there are going to be a lot more projects listed than can be funded."

The transportation tax, which will be on ballots in November 2012, is expected to bring in between $6 and $8 billion for the metro Atlanta region. As part of a process to build a project list, project possibilities were due from all metro counties and agencies Wednesday. Members of a transportation roundtable will cull the list this summer.

"We'd love to get that much," Allen said of the county's $3.4 billion list, "But chances are we aren't going to get half the region's money. ... Obviously we think there are a lot of very good projects on here that we would support funding."

Gwinnett's list includes projects from all of its cities and the area community improvement districts.

"I believe the comprehensive list represents transportation projects that are important to and can be supported by our Gwinnett citizens," said Auburn Mayor Linda Blechinger, who heads the Gwinnett Municipal Association.

Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson will play a key role in the project selection process as chairman of the transportation roundtable.

"I believe the joint effort of the Gwinnett cities, the county and CIDs have resulted in a good first step of the process outlined in the 2010 Transportation Investment Act," Johnson said. "I trust that Gwinnett's effort will help streamline the next steps required of the Regional Roundtable. Ultimately, our citizens will authorize the projects, and our voters deserve our best efforts to insure municipal, county and regional projects are all included."

Much of Gwinnett's current transportation funding comes from a countywide penny sales tax, which runs through March 2014. Allen said some of the projects in the regional tax proposal are continuations of the local funding and projects under way, including the creation of interchanges over I-85 at McGinnis Ferry Road and Ga. Highway 324, where bridges are under construction.

Also on the list is $40 million for construction of the long-awaited widening of Ga. Highway 20 in Sugar Hill and a $257.5 million extension to Ronald Reagan Parkway, which officials have studied for toll funding.

While money has already been earmarked for improvements on Ga. 316 at Collins Hill Road and Ga. 20, the aspirations list includes $121 million in projects to improve other intersections at Cedars Road, U.S. Highway 29 and Harbins Road.

The proposed Brain Train -- a commuter rail line along Ga. 316 from Atlanta to Athens -- is not a part of Gwinnett's list, although counties in the Athens region are seeking funding.

"I want to emphasize that the submission of the potential project list is the beginning of the selection process," said Gwinnett Chairwoman Charlotte Nash, who will join in the roundtable discussions. "The public will have multiple opportunities to affect the final project list and will ultimately determine if the slate of approved projects is worthy of a positive vote in the referendum."