LAWRENCEVILLE -- Years ago, tolls were considered to transform Ga. Highway 316, creating interchanges at the stop lights where cars screech to a halt on their way to Athens.
The idea didn't sit well with drivers, so, without funding, the stop lights remain.
But Thursday, the long-awaited grade-separation project got new life, with the Gwinnett intersections making the final list for funding from a proposed 10-year regional sales tax.
Nearly $900 million in Gwinnett projects were included in the tally of 157 enhancements approved Thursday by a regional roundtable of leaders from the 10-county Atlanta region. Over the past year, the roundtable whittled down a list of $23 billion in requests to $6.1 billion.
"This group of 21 elected officials has been listening to their constituents, talking with each other and rolling up their sleeves to debate the merits of different projects for almost a year now," said Norcross Mayor Bucky Johnson, who chaired the roundtable. "This final list of investments will move us forward and make sure the Atlanta region remains competitive."
Many other long-talked-about projects would be funded with the tax, which will be before voters next year, including a $296 million extension to Sugarloaf Parkway through Dacula, a transformation of Snellville's plagued intersection of U.S. Highway 78 and Ga. Highway 124 and the widening of Ga. Highway 20 in Sugar Hill.
While many counties received new transit projects or extensions, Gwinnett received an earmark of $95 million transit corridor study along I-85 north, which could be the precursor to a proposed light rail line from Doraville to the Gwinnett Arena.
The tax would also dedicate $40 million to the operations of the Gwinnett County Transit system.
Other projects that made the list include improvements to Buford Highway, Five Forks Trickum Road, Pleasant Hill Road, Duluth Highway, Peachtree Parkway and a bridge upgrade to Dacula Road at a rail line.
Several Interstate 85 overpasses would be funded including Hillcrest Road and West Liddell Road connectors near Gwinnett Place Mall and the conversion of an overpass to an interchange at Gravel Springs Road.
The project didn't live up to expectations for local activists Julianne Thompson and Debbie Dooley, who released a statement for Georgia Tea Party Patriots.
"Now that the final project list has been released we are more determined than ever to make sure this T-SPLOST is DOA. For instance, the idea of targeting $95 million in taxpayers money to a light rail study in Gwinnett that no one will ever use is fiscal irresponsibility at its worst," the statement said. "We all agree there is a traffic problem in metro Atlanta, and we support infrastructure improvements like bridges, road improvements, lane widening, traffic lights, etc. But let's be frank, this is not an infrastructure improvement plan. The project list is not targeted to benefit the majority of citizens in the areas they need relief the most. This is a mass transit tax targeted at financial Titanic MARTA. We are in the process of forming a PAC to help candidates and issues. We will educate citizens, fight this, and turn out the votes when it comes up on the ballot."
But Chairwoman Charlotte Nash, who participated in the unanimous vote on the list Thursday, said she was satisfied with the list that will go before voters.
"I'm pleased that the regional roundtable has completed its work to develop a list of transportation projects that could be funded with a special purpose penny sales tax," she said. "The list is now available online for voters to consider before next July's referendum."