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OUR VIEW: HOT lanes hot button for road tax

Transportation officials are pinning their hopes of improving metro Atlanta's commute with a regional penny sales tax.

The TSPLOST (transportation special purpose local option sales tax) is estimated to raise up to $7 billion over 10 years for road and transit initiatives.

These penny sales taxes (in Gwinnett County we already have one for the county and another for the schools) are an effective, efficient way to raise capital dollars unavailable otherwise. Consider the parks, libraries, schools, road improvements, etc., Gwinnett County would be without had these taxes not been in place.

As with these other penny sales taxes, TSPLOST must be approved by voters. Due to the latest transportation initiative unloaded on downtown commuters, the possibility of a TSPLOST defeat looms larger each day.

If TSPLOST has any chance of passing, voters need to have confidence in the vision of the Georgia DOT and state officials. Right now, that confidence is shot.

The cause of this drop in commuter confidence is the HOT lanes program that turned the HOV commuter lane along a 16-mile stretch of Interstate 85 into a toll lane. Since the switch Oct. 1, the federally funded demonstration project has been, in most minds, an unmitigated disaster.

Few are using the toll lane, the free lanes are even more clogged and access points are too few and far between. Overall, the system is confusing, complicated, difficult and intimidating.

A public forum in Buford on Monday designed to clear the air has made things even worse. Attendees thought they'd been "bamboozled" when only a portion of the meeting was dedicated to the HOT lane controversy.

All this has put the voting citizenry in a foul mood. Not what you want if you're a proponent of the TSPLOST referendum that will be on the ballot in the summer of 2012.

Gov. Nathan Deal has taken a few steps to ease the pain, but a lot more has to be done to turn this sow's ear into a silk purse.

Overall, the TSPLOST is much more part of Atlanta's traffic solution than the HOT lanes. It would be a terrible mistake to keep one and sacrifice the other.

The voting citizenry couldn't be more agitated than it is right now. That doesn't bode well for the TSPLOST initiative that must be passed if Atlanta has any hope of improving traffic flow.

Georgia DOT and other state officials need to regroup and come up with a way to improve the commutes or abandon the program.