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Gwinnett's transportation future uncertain after tax defeat

LAWRENCEVILLE -- The promise was made more than a decade ago -- Ga. Highway 20 will be widened to four lanes from one end of Gwinnett to another, transportation leaders vowed.

But after years of shuffling dollars and changes in priorities, drivers in Sugar Hill are still waiting for some relief from the traffic nightmare that begins when four lanes of traffic dump down to two through the city.

The future looked promising, with officials working for months to buy the land needed for the widening and construction finally appearing as a light at the end of the tunnel.

Though metro Atlantans voted down a regional transportation tax slated to fill an $8 billion list of projects throughout the region in the next 10 years, the project is still on track for construction in two years.

"That money is already there and planned," said Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Teri Pope, adding that the $8 million line item in the T-SPLOST project list would have allowed the state to free up a portion of the construction costs for something else.

But unlike other projects on the $6 billion regional list which would have waited on funding for decades, the state still has plans to move the $30 million long-awaited road project through, along with a $10 million project to widen the bridge over the Chattahoochee River.

Days after the vote, though, it appears the widening could be one of the last major Gwinnett projects to bear funding without some major "reprioritizing" promised by Gov. Nathan Deal.

In that shuffle, questions abound about the survival of some of Gwinnett's biggest endeavors -- another extension to Sugarloaf Parkway to create a loop around Lawrenceville, a fix to the traffic light situation on Ga. Highway 316, which causes wrecks in addition to traffic, a redesign of Snellville's busy U.S. Highway 78/Ga. Highway 124 intersection. How will those projects sort out?

It could all be up to another tax vote, this one slated for November of 2013. Gwinnett is due for its one-penny tax to expire, and Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said the load could be road heavy to make up for the money officials had hoped for from the regional tax.

Political science professor Charles Bullock said the T-SPLOST defeat will not necessarily translate into trouble for the local tax proposals, which often have an easier time because people can see the impact more directly.

But Debbie Dooley, a Dacula woman who helped lead a group of organizations campaign for the regional tax's defeat, said she sees the potential for another "no" vote in Gwinnett.

"People are awake and paying attention. I don't think it will see the easy time it has in the past," she said. "We don't trust our elected officials. ... I think it absolutely will have repercussions for the SPLOST next year."PoliticsThey say politics can make strange bedfellows, and never was it more clear in Atlanta than in the final weeks of T-SPLOST campaigning.

Gov. Nathan Deal, a staunch Republican, shared a press conference with Democratic Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, and business alliances forged over the $8 million campaign.

On the other side, Atlanta's tea party conservatives joined with liberals from the Sierra Club and the DeKalb NAACP to canvas the community to vote no.

And after trying it out, both sides are saying one of the benefits of the work was building the relationships across party lines.

"Our coalition worked," Dooley said, adding that the group has been working to find common ground on other issues moving forward. "We may disagree on the choice for president but ... we are going to focus on areas we agree on. .. We were a force to be reckoned with."

On the other side, Gwinnett Chamber President Jim Maran said the T-SPLOST result was disappointing, but being able to work together with business leaders could bode well in the end.

"We're so pleased with the collaboration demonstrated by business and community leadership, leading up to this vote," he said. "It sets a wonderful tone for working together in the future."

While Dooley is quick to point to the win not as a tea party victory, but as a "victory of the people," Bullock said the David vs. Goliath triumph is likely to bring more respect for the grassroots group.

"It shows their power; It also will be perceived that it shows their power," he said. "(Leaders) will give the tea party wider berth."

In fact, while some groups have said leaders should retool the project list, fix some mistakes and consider another T-SPLOST vote in two years, Gov. Deal quickly let it be known that wasn't in his plans, since the voters rejected the tax notion.

Instead, he called last week for an immediate "reprioritizing" of projects based on the current means.

He also rejected suggestions, like Dooley's idea of shifting 1 percent of the gas tax, which currently goes to the state's general fund, to transportation, saying he has no intention of "robbing Peter to pay Paul."Plan BSo that leaves us with the "Plan B" that officials debated before the vote.

Bullock said he doesn't expect the Legislature to move quickly, after such a big anti-tax demonstration.

And Deal isn't likely to renege on the newly renewed promise to take down the Ga. 400 tolls, even without the tax funding for the needed $600 million interchange reconstruction at I-285.

With fewer federal dollars and little hope for more in state funds, county officials said they would reevaluate the nearly $900 million in transportation projects that made the T-SPLOST funding list.

Gwinnett spokesman Joe Sorenson said Nash has said all of the projects are important and she would find a way to fund them, although Nash is out of the country on an economic development trip and unavailable to comment on specific projects.

Six years ago, Gwinnett leaders found enough importance in the first phase of the Sugarloaf Parkway extension to shuffle $36 million in the county sales tax program to fund it without waiting for federal dollars. Now, the new roadway is nearly complete, connecting Ga. 20 south of Lawrenceville to Ga. 316 south of Dacula.

But to take the route all the way to Peachtree Industrial Boulevard in Sugar Hill, completing the loop, would require nearly $300 million -- more than the proceeds of a local 1 percent sales tax for two years.

After the economic climate caused a shift downward, the current sales tax is expected to collect $688 million over five years, but the money is not just divided among road projects. It also goes toward police and fire stations, libraries, parks and city projects.

Even if more money is given to transportation the next time around, as Dooley pointed out, the voters still have to approve an extension.

And that, we have learned, is no longer a given.

Comments

jjbod1 1 year, 11 months ago

I voted No on the regional T-splost, but I have voted Yes on the Gwinnett in the past. And when it comes up for a vote again, I will vote yes again. At least with this one we have been able to see where our tax dollars are going, and I have use and continue to use the roads that have been built in the county that I live in. I just like many others was not about to help fund areas of Atlanta that I never go into. I personally believe each county needs to do this on there own.

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JohnGalt 1 year, 11 months ago

“…The future looked promising, with officials working for months to buy the land needed for the widening and construction finally appearing as a light at the end of the tunnel…”

AND

“…Though metro Atlantans voted down a regional transportation tax slated to fill an $8 billion list of projects throughout the region in the next 10 years, the project is still on track for construction in two years…”

AND

“…"That money is already there and planned," said Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Teri Pope, adding that the $8 million line item in the T-SPLOST project list would have allowed the state to free up a portion of the construction costs for something else…”

AND you wonder why we don’t trust you! You put it in as a line item just so that you could utilize the money elsewhere once the voters approved the referendum. Now the truth comes out.

“…But unlike other projects on the $6 billion regional list which would have waited on funding for decades, the state still has plans to move the $30 million long-awaited road project through, along with a $10 million project to widen the bridge over the Chattahoochee River…”

AND good since this is something that was needed 20 years ago and promised over a decade ago. As luck would have it, the referendum wasn’t necessary for this after all.

NOW, our next initiative on this transportation initiative is to have the 30% matching fund extortion removed. Heed this warning Deal and Legislators…we will vote you out of office in the next election if a) You don’t remove the toll booths as promised on GA400, b)the HOT lanes on I-85 are not removed by election date, and c)this 30% extortion isn’t repealed.

YES, we are very awake and paying attention!

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R 1 year, 11 months ago

Seconded …. Without even the familiar call of “Point of Information!”

Precisely the point and this was just a ONE line example in a very long list. And the local leaders claim they don’t understand why TRUST is SO low?

As to the next local SPLOST, PLEASE don’t take local voter support for granted.

PLEASE No more "Pass this or we DIE"

There seems to be a bit of rumble now on county taxpayer funds being spent supporting the chamber and how it gets there from multiple county government sources…

We are told in a letter elsewhere by Commissioner Heard that steps are currently underway that will deliver on promises of transparency with chamber destined funds, but NOT how that will come about.

Once upon a time, the Chamber did indeed need the nurturing but it’s all grown up now. The Chamber is comprised of many very large corporations and as a dues collecting organization, should be standing on its own at this point.

But rest assured, the county could always raise trash fees/taxes if the county government feels income streams are dwindling, since its already been proven the fees we pay are currently NOT competitive in the regional market place but are in fact almost DOUBLE the regional norm of surrounding areas…

And one last thing;

Now that the SDS within the county is DONE and the funds spent or committed with the cities getting money directly but absolutely no LEGAL way within the state of GA to actually return those overcharged taxes back to the INJURED parties or taxpayers themselves…

How about just a simple apology?

Along the lines we are sorry it happened. (NOT we weren’t in office then) IF you don’t admit to a FUBAR situation, folks will always be looking for it to be repeated…

Regardless of how long you SCREAM I’m or We’re CONSERVATIVE!!

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kevin 1 year, 11 months ago

We vote no for anything involving taxes. Not one politician is trusted anymore. They are all sleeping with big business to tax us for whatever they all want. We are not represented anymore. Throw them all out and start over with new blood.

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Sonoma 1 year, 11 months ago

Could not have said it better myself; especially about getting those out of office that are not listening to the public majority.

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pcjohn 1 year, 11 months ago

Amen, Sonoma. And let's start with that smug, pompous wastrel Mike Beaudreau. Maybe our refuse collection fees will go down then.

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dentaldawg83 1 year, 11 months ago

"Gov. Nathan Deal, a staunch Republican,"

now that's funny right there...

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notblind 1 year, 11 months ago

Every time you have to sit in one of the Gwinnett Road Rage Dragways [ 2 lanes into 1 right after a traffic signal ] just think of the $60m + spent on the stadium, the $millions over paid on crooked land deals, etc.

I will never vote for another tax increase.

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JimmyOrr 1 year, 11 months ago

HB 277 the "Transportation Investment Act of 2010." You would have to study HB 277 to see the potential layers of bureaucracy this bill would have created within our already bloated state government. You would also need to know how the 20 members of the regional transportation roundtable were to be selected from within our ten county regional transporation district and how the 5 member executive committee members were to be elected from among those 20 members.The members of the roundtable were to be the Board of Commissioners Chairman from each county and a mayor elected from among the mayors of each incorporated city within each county unless more than 90% of the population of said county resided in municipal corporations (cities) then the mayor from the municipal corporation with the highest population as per the latest U.S. Census would be an additional representative. Therein, lies the burr that was put under my TSPLOST saddle early on in January 2011, when the intrusion by Mr. Speaker along with others seated City of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed as the 21st. member of a duly selected 20 member roundtable and the 6th. member of a duly elected 5 member executive committee. The member of the executive committee elected to be chairman, City of Norcross Mayor Buck Johnson, retained his position but without voting privileges. Never could figure that one out except with the inclusion of the 6th. member to the executive committee, there could be no tie votes which would necessitate a vote to break the tie. I stand to be corrected but I am of the opinion that 90% of the population of Fulton County does not live within the corporate limits of the City of Atlanta. From January 2011, until July 31, 2012, when I talked with citizens as to why they were not voting for TSPLOST invariably, their displeasure at the intrusion of our 20 member duly appointed roundtable and duly elected 5 member executive committee would come up.

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notblind 1 year, 11 months ago

It was just going to be a big slush fund for these people to trade off favors back and forth to benefit themselves and their cronies. Killing T[ax]SPLOST was a huge victory for taxpayers. The bewilderment of the proponents after they lost shows how out of touch they are.

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kevin 1 year, 11 months ago

This article is so far from the truth. Transportation will ALWAYS be short on money. What do we want to do? Pave ever square foot of Georgia? Our gas prices are already 20 cents a gallon higher than Ala. (8/5/12) This is due to both gas and sales taxes on a gallon. If this state would use the taxes for roads, we wouldn't be crying for taxpayers to throw more money at the wall and hope that the politicians spend it wisely. They will not. Have no fear, let them all try to tax us to death and see how many get re-elected. The state and counties are trying their best to scare us into higher taxes but we know better. There is no trust between them and us.

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Reason 1 year, 11 months ago

I am voting to RENEW the Gwinnett TSPLOST. I like my roads maintained and improved, like they have been in the past. To do otherwise, is just plain ignorant. Tires, suspension and allignment work on a vehicle is expensive and never seems to happen at the "right time" when you hit a pothole at night/early morning. Does it??

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JohnGalt 1 year, 11 months ago

Do you think that TSPLOST money is used for maintenance? There is a fundamental difference between new and improved. Did you miss the part about the GA20 improvements already being funded? Never mind.

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BufordGuy 1 year, 11 months ago

Yet the engaged and educated Gwinnett voters will turn out in droves to re-elect the same idiots that keep proposing this stuff. Unbelievable.

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R 1 year, 11 months ago

NOT every time ... But just not soon enough for some of us

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teelee 1 year, 11 months ago

Park all of those empty red and white buses and use our fuel tax that we already pay millions into everyday to build and maintain the roads. Problem solved what else you got that needs fixn?

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BuzzG 1 year, 11 months ago

Don't worry folks. It will only take them a little while and they will find other ways to raise our taxes. They have lots of power and we have little.

"When people fear government, you have tyranny. When the government fears the people, you have freedom" Anonymous

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Don_Coyote 1 year, 11 months ago

Why in the HE double hockey sticks would I have voted for a sales tax in which Atlanta would have received 140% of their contribution and Gwinnett would have received 74% of their own. Why would the legislators from Gwinnett vote to cede the county's right to levy taxes to an unconstitutional "special district" with the possibility of the other 9 counties will mandating the inequitable distribution? Why would Gwinnett's own legislators vote to penalize the citizens of Gwinnett and require 20% more County funds in the remote possibility they might smell the rank pork and vote down a 74 cent return on the dollar tax?

I don't even want to talk about the GWINNETT SIDE of GA20 at the river. It has awaited the widening of all of the other river crossings, been held hostage to the long dead outer perimeter and as of late, TSPLOST. Suffice it to say that in the trade off for shifting it so that Scott Hudgens owned both sides on the road at I85 (Mall of Georgia) his company should have paid for six lanes all the way to 400.

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