Cobb Board approves transit expansion project list over GOP opposition

Commissioners still need to vote on placing the transit sales tax question on the ballot for voters in November 2024
The Board of Commissioners approved the project list for the 2024 transit tax they plan to put to voters during the November election. (Courtesy of Cobb County)

The Board of Commissioners approved the project list for the 2024 transit tax they plan to put to voters during the November election. (Courtesy of Cobb County)

The Cobb Board of Commissioners on Tuesday voted along party lines to approve the transit expansion project list they want to place in front of voters, perhaps as early as the November presidential election.

The board is considering a ballot referendum for a 1% mobility Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax that would generate $11 billion over 30 years.

If passed at the ballot box, the county will use the funds to build and operate bus rapid transit and arterial transit systems; more robust local bus routes; and a county-wide, on-demand microtransit program. The funds would also cover additional transit facilities, sidewalks and trails, and operational and technological improvements.

A majority of the board will still need to approve placing the tax on the ballot, and will likely take that vote early next year.

After Tuesday’s vote, the board will no longer be considering a 10-year version of the M-SPLOST, Chairwoman Lisa Cupid said.

The proposal will now be submitted to the Atlanta Transit Link Authority to be included in the regional transit plan, a state law requirement before the proposal can be put to voters.

The project list estimates $6 billion of generated revenue will be spent on BRT with a dedicated lane along with arterial rapid transit, which has partial dedicated lanes and more frequent stops. Another $2.8 billion will be earmarked for local, rapid and commuter bus routes; $2 billion for vehicles and amenities; $3 billion for microtransit, and just over $1 billion for sidewalk, trail, and technology improvements.

The county also anticipates receiving additional funds through state and federal grants.

The board’s two Republicans have been steadfast in their opposition to the 30-year tax, as well as transit expansion that they say the county doesn’t need.

“It’s truly not reaching the needs of our citizens,” Commissioner Keli Gambrill said. “Folks pretty much don’t ride the buses currently.”

Commissioner JoAnn Birrell said she cannot support a 30-year tax because of “the burden it will put on our grandchildren and maybe great-grandchildren.”

“I can’t support a 30-year tax, not even going to a referendum,” Birrell said.

Democratic commissioners have said expanding transit is an investment to improve access to economic opportunity, and ease the traffic congestion in Cobb, especially since the population is expected to exceed 1 million people in less than three decades.

“If we continue to ... kick this can down the road, we know one thing for sure: we will continue to grow as a county,” Cupid said. “We have significant opportunity for transformation here in Cobb.”

During public comment, several residents spoke in favor of transit expansion. Gabriel Sanchez said ridership is low with the current system because it’s underfunded and ineffective due to the county’s lack of investment.

“That’s exactly what this transit referendum is going to do: investing in public transit to make it an actual program that people will use because, right now, it is not usable for many people,” he said.

There was also public opposition.

“All of us came here because we didn’t want to live in the high-density environment which is DeKalb and Fulton,” Alicia Adams said.

Some polling over the last few years has shown a majority of Cobb County voters support transit expansion — a major break from the past.

Commissioners also voted to spend $190,000 from the general fund on “outreach and education” once the tax is approved for the ballot. The Town Center and Cumberland community improvement districts gave the county $50,000 each for the same purpose. Gambrill and Birrell each voted against the spending.