Cobb aims for 2022 transit referendum

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Cobb voters will likely have their say on transit expansion in 2022, giving local leaders time they say they need to come up with a list of projects that will win voter approval.

Lawmakers are expected to take up an official request by the county to extend a key deadline coming up this year, which was written into the original legislation creating the new regional transit authority, the ATL.

County Chairman Mike Boyce made the case to delay the vote to the Cobb delegation Wednesday, a day after the county commission unanimously passed a resolution on the subject.

In addition to needing time to come up with a list of specific projects, Boyce said there was concern that placing the transit expansion — backed by a sales tax of up to one percent — on the same ballot as the 2020 SPLOST could torpedo both.

The next year, 2021, is an off-year election, making it unsuitable timing. Boyce said he “would be concerned about bringing enough people to the polls to vote on something that’s going to impact their lives and their pocketbooks for a number of years.”

He said the county has not decided whether to hold the referendum county-wide or create a special transit district in the southeastern part of Cobb. The special district option would sunset this year without the extension.

“Everything is on the table and why I’m asking you for an extension is to keep everything on the table,” Boyce said.

Boyce faced questions from State Rep. Ed Setzler, who sought assurances that voters would have a detailed plan to evaluate before going to the polls. He pointed to the Cumberland circulator, which was launched to serve the new Braves stadium and surrounding businesses, as a cautionary example of a haphazard transit initiative. The circulator has struggled to attract riders and one of its original routes was cut as a result.

“I think we can agree that was not a successful implementation of transit expansion,” Setzler said. “Let’s really rigorously, in a Cobb County way, analyze our needs.”

Boyce is scheduled to hold a series of town halls this spring to address transit and transportation, where he said he will solicit feedback from voters. That feedback will be used to update the county’s comprehensive transportation plan, including projects that could be funded with a sales tax, either county-wide or in a special transit district.

Boyce pointed to a recent survey showing most Cobb voters support expanding transit and about half said they would be willing to pay more for it. The survey showed transit supporters tend to be younger, wealthier and more educated, but the opposition is more motivated and vote more reliably.

State Rep. David Wilkerson, who chairs the Cobb delegation, said he did not anticipate any pushback on the county's request, despite some concern over the special district — a compromise that was struck as the clock was ticking to pass the bill into law last year.

Wilkerson is among those who opposes a special transit district.

“You can’t have a regional solution for transit and do that,” Wilkerson said.