Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee made an impassioned plea Friday for the county’s political leadership to support the $500 million bus rapid transit system and to fund part of its cost with a proposed special purpose sales tax.
That appeal seemed to largely fall flat.
After the meeting of commissioners and mayors, all four district commissioners said they would not support including $100 million for the transit system on the list of projects for the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. That money is needed as a local match to qualify for a federal grant that could provide up to $250 million for the project.
Only commissioners can vote on which projects to include in the upcoming SPLOST, to be voted on in November.
Faye DiMassimo, the county’s transportation director, has said that the transit project was dead without the SPLOST funding.
The bus rapid transit project would run from Kennesaw State University, down Cobb Parkway and past the new Atlanta Braves stadium, then on to a MARTA station in Midtown. It involves a train-like bus with rubber tires that would travel in a dedicated lane along Cobb Parkway.
Lee said the project was necessary because the Cobb Parkway corridor is exploding with growth and is already one of the most congested roadways in the state. He said the road can’t be widened, so the only option is to improve transit.
“It’s up to us to decide if we’re going to look forward and invest in our future, or are we going to do the safe thing and do nothing and let it get worse,” Lee said. “Is it perfect? No. Does it have problems? Yes. Will we work through them? Absolutely. I’m asking you to support this project.”
There was none of that among commissioners.
Commissioner Lisa Cupid, whose district includes southern Cobb, said the amount of passion Lee expressed for the Cobb Parkway transit line was “very frustrating.”
“I’m quite disappointed to hear that amount of passion, when I represent people with tremendous, observable need for transit that continues to go unaddressed,” Cupid said.
Commissioners JoAnn Birrell said she hasn’t heard any support for the transit line from her constituents, while Bob Ott said there was nothing in Lee’s speech that changed his mind.
Helen Goreham, who is stepping down from her commission seat at the end of the year, said she would like to see the transit system have a separate referendum from the SPLOST. She would not favor including it in the SPLOST vote, she said.
“I do not want to risk the passage of the SPLOST by including a line item for bus rapid transit,” Goreham said. “I think we can take the two issues separately and allow the voters to make that decision.”
Commissioners will vote next month on SPLOST projects.
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Credit: Miguel Martinez