July 10, 7-9 p.m.: South Cobb Community Center, 620 Lions Club Dr SW, Mableton
July 14, 7-9 p.m.: East Cobb Library, 4880 Lower Roswell Rd, Marietta
July 16, 7-9 p.m.: West Cobb Senior Center, 4915 Dallas Hwy, Powder Springs
July 17, 10 a.m.-12 p.m.: County Commission Meeting Room (2nd floor), 100 Cherokee Street, Marietta
SPLOST Public Hearings:
July 8, 9 a.m.: 100 Cherokee Street, 2nd floor, Marietta
July 22, 7 p.m.: 100 Cherokee Street, 2nd floor, Marietta
Cobb residents who cast ballots in favor of a special purpose sales tax renewal this fall may get more than they vote for — a half billion dollar bus system that would primarily serve the Cobb Parkway area.
That’s because Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee, who has been advocating for the controversial transit line, has asked commissioners to add 10 projects to the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum that would help the county qualify for a $250 million federal grant needed to fund the so-called bus rapid transit.
Those projects were not included in initial lists of SPLOST projects. Instead, Lee would like them to replace a single, $100 million, line item that was clearly identified as being dedicated to the transit line.
Critics say the change is meant to mask the county’s pursuit of the controversial bus rapid transit. It is, they say, a way to get voters to approve funding for a transit project that they soundly rejected as part of the 2012 regional Transportation SPLOST.
Lance Lamberton, president of the Cobb Taxpayers Association, called Lee’s maneuvering a “Trojan bus.”
“He’s just trying to rebrand it,” Lamberton said. “It’s a violation of the public trust. He’s trying to hide what they really want to do by slipping BRT through the back door.”
Lee did not return repeated phone messages last week, in which The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked why he decided to list individual projects for bus rapid transit rather than a single line-item that would be more clear for voters. He also ignored a question about whether he would support identifying the projects as part of the plan to build a bus rapid transit line.
Instead, Lee issued a statement through a spokesperson: “At this point, no decisions have been made. I expect the public will have a clear understanding of the projects and what they are voting on come November.”
At the time of the change, Lee was facing opposition from all four district commissioners over the inclusion of the $100 million line item for bus rapid transit on the SPLOST project list. Each said they were afraid its inclusion would doom the SPLOST, which is estimated to raise $750 million over six years.
Faye DiMassimo, Cobb’s transportation director, said Lee asked her department to identify the individual projects and their cost before a June 20 meeting, at which he urged commissioners and mayors of the county’s six cities to support the transit line.
“The chairman asked us, how much of the $100 million match … (are) intersection improvements that (we) would be making as part of the project” and that could be made even if the transit line isn’t built, DiMassimo said. “So we went back and looked at each intersection.”
Projects under consideration by commissioners for SPLOST describe the benefit to government, residents and businesses. When asked for the benefit analysis for the 10 newly added projects, DiMassimo said that hasn’t been done.
“A lot of that was for information used in the (June 20) meeting,” she said.
Commissioner Bob Ott, who represents the Cumberland area, said he’s concerned that voters will not understand the projects are a step toward enabling the county to spend massive amounts on bus rapid transit. Even after the federal grant and local match, the county would need to raise an additional $150 million to build the system, then spend an estimated $7 million a year in operations.
“They were not on the original list. Why?” Ott asked. “I’m very worried about confusion. If they are more than just road projects like everything else — if they are part of the county’s $100 million match — they need to be identified as such so the SPLOST is clear and transparent to voters.”
Cobb has bus service and a rapid transit system would operate in addition to it. Cobb Community Transit, the county's existing bus system, operates within the county, provides connecting service to MARTA rail and offers express service into downtown Atlanta.
Bus rapid transit would run from Kennesaw State University to Midtown. But its primary benefit would be along the Cobb Parkway corridor, where the train-like buses would have a dedicated lane off limits to other vehicles. Lee has argued that the transit line is needed to increase capacity along Cobb Parkway, which is one of the most heavily traveled corridors in the state.
The addition of a new Atlanta Braves stadium is expected to add 28,000 vehicles to those roadways during sold-out games, a traffic analysis provided by the team has found.
It is unclear how many of the 10 new projects will make the final list. Commissioners will finalize the project list at its July 22 meeting.