Editor's Note: A vote next year could affect your commute for decades. As a region, we'll decide whether to tax ourselves for $8 billion in transportation improvements. The AJC has committed a team of reporters to cover every angle of the transportation referendum leading up to the vote in summer 2012. We kick off that coverage this week with an examination of what's at stake for Atlanta and each of the region's 10 counties.
Fayette County is a world apart from its busy northern neighbors in metro Atlanta.
Unlike the other area counties, it doesn't have an interstate running through its bucolic background.
Though it's just 45 minutes south of downtown Atlanta, Fayette County is mostly populated by trees and state highways and, perhaps best known, golf carts streaming across special paths alongside and over roadways.
The county's green landscape -- offering a feeling of seclusion -- has helped make Fayette the birthplace of opposition to paying an extra penny in sales tax for transportation improvements both in and out of the county. The 10-county region will vote in 2012 on whether to tax itself for such projects.
It's a sentiment so strong that it recently helped unseat a County Commission chairman. And though Fayette is on the lower end of the region's spectrum when it comes to sales tax revenue and number of voters, it could have extra influence in whether the referendum passes.
Harold Bost, who heads the county’s Issues Tea Party, is organizing opposition to the penny tax across the metro area.
“Whenever there is this much money out there for politicians and bureaucrats to play with, I don’t trust them a bit,” Bost said. “We don’t want any part of it.”
Fayette County is on the 10-county region's edge.
“Everybody here likes it here, kind of enclosed,” said Amanda Allgood, a waitress who has lived all her 24 years in Tyrone.
Allgood wastes no time in arguing against the proposed tax, even though she commutes 25 miles one way every day to complete her degree in psychology at Clayton State University.
“They’re just asking for more money to change what we don’t want to change,” she said.
Fayetteville Mayor Ken Steele, who supports the referendum, sees it a different way. He thinks others will come to his way of thinking when they realize transportation work will get people around easier.
"Fayette County is a little bit unique in that no interstates run through it, so people might feel a little removed," Steele said. "But when 73 percent of your county leaves every day for work, you're part of the region."
Many people insist they don’t have the nagging traffic woes that afflict the more core counties. Perhaps the worst intersection for its commuters -- where Ga. 74 meets I-85 -- sits just north of Fayette in Fulton County.
But plans to improve that interchange and widen Ga. 74, a four-lane divided highway with a thick green median, draw outrage and anger from residents who like things the way they are.
“You widen the roads, and all it does is pull more traffic in, especially heavy freight,” Peachtree City Mayor Don Haddix said, noting the industrial areas near Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
If a referendum passes, Haddix said most residents want to build more multiuse paths for golf carts. He argues that the 93-mile network of paths in Peachtree City, the county's largest community, pull traffic off the roads and could ease traffic even more if it linked up to smaller communities such as Senoia.
But a final project list is not expected to include any projects that don’t help beyond a single county or link people up with jobs. That makes Haddix think the golf paths won't make the cut.
That could only increase already strong opposition. The county's wish list of projects only has support from a slim majority of the County Commission and the mayor of Fayetteville, the county's second biggest city.
The key to garnering support is making sure residents see an equity, getting money they pay in a sales tax for improvements, Steele said. That is especially true for main north-south routes, such as Ga. 85, for commuters both inside the county and south of it, he added.
In the meantime, opponents promise to make their voices heard. Bost, the former chairman of the County Commission, said he believes that smaller counties such as Fayette will subsidize projects in the larger, more urban counties. He also fears that could lead to mass transit that doesn’t make sense in more rural counties.
Opposition isn't new.
A 1 percent transportation special purpose local option sales tax expired last year after about three-quarters of Fayette County voters rejected its extension in a 2009 election.
Haddix last fall pushed unsuccessfully to have Fayette officially removed from the metro Atlanta region. The effort failed, by a single vote. But since then, opposition has grown in size and volume.
Perhaps the clearest sign of the growing disenchantment came in last year's election. The chair of the County Commission, Jack Smith, a proponent of regional cooperation, lost his seat last fall partly over his support for transit. His replacement has since introduced a resolution to ban Fayette from supporting any mass transit in this referendum.
The opponents have a point. About 22 percent of Fayette County residents work in Fulton, many of them at the airport or downtown, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission.
But more than a quarter of Fayette residents work in their home county, which is far enough out to lose some Atlanta radio signals.
“I just don’t see what they’re proposing as worth the increase in taxes or is that needed,” said Pastor David Brackman, who commutes into Coweta County to lead the Methodist Church in Moreland. “Widening the highway wouldn’t make a difference to us.”
Search projects and leave your comments
Cities and towns submitted their wish lists in March: more than 400 projects worth up to $29 billion or more. Go to ajc.com/go/transportation to see which projects hit closest to home and which have regional effects.
Incorporated: May 15, 1821
Total area: 197.4 square miles
County seat: Fayetteville
Interstate lanes: 0 miles
Sources: Georgia.gov, Census Bureau, Atlanta Regional Commission
- Number of commuters: 47,947*
- Average length of commute: 28.29 minutes*
- Fact: 12,000 registered golf carts in Peachtree City
- Current sales tax: 6 percent
* Source: Atlanta Regional Commission
Projects to watch
- Improvements, Ga. 92 from Ga. 85 in Fayette County to Oakley Industrial Boulevard in Fulton, $43.8 million
- Ga. 279 widening from Ga. 85 to Fulton County line, $44.7 million
- Ga. 92 to Ga. 138 connector, new alignment from Ga. 138 in Fulton, $18.3 million
- Improvements, Ga. 92 from McBride Road to Spalding County line, $14.2 million
- Widen Ga. 54 from McDonough Road to U.S. 19/41 in Clayton County, $36.3 million
- East Bypass from South Jeff Davis Road to Ga. 54, new alignment and widening, $28.3 million
- East Bypass from Ga. 54 to Ga. 85, new alignment and widening, $9.1 million
- Widening Ga. 85 from Grady Avenue to Bernhard Road, $24 million
- Wilshire Shopping Center / Rite Aid Tunnel Path Connections, $600,000
- Multiuse path on Tyrone Road between Ga. 74 and Ga. 54, $2 million
About the Author