Fayette County officials want out of ARC transit plan

Fayette County officials have decided they want no part of a regional mass transit plan.

County commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to ask the Atlanta Regional Commission to remove the upscale southside county from its Concept 3 regional transit plan, essentially a $52 billion wish list of long-range plans.

The vote is largely symbolic since the county was already exempt from any projects in the list. But it’s an aftershock of last year’s elections involving a regional transportation tax or T-SPLOST and it underscores divisions over transportation and regionalism. The T-SPLOST failed in Fayette following brutal attacks on the idea of mass transit and voters there ousted elected officials who had backed regional cooperation.

Concept 3 was adopted in 2008 as the region’s vision for mass transit. Its goal is to make better use of existing transit infrastructure and expanding upon that system to link more the metro area together.

At Fayette’s request last year, ARC had already removed mass transit projects in the plan from the county, said Jane Hayse, ARC’s Director of Livable Communities.

The upscale county is known for its bucolic lifestyle and prides itself on being the only metro Atlanta county without direct access to an interstate. Its land planning and zoning system was created to maintain that lifestyle. The county’s 107,000 residents are spread over 200 square miles and make up a small portion of metro Atlanta’s transit riders.

Although the regional plan placed different types of projects in different areas, Fayette Commission chairman Steve Brown still has concerns.

“The (regional) plan essentially is a one -size-fits-all type of strategy, which is doomed for failure,” Brown said.

Brown was a vocal opponent of TSPLOST, a transportation tax referendum, that, had it passed, was projected to raise more than $7 billion for transportation projects throughout the region. Brown criticized TSPLOST for what he considered to be a heavy focus on mass transit when many counties like Fayette do not rely on it.

“You can not treat the perimeter suburban counties the same as you treat the more dense, urban counties.”

Fayetteville resident Steve Smithfield, who commuted to work in Atlanta for years before retiring five years ago, said there’s no need for mass transit in Fayette.

“We’ve got pretty much what we need,” said Smithfield, who has lived in the county 40 years. “We don’t have the other problems larger counties do with traffic and denser population. I feel the county’s doing well without mass transit.”

The head of a grassroots group that was instrumental in defeating TSPLOST last July praised Fayette officials’ action.

“It’s a great move. We hope it prompts other counties to do the same,” said Jack Staver, chairman of The Transportation Leadership Coalition. Staver is against a regional approach to metro Atlanta’s transportation needs.

“We’re trying to get rid of the regional concept. It’s not that we have a problem with the government. We have to live and work with it but it shouldn’t control every aspect of our lives.”

A year ago, Fayette’s leadership tried to work inside the bounds of regional transportation. But that was before TSPLOST failed, taking with it numerous leaders throughout the region who supported the referendum, including three Fayette commissioners. Those commissioners were replaced by a board that’s more in lockstep about wanting no part of the bigger-picture regional plan.

“A lot of the transportation plans that have been proposed were not for the benefit of our county,” said commissioner Allen McCarty.

He said transportation plans in recent years have yielded roads and other projects that don’t make sense for the county.

Said McCarty: “We want to send a message that we like the status and living conditions of Fayette County and we like the way Fayette operates. We have sufficient infrastructure in Fayette.”