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We have to be vigilant about protecting our low-density way of life here

A multitude of us are in favor of preserving our quality of life in Fayette County, the envy of many. Unlike many of the counties in our region, we have something worth fighting for if you look at the statistics.

In reality, the only way to hold onto quality of life is not trust the local government (including Steve Brown) and get informed and personally involved. I can give you dozens of examples where elected officials have been ousted because the citizens found out (many times too late) their course had been radically altered.

I found great humor in The Citizen headline, “ARC planner: No mass transit projected for Fayette — ever.” At the urging of Fayetteville Mayor Ken Steele, the ARC planners sanitized the slide showing mass transit projects for metro Atlanta. You see, Steele is up for reelection this year.

When the regional government staff member said, “I don’t think there’s a chance in my lifetime that anybody’s going to be advocating mass transit in areas that don’t want or need it,” he seems to have mysteriously forgotten his very department at the regional government planned mass transit projects for Fayette County, and our representatives to the regional government, former County Commission Chairman Jack Smith and Fayetteville Mayor Ken Steele, kept voting for regional mass transit plans that included transit buses from Clayton, Coweta and Henry Counties rolling through our county.

It’s like the child who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar and claimed he did not do it. Likewise, the regional government staff member neglected to point out Mayor Steele along with County Commission Chairman Herb Frady, Commissioner Robert Horgan and Commissioner Lee Hearn is doggedly fighting, as recently as March 2, 2011, to keep Fayette County in regional mass transit plans.

When a government staff member, someone who is subject to the whims of the elected officials, says “I don’t think ...” you should not walk away with a great deal of confidence. After all, how did Fayette County get in the regional mass transit plans in the first place?

We know mass transit in Fayette County cannot be justified nor can we afford to sustain it with our low density land planning. We know the amount of traffic Fayette County puts on the regional road system is numerically insignificant and past Hartsfield-Jackson Airport the numbers drop even lower.

I was pleased when the Atlanta Regional Commission planners agreed with my position on mass transit in Fayette County at the March 10, 2011 Plan 2040 transportation plan meeting. A very honest David Haynes, short-range program manager with ARC, said that he could not foresee Fayette County needing mass transit “for the next 50 years.”

I heard some Fayette residents at the Plan 2040 meeting conveying if Fayette County got out of the mass transit plans, we would “be totally abandoning regional transportation planning.” Nothing could be further from the truth and shame on the special interests for putting that thought in their heads.

For starters we are not a paying participant in the new Regional Transit Commission now and we do not have a vote in the process currently. Second, we would still be active participants in regional road, bridge, pedestrian, bike and all other forms of transportation (the overwhelming majority of projects).

So the real question is why are Steele, Frady, Horgan and Hearn fighting to keep us in regional mass transit plans if the regional planners say mass transit is not needed in Fayette County?

The contrived civility tactic where people want us to spend money we do not have to fund mass transit we do not need by saying, “We are all in this together,” is not going to work. Similarly, “we” were not consulted when Gwinnett County killed their traffic flow with endless regional shopping centers, and “we” were not asked to approve their building exponentially more housing than their infrastructure could handle.

However, “we” did pay for their problems because Gwinnett County received the lion’s share of “our” federal and state highway funds for “our” region over the last couple of decades to reduce the impact of “their” mistakes.

In all honesty, Gwinnett, Fulton, Clayton, DeKalb and Cobb Counties could really care less if we have mass transit in Fayette County. They simply want us to pay for their mass transit system, but how could they justify our paying if we are not in the mass transit system?

Next year our Georgia Legislature will create a Regional Transit Authority (RTA) for Metropolitan Atlanta. This authority is absolutely necessary because the 2012 transportation sales tax referendum has billions of dollars of transit funding and no mechanism to disperse the revenue.

Even though the professional planners say we do not need to be in the mass transit plans, all the implementation decisions are up to the regional politicians and their appointments (not the ARC planners); in other words, it would be up to the RTA.

We already know that a major theme behind building regional transit is “the development of land use regulations and patterns that support transit uses ... [that] is not constrained by political boundaries (is regionally seamless for the user)” (Transit Planning Board â013 Thursday, Oct. 25, 2007).

The professional planners will tell you that the “regulations and patterns that support transit uses” are higher density development or redevelopment.

If Fayette County stays in the regional mass transit plans at the time the RTA is created by the legislature (and we are still in the regional mass transit plan because there has been no formal vote to remove us from the plan — see March 2 commission workshop vote), we could find ourselves in a position where we eventually have no choice but to implement the projects and look at changing our land uses around transit as well as funding regional mass transit.

If this sounds far-fetched to you, go look at the tremendous authority the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) was given over metropolitan Atlanta by the legislature.

I am determined to protect the assets that have made our county one of the top places to live. Copying the places where we chose not to live is definitely not the answer. Giving up our abundant quality of life and our tax dollars in the name of being a good regional neighbor is not the answer either. There is nothing wrong with remaining a low density, slow growth county without mass transit.

Steve Brown, County Commission, Post 4

commissionerbrown@fayettecountyga.gov

Peachtree City, Ga.

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