Three members of our Fayette County Board of Commissioners are up for re-election this November: Jack Smith, Eric Maxwell and Lee Hearn.
We all know about their “build the West Fayetteville Bypass at any cost” stance. We know about their intentions to close the interchange at Ga. Highway 74 and I-85 in favor of a new interchange at Ga. Highway 92 and I-85, a way to justify building the sham of a bypass, leaving Tyrone, Peachtree City and Brooks commuters in a lurch.
Likewise, we voted down their pork-barrel spending antics in the recent SPLOST referendum.
Now let me tell you what else you need to look out for related to mass transit in Fayette County. Commission Chairman Jack Smith has been actively participating in the planning and implementation processes of bringing mass transit to Fayette County.
In fact, the plans from the Transit Planning Board (TPB) actually designate Fayetteville and Peachtree City as “transit centers,” (Source: Transit Planning Board Final Technical Report, Concept 3, p. 16, figure 2.2, System Framework).
At their “Aug. 28, 2008 meeting, the TPB Board voted to adopt Concept 3 as the regional transit vision” (TBP Staff Director’s Report September, 2008). Chairman Smith made no objections to the mass transit plan, Concept 3, as it was drafted and approved.
Indeed, the plan calls for buses from Clayton County, Henry County and Coweta County to come rolling into Fayette. In fact, we are the heart of their new “cross-regional corridor” for mass transit.
The plan which Chairman Smith favored and posed no objections to, according to TPB meeting minutes, calls for a “Southwest [transit rail] line from Senoia to Downtown Atlanta through Peachtree City and Union City” (TPB press release, http://beltline.org/Portals/26/Concept%203%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf).
Just how will the mass transit assembly line of buses, constantly bustling back and forth from Newnan to McDonough with us caught in the middle, along hwys. 34/54 improve the quality of life for the citizens of Fayette County?
Sadly, the irony is it will bring more congestion to that busy highway. Think about it; there are no HOV lanes in Fayette, so the buses will add to our traffic. And how many in our local population do you think will be riding that hectic bus route?
At this point, some well-intentioned readers are thinking mass transit in Fayette County is just the right thing to do.
The part of this mass transit revelation Chairman Smith will surely never tell you about is the cost. Oh, yeah, we have to pay to shuttle the masses through our county.
The regional system will cost billions upon billions of dollars to assemble. Then there are the massive annual maintenance costs. In fact, “[t]o operate the full regional system, both existing and new expansion is estimated to be $1.2 billion annually” (TPB press release, http://beltline.org/Portals/26/Concept%203%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf).
You have heard that trains, buses and trolleys will save us time and money. Fulton County and DeKalb County have around 2 million residents and tons of business and industry, but they cannot keep their transit system afloat.
Similarly, Gwinnett County has nearly 800,000 residents along with huge amounts of industrial and retail taxes, but they are cutting six morning and eight evening express bus trips every day.
In fact, Gwinnett eliminated a significant portion of their Saturday bus service altogether, reducing frequency on the few routes that remained.
It is the same story with ultra-dense Clayton County as their bus system collapses.
Jack Smith currently serves on the regional Transit Implementation Board (TIB), “established in January 2009 to guide the implementation of Concept 3, the long-range transit vision for the Atlanta region developed by the board’s predecessor, the Transit Planning Board (TPB)” (www.transitboard.org/), assuring his regional government colleagues that Fayette County is on board when it comes to mass transit.
Considering that our county only has a projected population of 160,860 by 2030, you have to wonder how high our tax burden will become with our commission chairman not objecting to a plan causing an extensive financial burden on us.
Now our Chairman Smith contends (at least I have heard around Fayette he does) that he will never allow mass transit in Fayette County.
OK, so why did he approve the Concept 3 plan that includes Fayette County rail and buses?
Similarly, why is Smith on the board, TIB, implementing the transit plan including Fayette County?
Again, let it be said, I cannot find a single notation in the TBP or TIB meeting minutes where Smith is objecting to a plan calling for mass transit in our county.
Chairman Smith had yet a third time to object to the plans for mass transit in Fayette County when the Atlanta Regional Commission (Smith serves as a Fayette representative on ARC) approved the Concept 3 transit plan, but he did the opposite.
The Concept 3 transit plan clearly says, the “bus rapid transit regional transfer stations” are “Newnan, Peachtree City and Fayetteville,” and other projects include “GA 74 Expressway Bus, Peachtree City Commuter Rail and GA 85 Arterial Rapid Bus” reporting “service hours and frequency: All day, minimum 15-minute peak frequency, 30-minute off-peak” (Project Information Sheets for Elements of Concept 3, Project Analysis Information Sheet, p. 47, Transit Planning Board, December 18, 2008).
The GA 85 Arterial Rapid Bus service will connect Fayetteville to Riverdale and the large Southern Crescent Regional Transit Station, (Project Information Sheets for Elements of Concept 3, Project Analysis Information Sheet, p. 49, Transit Planning Board, December 18, 2008).
How in the world would we sustain mass transit with only a fraction of the population of the other counties? Even worse, as Chairman Smith will tell you, the implementation plan calls for everyone, including Fayette County, to opt into the regional mass transit system with a proposed regional sale tax funding mechanism.
Believe it or not, that means we in Fayette will be paying to cover the deficits of the larger counties.
I cannot find a single notation in the regional meetings where Smith objects to this funding methodology.
Up to this point, Fayette County has been the only county within the 10-county Atlanta Regional Commission not to opt into the failing regional mass transit system. Unfortunately, I fear our county commissioners could be silently pulling us into the mire.
I do not want to see Fayette County get blown away with Peachtree City and Fayetteville marked as mass transit centers. I am certain we could never endure the costs.
Van pooling works just fine in Fayette County, providing the ride with no cost to the county taxpayers.
Smith, Hearn and Maxwell all favored the TDK Extension and are currently working away on the bogus West Fayetteville Bypass. Are these really people we can trust when they say they oppose mass transit in our county? Their actions speak louder than their words.
We need elected officials who will fight to save what we love about Fayette County, not give it away.
[Steve Brown is the former mayor of Peachtree City. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]