Brown: Budget may be issue for Hwy. 74/I-85 fix

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One of the projects that stands to benefit the most from a potential regional sales tax is improvements to the interchange of Ga. Highway 74 and Interstate 85, just outside the Fayette-Fulton County line.

Fayette County Commissioner Steve Brown, who has been working with state transportation officials on the matter, has said there are some very promising solutions for the interchange.

However, at a July 20 meeting on the regional tax he again expressed doubts that the work can be accomplished for the $22 million that is earmarked for it in the regional project selection process.

“Todd Long gave me a lot of incredible answers that would solve all those problems,” Brown said, referring to the state’s director of transportation planning.

But the fear is what might happen if the project’s cost estimate, once it is fully engineered, surpasses the currently-programmed $22 million mark, Brown said.

Fayetteville Mayor Ken Steele, who is on the 21-member Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable, replied that the matter is in the hands of traffic engineers for now, and time will tell how the project is handled.

The meeting, which was convened at City Hall, was designed to brief local elected officials on the roundtable’s progress and what work remains to be done in advance of the July 2012 referendum on the sales tax.

Peachtree City resident Bob Ross asked about a resolution adopted by the Atlanta Regional Commission to create a regional transit authority. He was told that the legislature is studying the issue with a special committee, but no final decisions have been made.

There are no rail, bus or other transit projects for Fayette County that are being contemplated for funding with the regional sales tax. All of Fayette’s projects are for road, bridge and cart path improvements.

Later in the meeting, Steele noted that a previous concept that would bring a commuter rail line from Atlanta through Peachtree City and Senoia has been scrapped.

Steele noted that everything handled by the roundtable is available online for public viewing at www.atlantaregionalroundtable.com.

Ross observed that so far Fayette County is not in line to have all local road projects in return for its projected contribution to the 10-year tax.

Steele noted that once the I-85/Hwy. 74 interchange is included, along with other projects including enhancement of I-85 and Ga. Highway 138, there are other projects outside of Fayette County that will benefit Fayette commuters.

And although buses aren’t a good fit for Fayette County, they may be an answer for other communities, Steele said.

“If another community thinks a bus line is what they need, then I support a bus line for them,” Steele said. “It’s not for us. But if it’s the answer to their congestion needs, we’d be hypocritical to vote against what their desires were.”

At its executive committee meeting last week, the roundtable focused almost exclusively on its proposed transit projects. A good portion of the debate centered on whether it was appropriate to plan for a 30 percent contingency for major capital projects such as rail lines and the like.

Under the legislation, the roundtable can earmark sales tax funds not just for capital construction costs but also for operation costs.

The roundtable will also be grappling with how long to provide funding for the operation of transit projects, officials have said.