Currently, all the jurisdictions in Fayette County, including the Board of Education, are ramping up efforts for new Special Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) proposals. The jurisdictions are required to come up with project lists for the expected SPLOST revenue.
At the same time, Peachtree City is working on a mandatory review of the city’s comprehensive plan that is required by the state.
All the jurisdictions like to throw expensive new projects into SPLOST proposals (a new school, new government buildings, new parks, etc.). What seems to be forgotten is annual cost of staffing and maintaining those projects in perpetuity. Also remember that Fayette is a less densely populated county (we like it that way) and our taxes increase rapidly to keep those new projects up and running.
Another key factor with SPLOST proposals and tweaking comprehensive plans is focusing on serious priorities. Expenditures in the millions of dollars demand careful consideration.
More than any other need in Fayette County, the situation causing the most angst is the intersection of State Routes 74 and 54. It is the crisis that gets deeper and deeper every year, and yet the city refuses to properly address it.
Yes, there is a small budget project offered by GDOT for the nasty intersection, but even the GDOT engineer admitted the project is “budget constrained,” meaning they put up a project to meet to the cash-on-hand, but not resolving the problem. If city government continues to green-light the GDOT proposal, not only will we not solve the congestion catastrophe, but we will be placed at the end of the line in District 3 for future funding.
The stumbling block for past mayors and council members is the price tag of a long-term solution at the intersection. We are looking at two state highways that are the primary responsibility of GDOT and the City Council needs to actively engage the state on the need for long-term solution. Next, the City Council has to understand how to compartmentalize such a long-term solution project, funding design and engineering in one period of time, right-of-way in another period, and implementation in another period.
One thing we are seriously lacking is elected officials who understand how to assertively acquire other sources of transportation funding from the state and federal governments. We cannot hope to complete a major transportation project without looking beyond our city budget. We have missed two significant opportunities to receive major federal funding issued through infrastructure legislation during the Obama and Biden administrations because we have nothing ready to go.
Gaining GDOT project support and funding requires a team approach and a lot of tenacity. Back when I was mayor we were able to secure funding for the widening of State Routes 54-West and 74-South along with some multi-use path tunnels and bridges. I continuously met with GDOT staff and Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) transportation staff. We had then-State Representative Lynn Westmoreland and then-State Senator Mitch Seabaugh also lobbying vigorously for those projects. We also leveraged the state’s economic development officials. The team effort paid big dividends.
Tyrone Mayor Eric Dial and then-State Representative Matt Ramsey worked diligently with me as commission chairman to secure the preferred design for a new interchange project at I-85 and State Route 74. ARC staff assisted in obtaining $18 million in state funds to begin the process. Unfortunately, the paradigm changed, and Fayette Commissioner Charles Oddo took over as board chairman and he refused to lead on the project, and it stalled and remains stuck.
The additional funds are there, but you must pursue them. City of Atlanta just received federal grants ($16.4 million and $5 million) to implement some of their Beltline projects. They are getting miles of 14-foot-wide concrete paths and all the utilities.
Some larger counties in the metropolitan area have transportation divisions separate from their public works. This laser focus works well for them, and they secure a tremendous amount of state and federal funding. We in Fayette just have to work harder and smarter.
For Fayette County to succeed, we must have an unprecedented level of cooperation from all our elected officials (local, state and federal). Significant big dollar transportation projects across the county need to be identified in the next SPLOST with the SR 74 and 54 intersection being one of them, and a cross-jurisdictional funding and state lobbying commitment made to those projects. Our future quality of life and sales tax revenue depends on it.
The citizen taxpayers expect more than settling for weak transportation projects that provide little in the way of benefits. We all know that the intersection at State Routes 74 and 54 is vitally important to our future well-being. Having elected leadership (not staff) willing to see the big picture and strive for viable long-term solutions is critical to our success. It’s time to relearn how to bring in the outside cash to supplement our local revenue if we are to succeed in the future.
Peachtree City, Ga.
[Brown is a former mayor of Peachtree City and served two terms on the Fayette County commission.]