And that’s why he is trying to get the state Legislature to change its Transportation Investment Act project list to allow funds currently earmarked for either a light rail or bus rapid transit line to pay for the managed lanes.
Lee told a meeting of the East Cobb Civic Association that he met with Georgia Department of Transportation officials in early January, but they told him that all of the funding possibilities they studied came up at least $100 million short of what’s required for the managed lane project. So Lee decided to offer up the county’s entire transit package, which takes up nearly $700 million.
“My initial thing was, ‘Why don’t you take $100 million out of it?’” he said after the civic association meeting. “The state’s looking at all their revenue sources to see how they’re going to pay for it, but it will cripple some of the state’s efforts in other areas. I want to just make sure it gets done, so that’s why I said, ‘Let’s just do it and get it done with.’ ”
But as he seeks to get the managed lanes on the Transportation Investment Act project list, which the 10-county Atlanta region will vote on July 31, the GDOT is also looking for other ways to fund them, Lee said.
“The Department of Transportation, from Georgia, is currently working on different scenarios to get that goal accomplished,” he said. “And I hope they solve it, I really do. And I’m sure they will, I look forward to it. But it’s their project.”
The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported Wednesday that House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) reiterated his statements that he was not inclined to reopen the list of projects that are seeking funding from the proposed 1-cent transportation sales tax. But Ralston said Cobb leaders do have a “valid point” because the state’s initials plans for a public-private partnership to build managed reversible toll lanes on I-75/575 was pulled after Cobb submitted its final project list, which was approved by a roundtable of area leaders, including Lee and Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews, in October. The project included $689 million for either a light rail or bus rapid transit line.
Lee announced Tuesday that he was asking the Legislature to reopen the TIA project list and replace Cobb’s transit earmark with money to build the managed lanes. He said he would never had submitted the list without the managed lanes had he known that the state wouldn’t go forward with the project.
Lee said Wednesday he hasn’t discussed his plan with Ralston or Gov. Nathan Deal since his announcement.
“I presented the concept yesterday,” he said. “It’s in the state’s court. So, if they want to move forward on any ideas, it’s up to them.”
Lee said it was important to get the idea out there “earlier rather than later” to allow legislators and GDOT to make decisions.
“So that we don’t get to the last minute and don’t have anything,” he said.
Initial plans called for two managed toll lanes to run near Interstate 75 from the Fulton County line to the I-75/575 split, with one reversible lane along each interstate north of the split, to roughly Cobb’s northern borders. Deal cancelled the project in December out of concerns about the state’s long-term obligations to private companies, though he left the door open for it to be publicly funded.
The chairman’s speech Wednesday was largely a repeat of the “State of the County” address he gave to the Cobb Chamber of Commerce’s Jan. 9 First Monday Breakfast. Like the original, the speech focused largely on the county’s 15.7 percent millage rate increase. Lee said the property tax hike was needed to avoid a downgrade of Cobb’s AAA bond status with three ratings agencies. Cobb needs a strong bond rating because taxes are collected at the end of the year, meaning the county must borrow money up front.
“The millage allowed us to catch up on all the sins that really had started before I got there,” said Lee, who served seven years on the Board of Commissioners before running for chairman in 2010. “When I became the guy in charge, it really came to a head.”
Lee expressed confidence in upcoming budgets.
“The 2012 budget is financially sound,” he said. “When we go into 2013, 2014, it’s going to be even better.”
The chairman also told the civic association that another announcement of new jobs in Cobb was coming, but the agreement hadn’t been finalized. He wouldn’t divulge any information after the meeting.
“I’m working on a project now that will bring a good number of jobs, but I can’t tell you,” he said.
Civic association President Jill Flamm said the county chairman typically comes and addresses her organization, a group of homeowners associations and individuals that seek to influence government decisions, largely in zoning and variance cases, in the months after he speaks to the Chamber.
“It gives an opportunity for our people who may not have a membership in the Chamber or can’t be out there during the day to hear the address,” she said.
Lee has at least three opponents gunning for his seat in the July 31 Republican Primary. Already announced are Bill Byrne, who served as chairman from 1992 to 2001, Larry Savage, a retired business executive who ran against Lee in 2010, and retired Marine Col. Mike Boyce.
Lee and the rest of the Board of Commissioners will have their annual all-day management retreat starting at 8 a.m. today at the Ben Robertson Community Center, 2753 Watts Drive in Kennesaw.
Demming Bass, chief operating officer for the Cobb Chamber, is scheduled to give a presentation on the chamber-backed Competitive EDGE study, a project that seeks public support to run economic development, at the retreat. So far, commissioners have been resistant to using county money to fund Chamber-led economic development.