“I don’t like the way it was created from the state. I don’t like the fact that there’s no opt-out. I’ve said that all along,” Birrell said of the Transportation Investment Act, which voters in a 10-county metro Atlanta area will consider on July 31. “And I don’t want another tax. Who does?”
The statement came after a 1½-hour town hall meeting, where most of the half-hour question and answer section was dedicated to complaints about the $6.1 billion TIA project list, which will be funded with a 10-year, 1 percent sales tax if voters approve it. Much of the anger was directed toward a $689 million earmark for enhanced premium bus service from Acworth to Midtown, which some fear could turn into a light-rail line that ends at Cumberland Mall, only a mile into Cobb.
“I don’t know why we are building a bus system from Acworth to downtown,” said Roger Willby with the Wendwood Civic Association. “We don’t want to work downtown, we want to work here.”
Willby also questioned why the county would have to contribute toward the $180 million earmarked in the TIA to fund the GRTA Xpress bus system, which connects passengers around the region with Atlanta.
Cobb Department of Transportation Director Faye DiMassimo said the money is needed because the GRTA system currently relies on federal money that will soon expire.
“If the TIA funding doesn’t pass, the GRTA Xpress bus service will be eliminated,” she said.
Marlene Mitchell of northeast Cobb, another of the 120 people in attendance, wondered if once the 10-year TIA funding is gone, the premium bus service from Acworth to Atlanta would also be eliminated.
Cobb Chairman Tim Lee, who was in attendance, said that if no new funding source is identified, the county could handle shutting the bus service down because the buses would be near the end of their useful lives.
Lee said Cobb was getting a good deal on the TIA compared to other counties in the region. He said Cobb residents would get back 98 percent of what they contribute back in new road and transit projects, while Rockdale County would get around 40 percent of what it pays back.
“We have a lot of projects we would have liked to have put on the list, but they wouldn’t have gotten through because they don’t have a regional emphasis,” he said. “There is no perfect solution. There never will be.”
After the meeting, Mitchell said the county will likely have to continue subsidizing the bus or rail system once TIA funding expires.
“I think what they’re not saying is that in order for it to be funded again, it’s going to be funded in another SPLOST,” she said. “I just don’t think the ridership is very high.”
Wheeler High School senior Kilshore Karnik, 18, one of a group of students attending the meeting, said voters should give the TIA a chance.
“If it doesn’t raise enough revenue, the government will step in and hopefully fix the issue,” he said.
Birrell said some projects in her district, such as a new Home Depot call center and Kaiser Permanente medical facility, both in the Town Center Community Improvement District, were coming along. But if you were getting ready to camp out for the opening of the new Chick-fil-A planned for the intersection of Sandy Plains and Shallowford roads, you might not want to get your sleeping bag out just yet.
“The way I understand it, they’ve run into a little snafu with the Kroger in the shopping center’s lease,” Birrell said. “For some reason, the Kroger lease is tied to the Chick-fil-A. So that may not happen at that shopping center.”
Birrell said Chick-fil-A would likely try to find another location in the area if it can’t secure its lease at the Sandy Plains Centre development.
Lee will have a town hall aimed at south Cobb residents at 7 p.m. Monday at the Lions Club Drive Community Center, 620 Lions Club Drive in Mableton.
Political candidates in attendance included Mike Boyce, one of Lee’s opponents in the July 31 Republican primary for county chairman; JoEllen Smith, who is running against state Rep. Don Parsons; superior court clerk candidate John Skelton and superior court judge candidate Van Pearlberg.