About 20 people showed up to hear dueling speeches from former state Sen. Chuck Clay, partner in the Marietta law firm Brock Clay who is now with the pro-TIA Citizens for Transportation Mobility, and retired Army Col. Bob Ross, a Peachtree City tea party leader who represented the anti-TSPLOST Transportation Leadership Coalition.
Michael Paris, president and chief executive officer of the Council for Quality Growth, represented the Metro Atlanta Voter Education Network. His 25-minute presentation to open the hour-and-a-half meeting gave what he called neutral information on the vote in the 10-county metro Atlanta region, like how passing the TIA would provide 34,000 construction jobs and $9.2 billion in savings in wasted fuel and time.
Paris told the Smyrna audience how the $6.1 billion project list would benefit their community by paying for a new interchange at Interstate 75 and Windy Hill Road, as well as taking Windy Hill Road underneath Cobb Parkway.
“That would be a huge relief for the east-west commute,” he said.
If approved, the projects would be paid for with a 1 percent sales tax that would be collected for 10 years, unless it brings in $8.5 billion before that, Paris said. The tax would go into effect Jan. 1, 2013.
Ross barely touched on Cobb-specific projects during his opening speech, which lasted around 15 minutes, instead discussing how much of the overall project list would go toward transit. At one point he juxtaposed two nearly identical photos of traffic on Interstate 75/85 near downtown Atlanta on a PowerPoint display, attempting to show how little traffic relief is projected.
“This is what a commute on the Connector will look like before we spend $3.2 billion in transit. This is what it looks like after we spend $3.2 billion in transit,” Ross said. “We take two cars off the road. It’s like ‘Where’s Waldo?’”
In his fiery seven-minute opening speech, Clay said the project list isn’t perfect, but it’s the best deal the region is going to get. He said that if naysayers had been listened to, the county wouldn’t have projects such as the water and sewer system pushed through by former county Chairman Ernest Barrett, as well as the Cobb Galleria Centre.
“This facility we’re sitting in now, this magnificent town center, it wouldn’t exist,” Clay said. “I think it’s a wise investment.”
For a half hour, the audience asked questions by turning in index cards with their questions written on them. WSB-TV news anchor John Bachman served as moderator.
At one point, Ross was asked how much of Cobb’s $984 million share would go toward funding MARTA, something he didn’t know. But Clay later came forward to say that none of the proposed bus rapid transit line from Acworth to Midtown Atlanta would be paid to MARTA, though it would end at a MARTA station.
“That $690 million for transit has to do with an express route for Cobb Countians that runs to a MARTA station, but whether Fulton County as a group and the city of Atlanta and DeKalb and Decatur … if they chose to allocate their money exclusively to transit, this thing will rise and fall in those communities,” Clay said.
When asked how he would fund transportation improvements if he had his choice, Ross said he would like to see tax credits given to drivers with cars that have advanced cruise control which automatically adjusts speeds to keep a safe distance between drivers, or even using more driverless cars, which he said would be safer and cause fewer accidents. He also suggested using a mileage tax, if one could be developed that finds out how far people drive while maintaining their privacy.
“If you chose to use our more congested roads during the peak time of day, you would be charged accordingly,” Ross said.
Speakers briefly discussed Smyrna’s $8.58 million project list, which uses the 15 percent of the TIA pot set aside for individual cities and counties to determine a use for. While they said $5 million would go toward roadway improvements, $2.58 million would be used for street resurfacing and $1 million would go to sidewalks, they haven’t yet set aside money for specific projects, like Cobb County and some cities have.
Smyrna City Councilman Ron Fennel hosted the event, which was also attended by fellow council members Susan Wilkinson and Wade Lnenicka. Cobb Planning Commissioner Bob Hovey was also on hand.
Mike Lowry, who works as a mentor for technology startups in Roswell, said he was disappointed by the turnout.
“Too many serious questions are not being asked,” said Lowry, 66, who like Ross is a member of the Transportation Leadership Coalition. “I’m actually quite ashamed that we had 20 people in this room, 10 of whom were either Untie Atlanta or the press."
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