The existing law allows for a second TSPLOST vote in two years, but as Atlanta Regional Commission Chairman Tad Leithead said in June, if it were up to him, he’d bring back the same projects.
“From an ARC perspective now, if we were asked in two years to develop a list, we would develop the same list,” Leithead said in June. “Now, politics might be different, a different list might be selected based on whatever the process was in the new law, but in ARC’s professional opinion, the projects that were selected are the projects that needed to be selected.”
But if Rogers has anything to do with it, the politics will be different.
“That process proved not to be very successful, so I think there’s a lot of reasons why we should repeal the current law and start over again,” Rogers said. “We cannot allow the process to veer off course into economic development projects, which is really what happened this time. We’ve got to stay focused solely on traffic mitigation.”
Gov. Nathan Deal said in a press release Wednesday that the defeat of the TSPLOST — which was created under his predecessor, Gov. Sonny Perdue — forced state officials to focus on the most pressing needs.
“For example, TSPLOST contained $600 million to rebuild the Ga. 400/I-285 interchange,” Deal said. “We will face significant challenges in that corridor if that doesn’t get fixed, particularly after the tolls come down and volume increases. We’ll have a ‘need to do’ Transportation Improvement Program list, but not a ‘want to do’ list.”
Deal went on to say that the rejection of TSPLOST “slams the door on further expansion of our rail network any time soon. Neither I nor the Legislature has much of an appetite for new investments until there are significant reforms in how MARTA operates.”
Rogers said he spent Wednesday discussing a new plan for traffic relief with such TSPLOST opponents as Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta).
“The single biggest problem the TSPLOST had was a laundry list of projects, many of which the regular voter clearly understood was not going to solve traffic,” Rogers said. “Whatever transportation list we come up with in any capacity I think needs to be focused on just a few major items that everybody in metro Atlanta understands needs to be corrected.”
Those items include Interstates 75, 575 and 285 and State Route 400, he said.
“When you begin adding all these small minor projects that appear to be political payback, you doom the entire list,” he said. “That’s what happened, and I think we cannot afford to make that mistake again.”
Rogers wants to explore how traffic relief can be accomplished without any type of tax increase.
“Is there a way to reallocate funds?” he said. “Is there something we can do in conjunction with the federal government to keep more of our money? Can we work on the Congressional Balancing Act? That’s one of the big problems that we have in Georgia is for the most part we balance our federal funding among all of the congressional districts equally when we know that the real traffic problems lie in the heart of Atlanta, so I want to start with answers that don’t require any increase in revenue.”
Everyone wants to solve the traffic problem, it’s just a matter of how, Rogers said.
“One of the first steps from my standpoint is repealing the current law so we can start over with a blank slate and get this right,” he said. “The current law, some of the penalties that it had for the districts that didn’t pass the TSPLOST, we don’t need that, we need to give flexibility to counties.”
For example, one of the problems Rogers deals with in his county is the Highway 20 corridor, a corridor that needs to be fixed from Cartersville to Canton to Cumming. Trouble is, Bartow, Cherokee and Forsyth counties are in three separate districts and could not work together, he said.
“So giving counties the flexibility to merge or to form a distinct region with a neighboring county is probably something we want to look at as well, and that’s going to require a new law,” he said. “But at least we have the experience of these last few months seeing what has happened, so we have a better judge of where we need to go.”
Deal said he intends to make Georgia the No. 1 place in the nation to do business and improving the transportation infrastructure is a major part of that effort.
“Yesterday’s vote wasn’t an end of the discussion; it’s a transition point,” Deal said. “We have much to do, and I’ll work with state and local officials to direct our limited resources to the most important projects.”
State Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna) said in the wake of Tuesday’s vote it would have been easy to back away from the transportation issue.
“Instead, it is clear that the Governor recognizes our long-term transportation priorities and is committed to addressing them swiftly and directly,” Golick said.