Republicans Patrick Cooney, Kevin Wigington and Brett North are vying to fill the vacated seat of Acworth City Alderman Bob Weatherford, who is running for retiring Commissioner Helen Goreham’s seat on the county’s Board of Commissioners. The primary is May 20.
County Chairman Tim Lee says he wants to ask voters to approve a new six-year special purpose local option sales tax in November, with a possible item on the list being a bus-rapid transit system proposed to run alongside Cobb Parkway, connecting Kennesaw State University with Midtown Atlanta.
About $100 million of the $494 million cost, or 20 percent, of the proposed BRT system could be paid for with a new SPLOST.
KSU sits in unincorporated Cobb east of the Acworth and Kennesaw area, which means the BRT system could provide another commuter route for professionals who want to live in Cobb but work in Atlanta.
An MDJ poll asked Cooney, Wigington and North if they supported a proposal to spend $100 million on a bus rapid transit system to connect Acworth/KSU with Midtown Atlanta.
Cooney, a retired aircraft inspector with Lockheed-Martin, is the only candidate to give a definitive “No.”
“If it was a private enterprise, let them go ahead and try it,” Cooney said. “I am disgusted with the county and their SPLOST-fund spending.”
Cooney said he would rather use taxpayer dollars to expand state Route 92 from U.S. Highway 41 to Interstate 75, which he described as “a bottleneck.”
He said there has been discussion for 15 to 20 years to improve the road, which runs through Acworth’s city limits.
Cooney said Acworth citizens do care about transportation issues, but they want road improvements. In fact, Cooney said most county roads are “atrocious.”
Wigington, who runs Brookwood Christian School in Acworth with his wife, Kim, said he is “undecided” about adding the BRT system to the SPLOST list.
“I like the idea in principle, but I am not sure of specifics,” Wigington said. “To make a really intelligent decision, I would have to see more data.”
Wigington said rapid growth in Cobb means “our interstates can’t handle the traffic as it is.”
“It is wonderful growth,” Wigington said about Acworth’s population exploding by 400 percent in the last several years. “We love it, but we have to grow smartly.”
Wigington’s vision statement for his campaign emphasizes Acworth being fiscally responsible, with a focus on resource management. This means keeping taxes low by being “proactive, not reactive,” the vision statement reads.
With the world’s fossil fuel supply diminishing, “There is a tipping point,” Wigington said. “We have to make the move eventually to electric and hybrids and hydrogen vehicles.”
By debating the issue now, Cobb can hopefully keep from reaching a critical point where the decision is made too fast as a “knee-jerk reaction,” Wigington said.
Wigington said although alternative transportation is close to the top of the list for what the commissioners need to consider, it may not be as high of a priority for Acworth.
Still as an alderman, Wigington said he would do what it takes to make “whatever is done with rapid transit be more effective.”
Brett North, a clinic manager for Life University who has been on Acworth’s Planning and Zoning Board for nine years, also remains undecided about the use of public monies for a bus commuter system.
“At this point in time, I do not have enough information — nor does anyone else I believe — to make a firm yes or no decision,” North said.
If research showed the BRT would be self-sufficient, North said he would be open to supporting the project.
“In general, mass transit systems appear to be underused,” North said. “After more than 40 years, MARTA still relies heavily on a 1 percent sales tax for its financial survival.”
North’s campaign vision statement is focused on Acworth having “quality growth, quality development and quality of life,” which means low taxes and elevated property values.
“While I understand the need for mass transit, we all know where the county and federal subsidies come from,” North said. “They make another trip to the ‘well’— the taxpayers — and I believe the well has pretty much been drained.”