Now what? With legislation finally passed on a proposed funding plan for regional transportation, what’s going to happen between now and the critical vote in 2012?
When will you and other members of the public be asked for input into the estimated $7 billion project list that will be created for the referendum on the 1 percent sales tax?
To get some answers, I talked with two people who have a combined 55 years of experience in transportation planning – Chick Krautler, director of the Atlanta Regional Commission, and Tom Weyandt, the ARC’s director of comprehensive planning.
The ARC will be facilitating the decision-making process – and the stakes could not be higher. I have not talked with a business or political leader who could even fathom the notion that voters would reject the regional sales tax.
“With the public, we only get one shot at this deal,” Krautler said, adding that the process has to be done right. “A bad taste [in voters’ mouths] is not an option.”
That’s partly because “the next 2 million [people] the region will have are not like the last 2 million,” Weyandt said. One in five will be over 60 years of age, compared with one in 10 now. The aging population has huge implications for congestion, economic development and our overall quality of life.
So practically speaking, what are the key events leading up to the Aug. 21, 2012 vote, Messrs. Krautler and Weyandt?
There are two preliminary events: The governor needs to sign the legislation and then the state’s director of planning will need to develop criteria that will be used to make decisions on what types of projects can make the regional list.
Then what happens?
A “roundtable” composed of elected leaders in the 10-county region can approve or change the criteria for the projects. But before that happens, probably by October, you and other voters will be engaged in the process, Krautler and Weyandt said. Engagement will include public meetings and opportunities to comment on a Web site, they said.
Then after the criteria is adopted, the hard work really begins – defining the transportation projects worthy of making the cut. Krautler and Weyandt said there might be two, three or four competing project lists that would be narrowed down over time – partly through more public meetings and Web opportunities. This process is likely to extend for about a year, beginning in the fall.
They caution that the key to the process will be a spirit of cooperation. Every county may not get a project financed. We’re not going to see an extension of MARTA’s subway line. But there will be enough money to consider projects, such as light rail from Cobb to DeKalb, more express buses and HOV lanes, and unclogging bottlenecks at key interstates and arterial roads.
Hopefully, they said, this will be just the “first phase” of future project lists and installments of money. An estimated $ 7 billion over 10 years is nowhere near the $100 billion in projects the metro area needs, they said.
But it’s a good start – and a lot rides on how smoothly this process goes.
“This is an airplane that is being created in flight,” Weyandt said.
We all hope it lands safely.
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