Advisory committee members might have outnumbered concerned citizens, but there was no shortage of ideas for how potential sales-tax revenue might be used at a public forum Dec. 14.
The 22 members of the T-SPLOST Citizens Advisory Committee have begun formally accepting project proposals from citizens. While the committee will not review any proposals until March, the ideas circulating range from simply adding crosswalks to constructing a MARTA-style train that would connect the east and west sides of Athens.
Reworking the Hawthorne Avenue and West Broad Street intersection, where it can be difficult to make a left-hand turn because of the crooked alignment of lanes, would be one of the simple things Charlie Gluodenis, construction and affordable housing director for the Athens Housing Authority, would like to see fixed.
Anything and everything bus-related was a much larger topic. Enhancing bus stops by weather-proofing them would be an improvement for workers, said Michael Smith. Others would like to see Athens Transit increase its number of routes, buses and operating hours to serve more people. However, one of the restrictions of T-SPLOST funds is the inability to use them to pay for operating costs, such as personnel expenses that would accumulate if additional buses, routes and hours were added.
While potential big projects like bridges and airports may make for great news stories, “Athens needs the practical stuff, too,” said University of Georgia graduate student Austin Harrison, voicing his concern for the large Athens population that depends solely on pedestrian infrastructure, only to see its design and construction fall short in terms of safety. “Walking and biking trails are important to the Athens fabric, but there are people walking and biking every day on areas they don’t have to be on,” he said, citing a lack of bus routes near high schools, causing students to have to walk close to traffic and in inclement weather. “This money could make a difference to them,” Harrison said. “But will their voices come to the forefront?”
Ideas like Harrison’s will face ongoing projects like the Firefly Trail, which has already received a green light from the Mayor and Commission on a proposal to extend the trail on an abandoned railroad through Winterville to the county line, with the ultimate goal of stretching to Union Point. While completing the trail—it’s currently only funded from downtown to the Loop—still depends on voters approving T-SPLOST next fall, “the fact that it’s already been approved certainly speaks in favor of the project,” said Gary Hedrick, a member of Firefly’s board of directors.
The total cost of all proposed projects will most certainly outweigh the money, said SPLOST Program Manager Keith Sanders, who is advising the city throughout this process. The advisory committee will review all of the proposals based on merit, and send a list of “potential projects” to the Mayor and Commission that would cost about 150 percent of T-SPLOST’s estimated $104 million revenue, Sanders said. Then, the Mayor and Commission will review those proposals, including multiple public hearings to help whittle down the list, before approving a final list of projects next August.
If ACC voters approve it next November, the 1 percent tax will begin in April 2018, and the generated revenue will be distributed among the final projects.
Another public forum with the advisory committee will be held Wednesday, Jan. 11 from 5:30–7 p.m. at the Athens-Clarke County Library. Project request forms can be found here and can be submitted until Feb. 28.