ACC commissioners will approve a final list of transportation projects Dec. 1 to put before voters in May.
A 22-member citizens advisory committee has been working for months to whittle proposals down to $144 million, the amount the 1% TSPLOST sales tax for transportation is expected to generate over five years. Chair Lauren Blais told the commission Dec. 14 that the committee focused on leveraging state and federal grants, safety, equity and underserved communities.
Some of the big-ticket items include $25 million for transit operations, which would keep Athens Transit fare-free through 2027; $16.8 million to implement the Athens in Motion bike and pedestrian master plan; $15.2 million specifically for bike and pedestrian projects on West Broad Street and Atlanta Highway; $9.7 million to purchase electric vehicles; $8.9 million for a Beech Haven greenway linking Forest Heights and Sycamore Drive; and $7.5 million to complete the Firefly Trail. There’s also funding for bike and pedestrian improvements on other specific corridors, such as Timothy Road, Lexington Road, Old Hull Road, Westchester Drive and the Stonehenge neighborhood. Other projects of note include greenway connectors to J.J. Harris Elementary School and Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery, a back entrance off Newton Bridge Road to Sandy Creek Nature Center, express transit service citywide and a host of smaller projects for the historically underserved East and North Athens areas.
Other funds will likely go to less “sexy” projects like bridge and culvert replacement, although the advisory committee cut funding for road repaving in hopes that the commission would find another source. That was just one of the projects commissioners have described as priorities that the advisory committee left off; others include making the College Square pedestrian plaza permanent and a roundabout at West Broad Street and Hancock Avenue.
Meanwhile, commissioners are advocating for more projects for their districts. “We have more [projects] in District 9 than we’ve ever had before,” Commissioner Ovita Thornton said, but “the dollar amount is no comparison.” Commissioner Russell Edwards is pushing for Five Points intersection improvements. Commissioners Melissa Link and Tim Denson want a bike path on Jefferson Road. And Commissioner Patrick Davenport asked to include projects on Nowhere and Smithonia roads. Adding their priorities, though, will also require commissioners to cut other projects.
Some commissioners also want to reorganize money into “buckets” rather than hyper-specific projects. That would be unfair to the citizens and staff who proposed projects and the TSPLOST advisory committee, committee member Allen Jones told the commission at a Jan. 18 hearing.
The federal infrastructure act could provide opportunities for more funding, Blais said, but those are still coming into focus. “I know we’re all parsing, trying to find out what will come our way,” she said. “It’s more important than ever. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Like what you just read? Support Flagpole by making a donation today. Every dollar you give helps fund our ongoing mission to provide Athens with quality, independent journalism.