It's a special purpose local option sales tax for transportation, thus the nickname TSPLOST.
Cobb County is part of an 11-county region, and will pay the tax so long as a majority of voters across the region as a whole agree.
One of the major projects proposed for Cobb is a rail line from the Cumberland mall area to MARTA's Arts Center Station in Atlanta, which officials estimate could take 15 years to plan and build. Construction costs are estimated at $1.2 billion, and once it's up and running, operating costs are projected at $9.6 million per year.
The TSPLOST is spearheaded by a Regional Roundtable of elected officials from the 11 counties. Cobb's representatives are county Chairman Tim Lee and Kennesaw Mayor Mark Mathews.
Meanwhile, Cobb County itself is also embarking on what it calls an "alternatives analysis" study to determine whether rail would work in Cobb and where best to put it. County transportation officials are reviewing proposals from 20 engineering and study firms hoping to win the $1.6 million study. The money mostly comes from a federal grant, though local entities kicked in about $350,000.
The county could award that study later this month, Cobb DOT Director Faye DiMassimo said, but the research and review will take at least 18 months, which means the study likely won't be finished before voters are to decide on the TSPLOST referendum.
The TSPLOST, and specifically the rail project, do have support on both ends of the county in Cobb's two Community Improvement Districts. Together, the Cumberland CID and the Town Center Area CID have pledged $500,000 toward educating the region's voters on the TSPLOST.
At one Cumberland CID meeting in May 2010, developer Bob Voyles, who is a member of the Cumberland CID and also works with the Metro Atlanta Voter Education Network (MAVEN), which is managing the SPLOST education effort, suggested jump-starting the light-rail process by "putting a stake in the ground" and purchasing land for a light-rail station, according to the minutes of that meeting.
But despite all the efforts preparing for rail, Cobb Countians have yet to see any elected leader actively get behind the idea of rail in Cobb County and promote it to taxpayers.
Chairman Lee has said he supports investing in transit - if the region is willing to commit. He compares the situation to the political leadership in the city of Atlanta when Hartsfield-Jackson Airport was built, and says the region is at a crossroads.
"Is it worth making a 10-year commitment to transit if we're not committed for the long term?" he told a gathering in July. "The ultimate decision is, Does this region want to make a conscious decision to commit to transit?' I compare it to when Atlanta decided to build Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport or host the Olympics. This is the crossroads we're at."
And there are other things to consider. If the TSPLOST is approved, and rail from Cumberland to Atlanta is built, the ongoing operating costs will be permanent. Also, officials have said the Cumberland portion is just "phase one" of the rail project. They ultimately hope to extend it north, at least up to Kennesaw State University, which adds even more millions of dollars for construction and would permanently alter the landscape of the county, for better or worse.
Journal reporters Jon Gillooly, Marcus Howard, Katy Ruth Camp, Laura Braddick and Lindsay Field, and news editor Kim Isaza have asked citizens from across the county for their thoughts on the proposed TSPLOST and the idea of rail in Cobb.
We asked people if they are for, against, or undecided on the TSPLOST, which is now set for July 31, 2012 (though there is an effort to move that to November 2012) and why, and whether they are for, against or undecided on the idea of light rail in Cobb, and why.
For those in favor of light rail, we asked if they would be satisfied with a system that only goes from Cumberland to Marta's Arts Center Station, as well as whether they believed it would relieve traffic in Cobb.
And we asked whether they were for, against or undecided on the idea of using existing CSX lines for commuter rail.
See what they said, and tell us your thoughts at mdjonline.com.
Several people we asked about the issue haven't decided yet where they stand, though they are considering the options. Here's what some of them had to say.
Mark Mathews, the mayor of Kennesaw, is also on the committees drafting the project list. But even he is among those who say they're undecided on the TSPLOST.
"At this point in the process it is too early to tell...I would hope that anyone considering this issue would at least wait until there is an approved project list so that they can base their decision for or against support on hard data," Mathews said. "I believe some type of rail in Cobb is past due. It is a critical step in the continued economic success of the county. I support a long-range plan for rail in Cobb that would connect our major employment centers, and it would be totally ineffective if it does not connect to Atlanta at some point.
"A system 'that only goes from Cumberland to Marta's Arts Center Station' would not be good for Cobb. All that said, if that is a piece of a long-range plan that would ultimately connect Arts Center Station to Kennesaw State University and other points north, yes I would be satisfied with that phase....it would be a good start. Any opportunity to allow commuters to take rail or bus to rail in Cobb would go a long way to helping relieve congestion. Would it solve the problem? Absolutely not.
"I think using the existing CSX rail line for commuter rail is worth exploring. I have never claimed to be smart enough to form an opinion on something like this without seeing some type of study data or having more factual information to make a decision.
"The Atlanta region is at a crossroads, and the voters will have an opportunity to shape the future through their vote on this issue. My hope is that everyone takes this issue serious enough to educate themselves to the fullest extent possible before making a decision."
Narayan Sengupta is a businessman in Smyrna.
"Money is tight all around. Whatever the 'right' answer is in terms of whether light rail would be successful, it will be very difficult to sell it to the public," he said.
"Whether the system is built or not, there are several key questions. How many people will use the system if it is simply to connect to the Midtown MARTA Station? How many people will use the system if it simply connects several key dots within Cobb County itself, perhaps running along the US-41 corridor? Once people take such a light rail, they still need to take the bus or walk to get to their final destination. Cobb County's population density is so low that it will be difficult to ever have a viable public rail system.
"The cheaper, and probably more practical, alternative is to simply run free shuttle buses from certain key points in Cobb County all the way to the Midtown MARTA Station. This would be easy to implement, would provide empirical data for projecting ridership and would also help determine if traffic congestion would be eased. Furthermore, free shuttles require very little investment, can be easily reconfigured to change routes and can be implemented very quickly. Cities like Chattanooga have taken this approach, using electrical shuttle buses to connect key points.
"Another alternative to the US-41 corridor would be to connect major current and future nodal points via a free shuttle system. Such a system might start at the West Village Place in Smyrna, the Market Village/City Hall in Smyrna, Belmont Hills, Dobbins, and the Marietta Square."
Deane Bonner, of Marietta, is president of the Cobb NAACP.
"The only way I would be for TSPLOST would be if it would actually be what they say it was going to do," Bonner said. "We've had all these studies like light-rail, and they've only been studies. I would be against it until they really get serious about what's going to happen to these funds."
Still, "I think light-rail would be excellent for Cobb County. We're just talking about it. But it probably won't get done during my lifetime. I think it would certainly ease the traffic. Getting from Cumberland Mall to Town Center to KSU, and even going all the way up to Chattanooga, would be excellent."
Ron Sifen, of Vinings, doesn't deny the region has traffic problems.
"I have said many times that the merits of any SPLOST depends on the merits of the projects list. If the region produces a projects list where all of the projects would help to reduce traffic congestion, I think this would be a good investment. However, if the projects list is cluttered with economic development projects and various other boondoggles, then the T-SPLOST will just squander our money.
"I oppose light rail on Cobb Parkway because it is entirely an economic development project. As currently conceptualized, trip times will be far longer than driving, and therefore will not be an acceptable alternative for suburban commuters. Furthermore, it is likely that other alternatives would be far more cost-effective.
"Obviously, Cumberland to Arts Center only would be worthless for almost everybody in Cobb," Sifen said. "Nobody would be silly enough to propose such a line, without the long-term idea of extending it to Town Center and beyond. However, if this project remains an economic development project, it will not help to alleviate traffic congestion, even if it eventually goes to Acworth.
"Commuter rail (which is different than light rail) operating on existing tracks, would be drastically less expensive to build, and would provide superior trip times. The question is whether it is feasible. I support a feasibility study to determine whether this, or other alternatives, would significantly reduce traffic congestion at a reasonable cost for taxpayers. I see no need to initiate an expensive study before the economy improves.
"Regardless of whether we are discussing light rail, commuter rail, or other alternatives, feasibility needs to include future operating and maintenance expenses, without additional tax increases. I opposed the Cobb SPLOST in March, in part, because all of the new amenities will ultimately require even more future taxes to pay for operating and maintenance expenses. At some point, government must stop taxing us so that they can spend more and more money to initiate more new services, which in turn will then necessitate even more tax increases to pay for the operations and maintenance of those services. I am willing to support a $6 billion tax only if we get $6 billion of traffic congestion relief, AND the money is not spent in ways that requires government to come back and demand even more tax increases to pay for future operating costs."
Joe Dendy, 66, lives in west Cobb. He owns a travel agency and is chairman of the Cobb GOP.
"Right now I'm undecided on the TSPLOST. In the long-run, I feel that we've got to put brakes somewhere as far as raising taxes," Dendy said.
"I don't see where (light rail) would help Cobb County that much. It's going to be a very expensive product. I don't know of a single rail project that's in the black on its on, anywhere in the nation. I would not be for (using existing CSX lines). It's going to require more tax dollars to try to make something like that happen. It's time that we start looking at where our tax dollars are going and start pulling the reins in on taxing our citizens."