Leaders of the civic coalition, which is an organization of community groups and individuals who describe themselves as a “think tank” on local issues, point out that after the failure of the proposed regional sales tax for transportation projects, there will be no money to build any project recommended by the AA study, rendering an environmental study moot.
“It’s really going to be an obsolete study,” said Tricia Clements, a board member of the Cobb Civic Coalition. “There’s no money to build the project.”
Results of the $1.8 million Northwest Corridor Alternatives Analysis study are tentatively scheduled to be presented to commissioners on Sept. 25. That study is designed to recommend the best mode and route for mass transit in Cobb.
On July 24 — a week before voters in Cobb and across metro Atlanta overwhelming rejected the proposed TSPLOST — commissioners voted 4-1, with southeast Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott opposed, to approve a $3 million contract with Raleigh, N.C., based Kimley-Horn and Associates to study the environmental impact of the AA’s preferred mode and location. As with the AA, 80 percent of the latter study is to be paid by the federal government.
That contract has not yet been signed, county spokesman Robert Quigley said. He was unsure when it will be signed.
Ott said that one of the four commissioners who voted in favor of awarding the environmental study would have to ask for a revote, since only a commissioner who votes in favor of an agenda item can move to rescind it.
“I stand by that vote,” Ott said.
Chairman Lee and Cobb DOT Director Faye DiMassimo asked that questions on the coalition’s request be submitted to them by email. But instead of answering the questions, they issued this statement through Quigley: “Since August 2009, Cobb DOT, our stakeholders along the NW Corridor and the US DOT have been working together to identify solutions for traffic congestion in the NW Corridor. Funding for this effort is comprised of approximately $800,000 local dollars and $4 million from the federal government,” the statement said. “When this study is completed, we will have identified the most effective solution for this corridor. That information will be used to guide Cobb as it plans for the future. This study remains a priority for Cobb County.”
Commissioners Helen Goreham and JoAnn Birrell said they will not motion to rescind a vote on the environmental study, since the county’s portion of the study is paid through the 2011 SPLOST, which was approved by voters.
“This is a planning tool to look at that corridor,” Goreham said. “I look at this as a continuum of planning, which Cobb is known for, to prepare for the future.”
Southwest Cobb Commissioner Woody Thompson came closest of any of the four commissioners who supported the environmental study to calling to rescind the vote.
“I would consider it,” he said. “DOT tells me that it is (necessary). I hope the information doesn’t get stale, because we do not know when we will have a funding source.”
But Bill Byrne, who is facing Lee in Tuesday’s runoff for the Republican nomination for chairman, said the environmental study can be stopped, even after the contract is signed, though the county may have to pay a penalty. Byrne said he will motion to rescind the environmental study if he takes office in January, but he hopes Ott can find two more votes in support of doing so before then.
“The justification for having an environmental impact statement is no longer on the board,” he said. “The voters rejected the transit proposal that was part of the TSPLOST. Spending $3 million to study something that isn’t going to be built makes no sense.”
Clements said the county was unwise to vote on the environmental study before the TSPLOST referendum.
“It should have been done later, so they can see what their constituents say,” she said.
Coalition President Ron Sifen said his group has an eight-member board, but doesn’t release the names of individual members or who they represent. While the group makes recommendations to the Board of Commissioners, he said it is rare for it to ask to rescind a vote.
The federal transit administration contributed $1.5 million toward the AA, and the county contributed $205,864. Kennesaw State University and the Town Center and Cumberland community improvement districts each kicked in $40,000, while the cities of Marietta, Acworth, Kennesaw and Smyrna each gave $10,000 toward the study.