The SPLOST and the BRT: Lessons learned so far
July 27, 2014 04:00 AM | 3723 views | 6 6 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cobb’s next SPLOST took a big step closer to reality last week, thanks to a 4-1 vote by the county commission to put a referendum question to that effect on the November general election ballot.

The special purpose local option sales tax would raise a very conservatively estimated $750 million or more, primarily for Cobb and municipal transportation improvements — none of them splashy or sexy, but all of them needed to keep pace with the county’s growth, continued congestion and road maintenance needs.

The prospects for the SPLOST renewal had been clouded, however, by commission Chairman Tim Lee’s persistent advocacy of the need to include initial funding in the SPLOST for a bus rapid transit line in the Cobb Parkway corridor that ultimately would cost $494 million or more. And that figure does not include annual operating costs.

Cobb residents have always been standoffish when it comes to mass transit, whether by rail or bus. They rejected the TSPLOST and its transit components by a 2-to-1 margin in 2012. There has been no surge of support since then for MARTA-type rail or the gourmet bus line envisioned by Lee, despite his best efforts. And nearly all those we’ve heard from have been clear they think a BRT deserves a vote of its own, rather than being part of a SPLOST.

Opposition to the BRT has been so widespread in recent months Lee’s continued talk of including funding for it in the SPLOST clearly had the potential to kill any chance for a SPLOST renewal.

Lee finally began to see the light in recent weeks, but still insisted on including several big-budget intersection improvement projects on the SPLOST list that originally started out on that list as components of the BRT. But that still didn’t fly with much of the public or with a majority of the commission. So at Tuesday’s commission meeting, he announced prior to the vote a $72.5 million line item that originally was described as a BRT project would be removed from the SPLOST list altogether.

He and Commissioner Lisa Cupid dueled, however, over whether another $60 million intersection-improvement item should be removed as well, with Lee arguing it was requested by the state DOT and was unrelated to the BRT. But Cupid noted the county had earlier described it as BRT-related and said its continued presence would undermine public support for the SPLOST. And she offered one of the best quotes about the relationship between government and the public we’ve heard lately:

“Constituents shouldn’t have to play detective in understanding our line items, and I feel that is what they’ve done to uncover that BRT was referenced with one particular line item, which has not been removed, which is a $60 million project,” she said.

Her argument was supported by Commissioners JoAnn Birrell and Bob Ott, and the item was removed prior to the final vote. Ott ultimately voted against putting the SPLOST on the ballot, saying it had too many “wants,” as opposed to “needs.”

So what have we learned in recent weeks? Several things:

Renewal of the SPLOST is by no means certain, but it now at least will have a fighting chance at the polls;

Public support for the BRT and other mass transit remains scant at best; and

The public is overwhelming in its opinion that if and when Lee or anyone gets serious about funding a BRT, that it should be the subject of a stand-alone referendum, not stirred into a SPLOST.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
July 29, 2014
Ms. Cupid's comment regarding constituents playing detective could be applied to many programs and projects. I'd like to know more how the Chamber of Commerce (local, state, and national) are involved in the efforts of Mr. Lee and his push for bus rapid transit but I doubt we can get that info from the private group. The Chamber should be aware that the constituents are aware of their push for public funds and their quest for more H-1B foreign workers which displace many Americans from jobs. A Chamber-backed politician will never get my vote. This from a socially moderate/fiscally conservative voter.
JR in Mableton
July 28, 2014
A separate vote for transit is a good idea....I support rail from Cumberland to Perimeter and from Town Center to Arts Center.

If roads are free, why is the state paying $800 Million for toll lanes on I-75???
D Welden
July 27, 2014
Thanks are due Ron Sifen for all he has done to publicly clarify some of the problems with the pre-vote Project List. Without his efforts, we would probably be facing an expensive, long range commitment to a fixed guideway transit system that would achieve nothing positive for most of the county's residents.

Now, the focus can be directed to the wisdom of a six year commitment to the rest of the SPLOST Project List. Should the SPLOST resource be blocked from any other use until 2023?

thanks r in the mail
July 30, 2014
I would not be surprised if some thanks were in the mail to Mr Sifen from the car dealers on Barrett and US 41 for Mr Sifen's assistance selling more cars for years to come, from the WellStar for more car-nage directly coming into the ER while high blood pressure and asthma and obesity and cardiovascular issues keep the front door revolving at Kennestone, and from the oil barons in Texas, Alaska and Saudi Arabia too!
Credit to Commission
July 27, 2014
Give credit to the Commissioners who worked through this difficult mess to reach the correct decision.

We seldom see the commissioners working live. It took courage to hang in there and debate the matter on TV. Frustration showed all cross the board but they made their points without getting personal or nasty.

And credit to the MDJ, which ran a series of solid news articles and opinion pieces. We are better governed when the press is engaged and our public officials debate in the open.
is it rly better?
July 30, 2014
SPLOST is a project limiter, but the limit was just removed by the MDJ and Sifen and their "Conservative, Well Except For Transportation Where We Want To Spend As Much Money As Possible" friends all stomping their feet and crying that they just don't like the bus, not even if the bus has its own separate lane where nobody would ever risk getting stuck behind the for the duration of a bus stop, because, well, you know wink wink

Oh how the painful, insufferable SECONDS of your life, stuck behind a bus once in a while, must torment people. We will have great Southern literature written someday with its roots in the agony of being stuck behind the bus!

Back to the point, whatever replaced BRT on the SPLOST funding list was replaced by the BRT on its old funding list, but what will be these funds that are not Splost that will now be paying for BRT with no limits?

The Cobb Commission will run a back door swap meet and do the BRT with property or non-splost sales taxes, and will use SPLOST to pay for some other "cars roads & bridges but you buy the car" project that was originally slated for property or non-Splost sales taxes, rendering the funding for BRT limitLESS rather than limited by the Splost contract.

So congrats, now there will be no Splost contract limiting how much we spend on BRT or whatever else. The Car Conservatives thought they were cutting off half the BRT's foot like it was Koonta Kente, but really they just made us all blind to what will happen like Jordy without his air filter glasses

So how much will BRT cost now that it won't be limited by Splost? Stay tuned!!! Same batty channel, same batty morons all wanting to spen as much money as possible per person/mile on transportation while saying it's the "conservative" choice
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