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Eyes on the Road: Dunagan predicts T-SPLOST will be ‘coming back’

POSTED: July 29, 2013 12:03 a.m.

Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan predicted last week that T-SPLOST, the transportation sales tax vote that voters bludgeoned at the polls last year, “is coming back.”

“They’re going to try it again,” he told Gainesville’s transportation focus group last week.

“And when we sit down at the table with other communities, we’ve got projects to put in that T-SPLOST, instead of one little intersection improvement and (the fact that) we generate over 52 percent of the revenue in Hall County.”

Through the Transportation Investment Act of 2010, the General Assembly allowed voters in regions throughout the state to decide whether they wanted to tack on an extra penny per dollar for road improvements. Nine of 12 regions voted down the referendum in July 2012, with the worst pounding coming from residents in the Georgia Mountains Region, which includes Hall.

Dunagan complained at the time that the city had only one project in the mix — improvements to Jesse Jewell Parkway at John Morrow Parkway — and pushed for the city traffic study.

“We’ve also talked to our legislators about doing a local T-SPLOST,” he said. “So, if you went to your citizens and said this is what we’re going to do with it, we’ve got a plan in place.”

The city is hoping to wrap up its master transportation plan in August.

Later, the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization — Hall County’s lead transportation planning agency — will consider the plan for inclusion in its short-term and long-term plans.

The MPO’s long-term plan features projects in time periods, or tiers, through 2040.

New transportation planner comments on local roads

Hall County’s newest roads official has spent 17 years in metro Atlanta, but he is new to this area and its traffic issues.

Sam Baker, senior transportation planner for the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization, spent a few moments last week discussing what he has observed so far in his first month.

“While Gainesville and Hall County have grown, the area still has managed to retain its rural charm,” he said. “Traffic congestion is still significantly less here compared to other areas closer to Atlanta. My daily commute in the Hall County portion is a breeze, with no delays whatsoever.”

Baker, who previously worked as a transportation planner with the Georgia Department of Transportation, said he is pleased to see that Gainesville has transit service.

“It is an asset to this community, and we should look into how we can make it better and accessible to more people,” he said.

Baker also mentioned an issue that has long been considered a problem in Hall County: east-west connectivity.

The area has plenty of north-south routes, such as Interstate 985, McEver Road, Thompson Bridge Road and Cleveland Highway, but few that carry motorists across the county east to west.

“In addition, we need to give more consideration to sidewalks, bicycle facilities and freight movement,” said Baker, who earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture and a master’s degree in city and regional planning from Ohio State University.

He said he would also like to see area employers consider innovative ideas that might help ease traffic, noting that he has “worked at organizations that embraced policies that were aimed at reducing traffic congestion as well as reliance on automobiles.”

At the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, staff worked nine hours a day, instead of eight, and every other week, everybody got a day off, he said.

And at the DOT, employees can choose to come to work anytime between 6 and 9 a.m. and then work eight hours.

“It has been my observation that these ideas have not yet been widely embraced in Gainesville-Hall County,” Baker said.

“I would suggest that the area employers give these no or low-cost ideas consideration, besides encouraging carpooling, vanpooling, using transit and teleworking, as we try to tackle congestion and air quality issues.”

Baker’s job calls for managing day-to-day activities at the MPO and working with area, state and federal planning officials.

Motor fuel tax, the primary source of revenue for transportation infrastructure, “has been on a decline for years, as cars are becoming more and more fuel-efficient,” he said. “This revenue source is projected to decline even further in the future.

“We, therefore, need to think about how we are going to fund our transportation infrastructure going forward and what the best use is of whatever limited resources available.”

Jeff Gill covers transportation issues for The Times. Share your thoughts, news tips and questions with him:

jgill@gainesvilletimes.com

facebook.com/jeffagill

@JeffGTimes


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