Forsyth County residents may see construction begin to thin traffic congestion along Ga. 400 and other sore spots by next year after a $200 million bond referendum to fund road projects passed in Tuesday’s election.
Voters approved the measure by about a 63 percent to 37 percent split, with 34,764 votes in favor and 20,030 votes against. The decision likely will create a slight increase in property taxes for 20 years to pay off the bonds.
Of the $200 million in funding, $81 million will be used for projects for which the Georgia Department of Transportation has allocated $93 million in leveraged funding, including the widening of Ga. 400 from McFarland Parkway to Bald Ridge Marina Road.
If voters had rejected the bond measure, proponents feared state funding would disappear. The remaining $119 million is proposed for county projects.
Carter Patterson, chairman of the Taxpayers United to Reduce Forsyth Traffic campaign committee, said Tuesday night the county’s population is growing about 7 percent per year.
“Our low taxes, quality schools and parks have attracted many people to call Forsyth County their home,” he said. “With that high growth has come growing pains for our roads. Our residents feel this every day.
“The transportation bond will give relief to our citizens and help attract commercial investment.”
Patterson said he had expected about a 60-percent-to-40-percent vote margin.
James McCoy, the president and CEO of the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, echoed Patterson’s remarks, saying he “had a sense the community, by and large, was supportive of (the project) to widen (Ga.) 400. That this was a good idea.”
McCoy went on to say he was “very pleased” that Forsyth County voters “by such a really nice margin expressed their support that they’re willing to give this level of support to transportation projects for our community.”
However, not everyone was pleased with the voters’ decision.
“It’s not unexpected,” said Tony DeMaria of the Homeowners Coalition, which opposed the bond proposal. “I am disappointed. Homeowners are 90-plus percent of the citizens in this county, and yet they have no voice or little voice among elected officials.”
During the county’s annual Transportation Summit in October, District 24 state Rep. Mark Hamilton of Cumming said the average person in Georgia invests about $85 a year in roads and bridges.
With the approval of the bond, the estimated impact on a tax bill for a home valued at $250,000 is, on average, $121 a year.
“I can’t think of any one thing we can do (in Forsyth County) that has a positive impact on businesses and job growth and everyday lives than the widening of Ga. 400,” McCoy said.
He and other supporters of the bond said they hope the upcoming projects will relieve congestion, shorten commute times and encourage more commercial development.
With the passage of the referendum, the plan is to widen Ga. 400 from McFarland Parkway to Bald Ridge Marina Road, using $53 million of the bond funding. The state is expected to contribute another $10 million.
Hamilton, who is on the state legislature’s transportation committee, said he confirmed with transportation department leaders Wednesday morning that an internal meeting is set for Monday to begin planning the Ga. 400 project.
“It’s my job to make sure the conditions of the bond from a state standpoint are honored and (that the DOT) will provide funding as was determined (in the proposal),” Hamilton said. “One of my goals is for construction to be started by 2015, and I’m confident it will be.”
Four other projects for which the county and state will be partners include widening of Ga. 371 from Ga. 9 to Kelly Mill Road; widening of Ga. 369 between Ga. 9 and Ga. 306; and intersection improvements at Ga.. 369 and McGinnis Ferry Road at 400.
Other efforts, which will be funded solely through local bond funds, are an extension of Ronald Reagan Boulevard from Majors Road to McFarland Parkway, and widening projects on McGinnis Ferry, Old Atlanta, Pilgrim Mill and Union Hill roads.
DeMaria, with the Homeowners Coalition, said he did not disagree with the initial goals of improving the roads.
“Yes, we need to fix traffic, we need to fix schools, we need to fix a lot of other infrastructure problems that rapid growth and a high-density model has produced,” he said. “But what we don’t see is our elected officials looking at the root causes of why this has happened.”
He said he and those who support his cause are “not giving up.”
“We don’t want to brag about how fast we’re growing,” he said. “We want to brag about how good we’re growing.”