While DeKalb County officials continued to push for additional funding on Oct. 6 for a proposed I-20 rail system, other Atlanta area counties proposed taking funding from the Clifton corridor project.
In one proposal, Henry County Commission Chairwoman B.J. Mathis asked the members of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable to restore the $80 million to fund the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) express bus system in Henry.
The additional money would be gained by taking funds from projects in the northwest corridor and the Clifton corridor.
“We cannot afford to lose [GRTA express] service in Henry County,” Mathis said. “Our interstate is already operating at a sea-level. This is the only alternative our people have to get into the downtown area.”
Enacted last year by Georgia’s legislature, the Transportation Investment Act (TIA) provides for regional referendums in 2012 on a penny-sales tax to fund various transportation projects, including transit, roadway safety, and bicycle and pedestrian improvements.
DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader said the Clifton corridor project could not survive the budget cuts proposed by roundtable members. The currently proposed “$700 million is slim and perhaps dangerous for the Clifton corridor.”
“It is a very grave condition that we are facing right now because this project could be very well rendered undoable,” Rader said. “So we won’t have transit to the largest employment center in this region.”
Commissioner Lee May has proposed that the funding for the $700 million Clifton corridor be reduced to $462.5 million. Under the proposal, the I-20 project would be increased from $225 million to $462.5 million.
Rader said he opposed gutting one project in favor of another.
Under May’s proposal, “you won’t be able to get from the rest of the MARTA system into the Clifton corridor on a single seat,” Rader said. “You won’t be able to get to the airport without making a change.”
“We need to concentrate our transit dollars on the areas where it can really make a difference in the mobility of people in this region,” Rader said. “We need transit to focus from areas of density to areas of density.”
Commissioner Larry Johnson said May’s proposal could unite DeKalb.
Because the Clifton area has federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Veteran’s Administration hospital, the Clifton project is a good candidate for receiving additional federal funds, Johnson said.
The I-20 rail project would then be able to get more funds after proving strong ridership, Johnson said.
“Then you’re not starting one with rail and one without,” Johnson said. “You’re both starting at the same level and that brings a coalition of Clifton and south DeKalb folks together to push a united front.
“If we look at DeKalb as one group, you’re not taking from one for the other,” Johnson said. “You’re building a system for both groups. That’s unity. That’s one DeKalb.”
Bob Foster of Lithonia, who attended the roundtable meeting, said he was not pleased with the developments of the roundtable meeting.
“There was no consideration given at all to the I-20 project,” said Foster, a member of the First African Presbyterian Church community action team. “We in south DeKalb certainly pay our fair tax. We’ve been paying our fair tax. We are willing to pay the additional one-percent sales tax if we receive service in the DeKalb area.”
Foster said the only plan his group would endorse would be a transit system from Indian Creek to Wesley Chapel to Stonecrest Mall. But he was not hopeful that the I-20 transit project would get full funding.
“Based on the comments and the behaviors of the members of the roundtable, I see a very slim chance that that particular amendment passes,” Foster said.
An amendment by DeKalb County CEO Burrell Ellis to increase funding for the I-20 corridor project by taking funding from a Ga. 400 project was tabled until a special meeting scheduled for 1 p.m. on Oct. 11.
Commissioner Larry Johnson said the Ellis proposal put DeKalb on the defensive. The amendment that received unanimous support from the roundtable was one in which funding was switched between projects in the same county.
“If we’re not willing to do that in DeKalb County, nothing’s going to happen,” Johnson said. “Nobody [is] going to take money from their own projects to give to you.”