Regional board looks at transportation after failed TSPLOST voteBy SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
The failure of the regional transportation sales tax, better known as TSPLOST, was one topic of discussion at this week's meeting of the Three Rivers Regional Commission council.
The meeting was the first since the tax was rejected by voters July 31.
Boatwright said that a lot of analysis has shown that, in Three Rivers as well as other regions, "the Atlanta news media helped kill it in a lot of places, because it confused people."
Boatwright also mentioned a recent speech by former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young. Young said that, in addition to the media and public relations industries making money off the TSPLOST ads, the Atlanta power structure was also a factor.
"We don't want to blame everything on Atlanta," Boatwright said. "This is just some analysis and some possible alternatives for it."
Another probable reason for the defeat was a mistrust of government.
Three Rivers staff put together an analysis, including a breakdown of how the tax did in the 10 counties of the region. It was soundly defeated in nine of the counties. Voters in Upson County approved the tax by a vote of 3,487 to 3,248. The vote in individual counties, however, did not matter.
The tax was approved in three of the state's 12 regions, and all three regions had one thing in common.
Those in favor of the tax "did no publicity in their regions after July 4," Boatwright said. That didn't give the opponents something to react to.
There were also differences in the types of projects. "Roundtables" made up of representatives from each county put together the project lists for the tax.
In Three Rivers, the original list contained a large number of small road projects, that clearly benefited communities.
The Georgia Department of Transportation struck many of those projects from the list. "For lots of them, DOT said no, we're not going to allow those, because we consider those lump-sum projects," Boatwright said.
The Heart of Georgia/Altamaha roundtable "said we don't care what you say, DOT," Boatwright said. "They put 200-300 small road projects" on their list. "I think that is why it passed" in that region, Boatwright said.
One thing the roundtable and project selection process did do is it showed that the 10 counties — Coweta, Carroll, Troup, Heard, Meriwether, Pike, Spalding, Upson, Lamar and Butts, could work together when it comes to transportation planning.
Boatwright is hoping that, one day, Three Rivers can do the transportation planning for the region.
"This is the only state east of the Mississippi that doesn't have regional planning organizations for transportation," Boatwright said. "GDOT has sort of blocked that from happening," he said. "All the other states have that in their regional commission."
In Georgia, GDOT does the transportation planning for most counties. Urban counties are part of "metropolitan planning organizations."
Coweta is in the Atlanta Region Commission MPO, as is part of Spalding County. Carroll County and a tiny sliver of Pike County will be joining the Atlanta MPO, Boatwright said. Joining the ARC MPO also puts those counties in the "nonattainment" zone for air quality.
Boatwright would like for Three Rivers to be able to function as a regional planning organization for transportation.
"We think we can get to the regional planning organization part ... if the state will ever recognize it," he said.
"We've offered some alternatives to the ARC on how to do this, that we think would be logical," he said. The plan would be to establish quadrants, so that counties that are close to each other would do their transportation planning together.
"We're looking at other options," Boatwright said. "There is a lot of planning money out there for this," he said.
And the planning money for the counties in the ARC MPO "goes to the ARC for their planning," yet those counties outside the Atlanta Regional Commission, such as Coweta, don't get a seat on the ARC board.
Boatwright said after the meeting that Three Rivers staff will be talking in the next few weeks to "see if there is some kind of way that we can work out" transportation planning options.
The regional planning organization could function much like the roundtable did. With multiple governments concurring on projects, the likelihood of getting federal funds is better, Boatwright said. Additionally, "when you have that level of concurrence it makes the approval process a lot easier," he said.
"And to be honest, it's a lot more visible to the public and to those people who want to question, and the naysayers."
With GDOT in charge of planning, "the consultation with local governments is not what you or I would call consultation," Boatwright said. "And the public is not very active, to be honest ... until the final approval," he said.