July 20--Last month, Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee told the county's political leadership that projects funded by a special purpose sales tax renewal could help the county qualify for a huge federal grant necessary to build a half-billion dollar bus rapid transit system down Cobb Parkway.
Commissioners are expected to solidify the SPLOST project list Tuesday, and all of those projects are on the list.
But Lee and his transportation director now say they will not use the projects as a way to qualify for the $250 million federal grant, which is needed to fund the controversial transit project.
When asked in an email if the projects would be used to apply for the grant, Lee responded: "Very unlikely."
"I believe now that the proposed BRT project, if it does advance in the future, should be considered separately and on its own merits," Lee said in the email.
Not everyone believes him.
Lance Lamberton, chairman of the Cobb Taxpayers Association, issued a press release last week saying his organization would mount a vigorous campaign against the SPLOST renewal in November, mostly because of the potential for the projects to help fund bus rapid transit.
The taxpayers association helped defeat the 2012 regional transportation SPLOST, which included bus rapid transit.
"The projects are still there," Lamberton said in an interview, referring to the SPLOST list. "They're just trying to slip BRT through the back door."
County officials acknowledge that but say the projects on the list are needed, whether they pursue bus rapid transit or not. Faye DiMassimo, Cobb's transportation director, said traffic in the corridor will grow to more than 72,000 daily trips by 2040. Planning for that needs to start now, she said.
"I cannot foresee a situation where these (SPLOST) projects are used as a match for any future BRT project in the corridor," DiMassimo said. When asked if that meant the transit project was dead, DeMassimo responded: "BRT is an unanswered question for the future."
Bob Hovey, a member of the Cobb Planning Commission for the past 12 years, said he's concerned that the distrust over BRT being part of the SPLOST renewal could doom the entire referendum. Hovey said he's not opposed to transit in the county, but "the case for this transit is not good."
BRT would be a bus that runs from Kennesaw State University to Midtown. The majority of the expense for the project would come along Cobb Parkway, where there would be a dedicated lane for the buses, equipped with a trip switch for stoplights that would allow them to keep moving along the roadway.
Critics of the system say it would not significantly impact traffic congestion, and that the proposal is more about spurring economic development along the route and less about moving people.
"These remaining fuzzy budget lines aren't going to help us get the voter confidence needed to pass the SPLOST," Hovey said. "The voters following this issue will find they took out the words (BRT) and didn't take out the money. Managing this issue is extremely important because it goes to confidence in government."
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