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Cobb plan for $3 million study in wake of TSPLOST loss is just plain wrong

Posted by on August 12, 2012
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By Ron Sifen

Voters in Cobb County and the entire Atlanta region have spoken and delivered the following clear message.  It is not the job of government to invent boondoggles on which to spend our money, and then increase our taxes to pay for boondoggles.

Many groups did a great job of putting together factual information and getting the information out to the public without much money.  The Traffic Truth group, Tea Party groups, along with the Sierra Club and NAACP, plus the phenomenal analysis performed by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and Reason Foundation, and numerous state legislators who were outraged over the projects list, all worked together to inform the public about many things that were wrong with the TSPLOST.  Several columnists also helped.

The TSPLOST dollars were supposed to go toward reducing traffic congestion.  Pro-TSPLOST ads claimed people would have more time with their families.  Voters figured out that the pro-TSPLOST hype was false, and that too much of the money was going to benefit special interests, and would not reduce traffic congestion.

Meanwhile, Cobb still faces the hazard of the ongoing “alternatives analysis” transit study (the “AA”).

The TSPLOST vote did not cancel the AA, and does not prevent the AA from recommending light rail.  While voter rejection of the TSPLOST makes funding for this boondoggle far more difficult, the special interests who want light rail will continue to try to bamboozle the region into building it.

We already have transit on Cobb Parkway.  The only purpose of light rail on Cobb Parkway is to get taxpayers to pay for “incentivizing” the redevelopment of private property.  It would not reduce traffic congestion in Cobb, and it would do nothing to better meet the transportation needs of Cobb County.

Light rail would be staggeringly expensive to operate and maintain forever.  It will consume all available transit dollars that might have otherwise been available for other needed transit elsewhere in Cobb.

Cobb voted 69-to-31 percent to oppose spending $689 million to enhance transit service on Cobb Parkway.  Light rail from Acworth to Atlanta would cost at least $3 billion.

On July 24, one week prior to the TSPLOST vote, and also prior to the conclusion of the AA, the Cobb Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 to approve a new $3 million contract for a new Environmental Impact study to move forward with whatever transit is recommended by the AA.  Commissioner Bob Ott strenuously opposed this action, and correctly pointed out that it was premature to initiate an Environmental Impact study when the AA had not yet identified what would be studied.

Why couldn’t this $3 million new study have waited until after the TSPLOST vote?  And why are we moving forward with an Environmental Impact study when we supposedly don’t yet know the pre-determined outcome of the current $1.7 million AA study?  This is one more piece of evidence that the AA study was a sham with a predetermined conclusion.

This is fiscal irresponsibility on steroids.

Why is Cobb County insisting on funding this new study to move forward on a project that the overwhelming majority of Cobb voters have overwhelmingly voted against? (Washington would pay $2.4 million of our tax dollars, and Cobb would pay $600,000 of our tax dollars for this new study for a project that the citizens of Cobb County oppose.)

On July 24, it might not have been clear that the TSPLOST would fail region-wide, but it was unquestionably going to fail big in Cobb.  To put this $3 million item on the agenda for July 24 was very, very, very wrong.

There may be reasons why Cobb County might have ultimately needed to do an environmental impact study.  But right now, we supposedly do not know what the alternatives analysis will recommend, and the course of the environmental impact study could be very different based on different conclusions of the alternatives analysis.

In addition, proponents of the alternatives analysis study pointed out that the conclusions of the Northwest Connectivity Study were more than five years old and therefore not usable for the purpose of obtaining federal funding. According to Gov. Nathan Deal, rail transit is now dead going forward. So, if the alternatives analysis recommends light rail, then the environmental impact study will spend $3 million of our tax dollars to study something that cannot be implemented and will ultimately wind up just as obsolete and useless as the NWCS.

I am asking all Cobb County commissioners to provide guidance to those running the current study, that the alternatives analysis should focus only on transit that

  • can provide the fastest commute times
  • at the lowest cost for taxpayers
  • with the flexibility to connect to various destinations (not just downtown Atlanta)
  • without regard to incentivizing the redevelopment of private property, and
  • focused on cost-effectively meeting the transportation needs of the citizens of Cobb County.

Spending $3 million for this study at this time is just plain wrong.

Ron Sifen of Vinings is president of the Cobb County Civic Coalition. His views do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCCC.  All articles are posted with the author’s permission.

Article Printed in the Marietta Daily Journal on August 11, 2012.

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