Our take on the proposed transportation projects for TSPLOST


Update (9/19/17): Athens for Everyone has endorsed the TSPLOST referendum, you can read more here: Vote YES to TSPLOST on November 7.

A photo collage showing an athens transit bus, a bike, and buses traveling down college broad street in Athens

The candidate list of TSPLOST projects currently includes buses, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, roadway paving, and airport matching funds.

Not quite our first TSPLOST…

Athens voters approved a regional Transportation Special Local Option Sales Tax in 2012, but the neighboring rural counties rejected the one percent sales tax increase. The Transportation Funding Act of 2015 made it possible for Athens-Clarke County to hold its own referendum, with Athens voters only.

Throughout the spring, a mayor and commissioner-appointed citizens advisory committee met to review projects submitted by ACC staff, local groups, and citizens. Athens for Everyone submitted a project requesting a bus for service expansion along US 29, a route for which we have been advocating these past two years.

The citizens advisory committee has created a list of projects that add up to the anticipated $104 million dollars. Currently A4E’s US 29 bus service project is on that list.

A Route 7 - Prince Avenue bus rolls through down on Broad Street

Three projects on the TSPLOST candidate list involve buses or transit infrastructure, including one submitted by A4E for bus service along US 29.

What’s next?

The citizens advisory committee presented the list of candidate projects to the Mayor and Commission last Tuesday. The Mayor and Commission are under no obligation to stick with the recommendations of the committee. If you like the list, or want to ensure certain projects stay on, or fall off, tell your commissioner and the Mayor.

Attend the public hearings and meetings

The public is invited to attend any and all of the following hearings and meetings. Please attend and speak up:

Leave your comments online

In addition, anyone can leave comments on the public comment form through July. Unfortunately there have not been as many public comments as staff and the citizens advisory committee would like, so leave your thoughts on any/all projects sooner rather than later.

Vote in November on the final list of projects

Citizens will vote on the final list of projects approved by the Mayor and Commission in November. They will vote to accept all projects on the list, or they will reject the entire list and there will be no TSPLOST. As with previous SPLOSTs, it is all-or-nothing.

List of candidate projects and funding amounts

The list of projects recommended as presented to the Mayor and Commission last Tuesday, courtesy of the citizens advisory committee. The Mayor and Commission ultimately decide what projects will be funded if voters approve the TSPLOST in November.

TSPLOST 2018 List of Candidate Projects

As mentioned above, this list of projects, as well as the amount of money allocated to each, is subject to change based on the preferences of the Mayor and Commission. Some projects are recommended for funding at their “alternate” (usually lesser) funding level.

Matching funds for the Ben Epps Airport

Formally known as: Project 01: Airport – Airport CIP Matching Funds – $1,531,000

Did you know that Georgia has 108 airports? Well, one of them is the Athens Ben Epps Airport on Ben Epps Drive!  It currently serves as the entry/exit point for the private flights of companies like Walmart, Johnson & Johnson, Caterpillar, Coca-Cola, Chick-Fil-A, Pepsi Cola, and Carmike Cinemas. It is also serves other purposes such as pilot training and medical transport. They are currently working on the acquisition of a commercial airline to take folks from Athens to New York (by way of New Jersey) and DC (by way of Baltimore); the ACC 2018 budget proposal allocates $200,000 towards that attempt at acquisition. We included these matching funds in this proposal because we think this is the best bet for returns. This amount in matching funds has the potential to turn into $31,448,580 with through Federal Aviation Administration and GDOT Aviation funds.

A hybrid electric bus

Athens Transit has a project request for hybrid-electric buses

Hybrid-electric replacement buses for Athens Transit

Project #5: Transit Vehicle Expansion & Replacement Project (Alternate) – $13,287,000 by Transit Department

Submitted by Butch McDuffie, Director of Athens Transit System. This project proposal would work to bring 2 hybrid-electric buses to the Athens Transit each year for the 5 years. The committee saw a need to include this request because the transit service is currently 6 years behind in its replacement cycle. Adding hybrid buses to the fleet helps promote mass transportation along with reaching higher levels of sustainability in Athens-Clarke County.

Covered bus shelters, more benches, and possibly more transfer stations

Project #6: Bus Stop & Transfer Facilities Improvement Project (Alternate) – $3,375,000

Submitted by Butch McDuffie, Director of Athens Transit System. The consensus of the committee echoed the results of the A4E transportation survey in that people need benches and shelters at their bus stops! Whether stops have benches, shelters, or just a sign depend on the frequency of stop’s usage. There is a current need for 185 two-seat benches and 106 shelters around the county. Along with contributing to more seating and shelter for transit users, this money could go towards the exploration of creating more transfer facilities, solar lighting at stops, electronic/verbal notifications for ETAs, and better waste receptacles at the stops.

map showing current and proposed Greenway paths

One of many maps showing the current and proposed network of multi-use paths available on the Greenway Commission’s website

Multi-use paths along the Greenway

Project #9: Oconee River Greenway (Alternate) – $12,000,000 by North Oconee River Greenway

Submitted by Oconee Rivers Greenway. The Greenway’s intended goals are to promote alternative transportation, resource protection, education, health and well-being, and recreation. Personally, I want to see the group push to promote this as alternative transportation over recreational use in a way that is accessible to all members of our community. This funding would help the Greenway on projects in the first tier of prioritization. Sections included in this tier are Cook’s Trail, Oak/Oconee Bridge Underpass, Riverside Trail — MLK Parkway, Riverside Trail — North Oconee River Park, and Tallassee Road Connector. For more information on the Greenway, visit their website.

Firefly Rails-to-Trails multi-use path from Athens to Winterville

Project #10: Firefly Trail (Alternate) – $16,752,000 by Firefly Trail, Inc

firefly rail-trail path

The Firefly rail-trail will run from Athens to Union point; the TSPLOST project includes funding the first part of the trail, from Athens to Winterville.

Submitted by ACC Rails-to-Trails Committee with support from BikeAthens. The Athens portion of the Firefly Trail is a 7-mile trail that runs east to west from Old Winterville Road to the eastern county line; the full Firefly Tail spans 39 miles from Athens to Union Point. At 7 miles, it covers 46 percent of the entire width of ACC! Previous SPLOST dollars (2005, 2011) funded the construction of the first segment from the East Broad St. Trailhead to Old Winterville Road. For the sake of full transparency, this plan includes the reconstruction of the Dudley Park Murmur Trestle in a form that is reminiscent of the existing structure but with a longer lifespan and a width of 10-14 feet for multi-use purposes.

Bus for new Highway 29 route

Project #16: Highway 29 Corridor Transit Service – $940,000

Submitted by Athens for Everyone. It’s no question that w

Tim Denson and former board member Beto Mendoza, along with commissioner Kelly Girtz, meet with citizens about a bus route along US 29 in 2016.

Tim Denson and former board member Beto Mendoza, along with commissioner Kelly Girtz, meet with citizens about a bus route along US 29 in 2016.

e need to expand transit access to underserved communities. The US-29 Corridor which includes the Pinewoods Community is one of those greatly underserved communities. Because many of these residents don’t have access to vehicular mobility, bus service is crucial to their ability to make a living and live more comfortably. There are 283 families in the Pinewoods Community that would benefit from this bus route. Athens for Everyone is wholly committed to getting this on the final ballot, and we could use your help! Let us know if this is something that sparks your interest!

Sidewalk for Jefferson River Road from Dollar General to Vincent Drive

Project #21: Sidewalk Jefferson River Road – $1,445,000

Submitted by John P. Huie, citizen. This area of Athens is a diverse neighborhood without access to pedestrian infrastructure. The sidewalk would likely span down the east side of Jefferson River Road from Old Jefferson Road to Garnett Ridge Drive (4750 feet total). Currently, Jefferson River Road has bus stops and no sidewalks for people to wait on. There are constantly children and adults walking down this road in a manner that is unsafe without sidewalks. Great job to John Huie for getting out there and putting this project together!!

Road maintenance and repaving

Project #23: Pavement Rehabilitation Technology (Alternate) – $25,598,000

Submitted by Transportation and Public Works. ACC is behind in road maintenance and the repaving schedule. While the original proposal asked for $40 million in funding to catch up on the deficit roads along with getting roads on track with their life cycles, the alternate proposal only covers the deficit roads. My concern is that this is not worked into the general fund or tax policy by now. At a recent mayor and commission work session, a comment was made to continue the dependence on SPLOST funds to serve as our road maintenance dollars. This means the health of our roads depends on a vote and hundreds of hours of volunteered time every several years. The county needs to step up and find a sustainable solution so as not to take from money that could be going towards better forms of alternative transportation rather than patching up potholes in the roads that have been neglected by the budget for decades. On the plus side, complete streets are to be taken into account for repavement on roads wider than 28 feet.

Traffic control technology

Project #27: Transportation Technology Improvements Program – $1,427,000

Submitted by Transportation and Public Works. This request would expand the fiber optics system in our transportation infrastructure. It would also contribute to variable message boards for traffic notifications, detection cameras to regulate traffic lights, and an adaptive traffic control system that would adapt to the behavior of motorists.

Bike/Ped Master Plan (in progress) – Bike portion

Project #28: Bicycle Improvement Program (Alternate) $7,500,000

Submitted by Transportation and Public Works. This project would act as a bucket of money for projects regarding bike infrastructure. The $7,500,000 would cover an estimated 5 miles of bike lanes!

Soon you will be able to get more information from the official Bike/Ped Master Plan website, but for now you can read an overview here, on BikeAthens’ website.

Bike/Ped Master Plan (in progress) – Pedestrian portion

Project #29: Pedestrian Improvement Program (Alternate) – $11.250,000

Submitted by Transportation and Public Works. This project would act as a bucket of money for projects regarding pedestrian infrastructure. The $11,250,000 would cover between 7 and 18 miles of pedestrian infrastructure!

As mentioned above, soon you will be able to get more information from the official Bike/Ped Master Plan website, but for now you can read an overview here, on BikeAthens’ website.

Corridor improvement starter money: Lexington, Atlanta Highway, Prince Avenue

Project #33: Lexington Highway Corridor Improvements – $4,000,000 // Project #34 Atlanta Highway Corridor Improvements – $4,000,000 // Project #35 Prince Avenue Corridor Improvements – $4,000,000

These projects were submitted by Transportation and Public Works. There is a need for these corridor improvements at each location because bike and pedestrian usage is currently unsafe. People tend to drive fairly quickly down these streets, and we need these corridor improvements because bike/ped usage is currently unsafe. These buckets would allow for things such as concrete medians to act as stops for pedestrians when crossing the road, 5’ sidewalks, 10’ multi-use trails, and/or 5’ bike lanes. We trust that Transportation and Public Works would work to use the funds efficiently to allow for the safest and most impactful bike/ped options.

 

Projects Cut in the Final Round of Votes

The projects below made the initial list, but did not make it through the final round of voting. Because the Mayor and Commission have the final say, these projects and the others that didn’t make the first cut could still end up on the final TSPLOST project list to be voted upon in November.

Rallying for bus service expansion

A4E has been pushing for service expansion since our beginning in 2014. In this photo, members rally for Sunday service, which we ultimately won. Unfortunately, the current TSPLOST list does not include route expansion.

Bus service expansion

Project #7: Transit Service Frequency & Expansion Vehicles (Alternate) – $2,472,000

Submitted by Butch McDuffie, Director of Athens Transit System. While Project #5 catches us up to the amount of vehicles that have not exceeded their lifespans, this would take us further to be able to increase the frequency of certain routes through the expansion of the number of vehicles we have. The routes in mind are Routes 1, 5, 7, 9, 25, 26. If this project makes it to the next round, we will see some buses coming twice an hour rathers than just once!

Pedestrian improvements for West Broad neighborhood

Project #13: West Broad Pedestrian Improvements – $6,027,000

Submitted by the Athens Land Trust. This project would (greatly) improve the pedestrian infrastructure for streets off of West Broad between Milledge Avenue and Hawthorne Avenue. If you’ve taken walks within this 0.5 square mile area, you’d know that we need sidewalk construction, pedestrian traffic lights, traffic management devices, and streetscape improvements. A4E hopes this makes it to the next round so we can see this through! “An increase in dedicated pedestrian infrastructure would allow community residents to easily access the necessary amenities, and instantly improve the quality of life for all West Broad residents.”

Bridge design for Macon Highway and Tallassee; replacement of Macon Highway bridge

Project #24: Bridge Replacement Project (Alternate) – $7,767,000

Submitted by Tranportation and Public Works. The Macon Highway and Tallassee bridges need to be renovated, and this request includes the redesign of both and the construction of one. The lifespan of a bridge is 50 years; Macon Highway Bridge is 67 years old and Tallasee Road Bridge is 76 years old. The Tallassee Road bridge needs to be widened to allow for safe transportation for those on bike and on foot. Drew from Transportation and Public Works is hoping to find other sources of funding for the Macon Highway Bridge after having a design complete. Keep your fingers crossed for this (if the project makes the final cut) so we can pay for both bridges to be revamped!

Continue previous SPLOST funding for Clayton Street project downtown

Project #30: Downtown Transportation Improvement Program (Alternate)  – $7,210,000

Submitted by Transportation and Public Works. This alternate proposal would take a stab at fixing the problems that Clayton Street parking spots now pose. We’ve all been there where we can’t see who is coming from our view while backing out. We’re not alone. There have been 237 crashes on Clayton Street in 5 years. This is higher than average, and it is a result of higher traffic, people jumping from lane to lane for parking spots, limitations on sights of drivers, and small lanes. This project would help drivers by widening the lanes, resurfacing some parts, adding better drainage, adjusting the placement of parking spots, and beautifying the street. We should also keep in mind that planes are already being set for this project, so it would be one of the earlier visible changes by TSPLOST dollars if passed to the final round.

Intersection improvements

Project #31: Roadway Improvement Program (Alternate) – $10,326,000

This project was submitted by Transportation and Public Works. This money would serve as a bucket to fund different projects around town. Examples of possible projects are as follows: a potential roundabout at Tallassee Road and Lavender Road, intersection improvement at South Lumpkin and West Lake Drive, intersection improvement at Cedar Shoals Drive and Whit Davis Road, and intersection improvement at College Station Road and River Road.

Whitehall/South Milledge Roundabout

Project #32: Whitehall Road at South Milledge Avenue Project – $2,405,000

This project was submitted by Transportation and Public Works. Many who travel between Oconee County and Athens-Clarke County have expressed frustration around the traffic that backs up at Whitehall Road and South Milledge. This project will fund a roundabout to be created to ease the flow of traffic.

Matching funds for transportation projects

Project #36: Transportation Improvements Matching Funds – $3,000,000

This project was submitted by Transportation and Public Works. These $3 Million could stretch to become about $15 Million if this project request makes it to the ballot. Similar to the Airports Matching Funds, it’s important for our county to make investments like these that maximize our returns. If we don’t include all of the repavement money in the final proposal, the county could use these matching funds to catch up on the delays of road maintenance.

TSPLOST Citizens Advisory Committee

      • Nancy Denson’s appointees:
        • Bill Bland
        • Dr. Holly Ward
      • District 1: Sharon Dickerson’s appointees:
        • Dr. Fred Harrison, Jr
        • Kaori Sakamoto
      • District 2: Harry Sims:
        • Willie Bolton
        • Homer Wilson
      • District 3: Melissa Link:
        • Ashley Na
        • Dr. Jennifer Rice
      • District 4: Allison Wright:
        • Dr. Alice Kinman, Chair
        • Brian Molloy
      • District 5: Jared Bailey:
        • Lauren Blais, Vice Chair
        • Elliott Caldwell
      • District 6: Jerry NeSmith:
        • Denise Ricks
        • Madeline VanDyck
      • District 7: Diane Bell:
        • Corbett Chandler
        • Tommy Jackson
      • District 8: Andy Herod:
        • Buck Bacon
        • Sue Plaksin
      • District 9: Kelly Girtz:
        • Mildred Beck
        • Anna “Tres” Small
      • District 10: Mike Hamby:
        • John Jeffreys
        • Aaron Redman

 

Ashley Na, June 15, 2017

Lauren Blais contributed to this story.

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