Debate on where to spend money raised through a proposed 1-cent sales tax for transportation improvements is reviving a long-simmering dispute over what, if anything, should be done to improve Ashford-Dunwoody Road.

District 80 Rep. Mike Jacobs says he has asked that $10.8 million from the tax, if it is approved, be spent on improvements to Ashford-Dunwoody. Traffic routinely backs up on the road, especially in the business district where Ashford- Dunwoody merges briefly with Johnson Ferry Road.

Some residents welcome the proposal. “Something needs to be done about Ashford-Dunwoody Road,” said Dick Lyon, a member of the board of the Ashford Alliance Community Association, an umbrella group of north DeKalb County homeowners associations.

But others who live near the road want Ashford-Dunwoody removed from the project list.

Laurenthia Mesh, who owns the Old Five Points shopping center at the intersection of Johnson Ferry and Ashford-Dunwoody, said the proposal draws little support in her neighborhood. “I’m against it. Everybody’s against it. We don’t need it,” she said. “We don’t have a problem. It’s a short back up [at rush hour], but so is everywhere in town. It’s no different. We just want to be left alone.”

Jacobs said DeKalb County officials asked that the $10.8 million for Ashford-Dunwoody be removed from the proposed list of sales-tax projects because they believed it faced opposition from residents in the area.

The sales tax would be part of a special regional sales tax used to raise money for transportation projects. The penny sales tax, to be voted on next year, is expected to raise $6 billion and state and local officials now are working to cut down a $22 billion list of proposed projects.

The Ashford-Dunwoody proposal considered for the tax says the money would finance “corridor improvements” on the road from I-285 to Peachtree Road.

“If that gets kicked off the list, when would we have a chance to get anything done?” Lyon asked. “The project ought to stay on the list.”

Jacobs, a non-voting member of the committee that eventually will approve the projects to be done, said he twice has had Ashford-Dunwoody restored to the list because he’s convinced the majority of residents want the improvements made.

He commissioned a poll of 658 registered voters who live in the Montgomery Elementary, Ashford Parkside and Ashford Dunwoody voting precincts, he said, and found that 56 percent supported work on the road, while 30 percent opposed it and 14 percent were undecided. An earlier email survey also found public support for work on Ashford-Dunwoody, he said.

“If the citizens really want the project taken off the list, we’ll take the project off the list,” he said. “But if a large majority of residents support the project, then we’d better be on the boat, before it leaves the harbor.”

But some opponents, in response to Jacobs’ call for emails expressing residents’ opinions, are petitioning the state to remove Ashford-Dunwoody from the list of sales-tax financed projects.

Jeff Turnage, an Ashford Alliance board member, argues that the proposals for improving Ashford-Dunwoody are vague and that the $10.8 million budgeted for the project isn’t enough to make a difference.

“The amount of funds allocated for it is only $10.8 million and there’s very little you can do with that,” he said. “$10.8 million won’t put a drop in the bucket.”

Turnage said debate over Ashford-Dunwoody has been going on for years. Past community proposals estimated that much more than $10.8 million would be needed to fix the road. That amount, he said, might not even be enough to buy rights-of-way needed to make the necessary road improvements.

“If the project were more narrowly defined and more clearly expressed and it actually would address pedestrian safety issues and congestion at the intersection [of Ashford-Dunwoody and Johnson Ferry roads], I would be less opposed to it,” he said. “It’s not that the neighbors oppose making real improvements, it’s that they have a project description that is so vague. It doesn’t say where the money is going or where the money is allocated.

“If $10 million would fix it,” Turnage said, “they’d have done it long ago.”

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.