Local public officials are trying to think up ways to finance road improvements after voters rejected a regional sales tax to fund them.

Voters in the metro Atlanta region defeated the proposed penny sales tax, which was projected to raise about $8 billion for roads, buses, trains, bike lanes, sidewalks and airports over the next 10 years. Voters in the 10-county region split 62 percent against the tax and only 38 percent in favor of it.

“Clearly, it’s back to the drawing board for the General Assembly,” said Rep. Mike Jacobs, a DeKalb Republican who was a non-voting member of the group that drew up the list of projects to be funded through the proposed tax. “What that looks like is anybody’s guess.”

Gov. Nathan Deal has said he doesn’t want to revive the tax, but that he would keep the biggest project on the list – the reconstruction of the interchange at Ga. 400 and I-285 – a priority.

Other officials say they aren’t sure what will happen to other regional projects, such as the proposed widening of Hammond Drive in Sandy Springs or intersection improvements on Ashford-Dunwoody Road in Brookhaven, that were to be paid for through the sales tax.

“I really have no definite answer about the Hammond Drive question,” Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos said in an email. “Of course this will delay it, but how long is anyone’s guess. Till we know more about federal and state funding, we really do not know.”

Galambos said the sale tax’s high-profile failure may give a boost to a cheaper form of transit, bus rapid transit. “It is better suited to the low density of our region and Perimeter CID and Sandy Springs have been actively pursuing it,” she said.

Still, the question remained: Where should the money come from?

“It’s not going to be an easy solution and it’s probably going to be multi-faceted,” Atlanta City Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean said. “We need to look at the gas tax and take an inventory of the most critical infrastructure needs of the city and state and sit down and figure out how it’s going to be funded.”

Sen. Fran Millar, a Dunwoody Republican, also said the state should turn to its gas tax. Millar told members of the Dunwoody Homeowners Association the tax on gasoline should be raised to match the levies in nearby states such as Florida or North Carolina. “A user tax is the best way to raise money,” he said.

But Millar noted that Deal has opposed increasing the gas tax, which will make it difficult to do so.

The regional vote on T-SPLOST

Shall the transportation system and the transportation network in this region and the state be improved by providing for a 1 percent sales and use tax for the purpose of transportation projects and programs for a period of 10 years?

Yes  38 %
No    62 %

Source: Georgia Secretary of State

Atlanta City Councilman Howard Shook speculated that bonds could offer a solution. Shook said voters in his Buckhead district strongly endorsed the transportation sales tax and he proposed the city try to build on that support.

“I would guess that the administration would start looking at the possibility of going to Atlanta voters to sell bonds to do a list of city-only projects,” Shook said.

Other Buckhead leaders were stunned by the overwhelming defeat of the plan.

“I kind of thought it was going to go down in flames, but not as badly as it did,” said Buckhead’s Neighborhood Planning Unit B chairwoman Sally Silver.

Melissa Weinman and Dan Whisenhunt contributed to this report.

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.