After input from more than 100 residents, Sandy Springs’ wish list of transportation sales tax projects is nearly complete—and includes two of the city’s most controversial road projects.
Dual roundabouts planned for the Mount Vernon Highway/Johnson Ferry Road intersection are high on the list—and strongly opposed by many residents of the Mount Vernon Towers senior home there. And design and land acquisition for widening Hammond Drive moved up the priority list despite debate hot enough to be a City Council campaign issue.
Representatives of residents in both areas said they were “surprised” or “blindsided” by the projects showing up on the T-SPLOST list and that there is still local opposition.
The transportation sales tax, or T-SPLOST, is slated to go before Fulton County voters Nov. 8. Revenue from the five-year sales tax increase of up to 0.75 percent would be split among area cities, with Sandy Springs projected to get about $101 million and a maximum of $116 million.
The T-SPLOST must be attached to a specific project list. City officials unveiled their proposed list at the May 3 City Council meeting, then got input from three community meetings and an online survey. The final list was presented at the May 17 City Council meeting. The proposal, along with a county ballot agreement, is scheduled for a vote on June 7.
The set of 10 T-SPLOST projects were only slightly shuffled by public input, in part because everything was well-liked. No project received lower than 60 percent “agree” votes in the meetings and survey. In part, that’s because most projects were already planned and budgeted through community meetings; the T-SPLOST funding would speed them up rather than create them from scratch.
The Mount Vernon roundabouts received 63 percent “agree” votes, the city said, and the Hammond widening design got 70 percent “agree” votes and moved up to Tier One.
The T-SPLOST would give critics of the Hammond widening one thing they’ve long asked for—a full study of whether the project is even necessary. But it also funds city purchases of houses along the road to reserve right of way.
Steve Oppenheimer, president of the Glenridge Hammond Neighborhood Association, said he believes the Hammond information presented at T-SPLOST meetings was “misleading and factually inaccurate.”
The Mount Vernon roundabouts have been criticized by residents of Mount Vernon Towers as both an inherently bad idea and because the design would cut into much of the Towers’ front yard. Residents remain “deadly opposed” and “certainly don’t supporting putting the project in the SPLOST,” said Scott Jacobson, an attorney representing them.
T-SPLOST funding might allow the city to redesign the project so that it doesn’t take as much of the Towers property, City Manager John McDonough suggested at the May 17 council meeting.
The project is currently stalled due to a dispute over the historic status of an auto repair shop that must be demolished for it. And the possible historic status of an entire neighborhood to the south forced the design closer to the Towers.
The project’s use of federal funds makes appealing the historic statuses difficult and time-consuming, city officials have said. By using local T-SPLOST funds instead, McDonough said, those issues might be resolved faster and the design could have “flexibility to the point it doesn’t radically alter the design of the project.”
The projects are arranged by “tiers,” essentially meaning how certain they are to get SPLOST funding. Tier One projects are a lock for the funding; Tier Two probably would get funded; and Tier Three would be funded if money is left over or revenues exceed projections. The order of projects within the tiers doesn’t matter.
Sandy Springs’ proposed projects are:
Various intersection improvements; Perimeter Center “Last Mile Connectivity” trail plan with right of way for possible alternative mass transit; various sidewalks; Mount Vernon/Johnson Ferry roundabouts; Mount Vernon multi-use path from City Springs to Sandy Springs MARTA station; Hammond Drive widening design and acquisition
PATH400 multi-use segment between Buckhead and Sandy Springs; Roberts Drive multiuse path between Roswell Road and Island Ford Park
Possible “flex lanes,” using the road shoulder as a bus/shuttle express lane, on I-285; general road maintenance