The city of Sandy Springs plans to shift millions of dollars around with the aim of completing transportation projects funded by a sales tax whose revenue has been lower than expected. Meanwhile, a decision on whether to ask voters to approve another transportation sales tax could come as soon as this year.
The changes would put on hold a controversial roundabout proposed for the intersection of Mount Paran and Powers Ferry roads; increase funds for a remake of the intersection of Johnson Ferry Road and Mount Vernon Highway; and move money away from trails and transit right of way and toward sidewalk installations.
“The bottom line, it’s about $5.4 million … over the available budget,” Public Works Director Marty Martin told the City Council Dec. 1 about the TSPLOST project list.
The Transportation Special Local Option Sales Tax voters approved in November 2016 devotes its revenues to several specific projects. The five-year, 0.75% sales tax began in April 2017. The tax collection will stop on March 30, 2022 or when the maximum of $655 million is collected in all of Fulton County, excluding Atlanta which has its own TSPLOST.
Starting in its first year, TSPLOST revenue fell an average of 15% below official projections made by Georgia State University consultants, as sales tax collection countywide were smaller than expected. The pandemic caused sales tax to drop for two months this year, Martin said, though it has recovered since then.
Tax revenue for the voter-approved projects was initially estimated at $88.5 million, but revised figures estimated $79.6 million would be collected. A combination of funding from another city project and a request for the Perimeter Community Improvement District to help fund a project could add $4.3 million for TSPLOST projects, bringing the total up to $84.4 million.
Councilmember Andy Bauman said the public should understand that any project deferred from the current TSPLOST would not automatically be placed on a future “TSPLOST 2” list or kept as an active project. It would have to go through the public process again for consideration.
A TSPLOST 2 vote could come as early as the November general election. If that happened and the TSPLOST was approved, it would go into effect in April 2022.
State Rep. Josh McLaurin (D-Sandy Springs) said he hasn’t been asked to sponsor TSPLOST 2 legislation yet.
“I’m supportive of TSPLOST initiatives when, obviously, voters approve of them, and when they’re targeted in such a way as to provide as diffuse of benefits as possible to the community,” McLaurin said. “The worry you always have with a sales tax is the possibility that it might be regressive.”
Money for traffic efficiency and last-mile connectivity between public transit and desirable locations can have broad benefits, he said.
“And so, you know, I would leave it to the voters,” McLaurin said.
Martin’s proposal recommended deferring installation of a roundabout at the intersection of Mount Paran and Powers Ferry roads after $333,884 of the estimated $2.5 million project had been spent on design and some right-of-way coordination. That project is intended to alleviate traffic bottlenecks and reduce crashes. But it has been controversial among neighbors, who say it would increase commuter traffic and destroy a century-old country store in the right of way.
His initial proposal also recommended transferring $1.3 million from the “Last Mile” project to a sidewalk project. The Last Mile project was designed to provide people choices other than the automobile for shorter trips, or to connect and complete longer trips by constructing Perimeter trails and acquiring right of way for future high-capacity transit linking the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts.
TSPLOST 1 only included funding for design and right of way acquisition for the Hammond Road widening project. Budget adjustments would shift $1.9 million of the $16 million budgeted to the Johnson Ferry Road at Mount Vernon Highway project near City Springs.
Mayor Rusty Paul said even inclusion in TSPLOST 2 might not collect enough revenue for construction of the Hammond Drive widening project, which Martin said could cost up to $60 million.
The project envisions widening Hammond from Barfield Road to Roswell Road adding roundabouts and pedestrian and bike paths. It has been controversial since the idea was first proposed. The city bought 26 properties for right of way needs and paid to have 11 of the houses torn down that were considered unfit for habitation.
“We’re not going to be able to build Hammond with TSPLOST totally,” he said. “We may have to use that for matching funds for other sources. But if we didn’t take the actions that we’ve taken over the last three [or] four years, then that project could never happen, because of the cost of the right of way. So we’ve at least reserved that option going into the future.”
The Johnson Ferry Road/Mount Vernon intersection project would get another $2.7 million in funds from the old city center project, Martin said. That leaves it a little more than $600,000 short of estimated costs instead of the $3.3 million deficit the project was running before fund transfers. This project is intended to improve traffic flow.
Current concepts for that project propose a grid system with the goal of improving safety, reducing traffic volumes in the project area along an adjection section of Roswell Road, and easing congestion within the corridor, the city’s website said.
The Mount Vernon Highway corridor improvements project might get $1.6 million in funding from the Perimeter CID for the multi-use path east of Barfield, with TSPLOST funds covering project costs west of Barfield. The project runs from Vernon Trace east to the Sandy Springs MARTA Station. Martin’s presentation showed the project would still be $2.1 million short of its estimated cost.
The project’s goal is to reduce traffic congestion in the area by offering alternative means to connect to City Springs or the Sandy Springs MARTA station without using an automobile. Additionally it aims to to provide east-west last mile connectivity and create alternative transportation options for residents including multi-modal lanes for bikes, shuttles and alternative transit, the city’s website said.