A long list of potential transportation improvements in Clarke County is now open for public comment. The TSPLOST 2023 Advisory Committee is in the process of selecting a final list of projects to be funded by the proposed 2023 Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax – a one percent tax dedicated to transportation improvements. That committee will have to make some tough choices as they narrow down a list of nearly 90 projects totaling almost $700 million to fit the expected TSPLOST revenue of $144.5 million. ACC lawmakers are targeting the 2023 TSPLOST to take effect immediately after the current TPLOST expires, which should be late in 2022 or early in 2023.
Fixing dangerous intersections:
Several of the projects proposed address major intersections in Athens. The County’s Transportation and Public Works Department is asking for $10.6 million for improvements to five intersections. At the top of their list is the short stretch of Tallassee Road/Oglethorpe Avenue where that major artery intersects with Forest Heights Drive, Mitchell Bridge Road, and the ramps for Loop 10. Also on TPW’s list are the intersections of Old Epps Bridge Road and Hawthorne Avenue, Baxter Street at Alps Road, North Avenue at Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway, and West Lake Drive at South Lumpkin Street.
In their proposal, TPW notes that Athens-Clarke County has both the fourth-highest crash rate in the state as well as the fourth-highest injury rate. Among urban areas, ACC leads the state in crash and injury rates. Improvements to other intersections, such as the one at Hawthorne Avenue and Oglethorpe Avenue are being funded by an earlier TSPLOST initiative.
A private citizen has submitted another proposal for improvements to the intersection of the Atlanta Highway and Timothy/Mitchell Bridge Roads. In that proposal, the intersection – one of the busiest and most crash-prone in the county – could be realigned or possibly replaced with a roundabout intersection.
Another roundabout that is definitely in the works is one at the intersection of West Broad Street and Hancock Avenue. The concept of putting a roundabout in that location was approved by ACC Commissioners in 2019, and will be funded in part by other sources, including the Georgia Department of Transportation and TSPLOST 2018. The portion of the roundabout to be funded from TSPLOST 2023 would be about $3 million.
Many residents of neighborhoods in North and East Athens have expressed their frustration that these areas of the county are often overlooked for improvements in favor of the needs of more affluent, usually in-town, neighborhoods. Seven proposed TSPLOST 2023 projects are targeted towards East Athens, including a proposed $993,000 for new sidewalk construction and $38,000 for new lighting on Johnson, Spring, North Peter, Vine, and Dublin Streets.
The East Athens Development Corporation proposed a $144,000 project to fund speed enforcement, parking improvements, and signage in East Athens. Other projects related to East Athens include proposals for a new bus stop at Vine and Peter Streets, and mitigation of street flooding along North Peter and Vine Streets.
The North Athens Neighborhood Citizens are asking TSPLOST Committee members to approve about $2.4 million for improvements in their area, including the paving of some dirt roads and the widening of other paved roads. The group is also asking for $272,000 for speed studies and enforcement, as well as more signage on a number of North Athens streets, like Danielsville Road and Fowler Drive.
Prince Avenue and Jefferson Road:
Prince Avenue has long been a target for improvements, but that process has often been stalled by friction between Commissioners and the complications of the joint responsibility for the artery, with Athens-Clarke County responsible for parts of the road, and the Georgia Department of Transportation responsible for others. A private citizen is proposing a $7.4 million package of improvements to Jefferson Road, most of which would be oriented towards bicyclists and pedestrians.
The Prince Avenue Corridor Improvements User Group is proposing a $5.1 million package of improvements to Prince Avenue. Those fixes could include new crosswalks, intersections upgrades, and the addition of raised medians. The intersection of Park Avenue/Talmadge Drive and Prince Avenue is also among the proposals.
Transit service in the spotlight:
Athens Transit is involved with several proposals before the TSPLOST Advisory Committee. A joint project suggested by six ACC government departments would spend $9.7 million on replacing buses and other fleet vehicles with electric vehicles. Supporters of that plan say that it would save taxpayers $4.5 million over ten years in fuel costs and would eliminate more than 12,000 tons of carbon dioxide. The move to electrify the fleet would also potentially bring in over $10 million in federal and state matching funds.
A private citizen has submitted a sweeping proposal with a $2.6 million price tag that would expand the reach of the county's transit system and add express service down Tallassee Road, Lexington Road, and Atlanta Highway.
Athens Transit is asking for $35.5 million for operations and maintenance, saying that doing so would lessen the bus system’s reliance on the county’s General Fund, which is funded primarily by local property taxes.
Athens Transit is also asking for nearly $42 million for a new facility to replace the current operations and maintenance center as well as three new transfer stations. The current facility was built 45 years ago to house a fleet of 16 buses. Today, the county operates twice that number of buses, plus another 21 other vehicles.
The county’s Transportation and Public Works Department is also asking for a new building, projected to cost $5.1 million.
[Athens Transit is a financial supporter of WUGA]
Although cited by many as a key player in Athens-Clarke County’s economic future, only two projects are centered around Athens-Ben Epps Airport. Airport Director Mike Matthews is asking for some $1.2 million in TSPLOST money for the creation of more airplane hangars, which would be rented by aircraft owners. Currently, all 77 of the airport’s hangars are full, with 15 airplane owners on a waiting list. The hangar proposal is estimated to bring in an additional $66,000 per year in rental fees, as well as an additional $75,000 in fuel sales.
Airport officials are also requesting a multi-use bike and walking trail around the airport’s perimeter fence. The proposed $1.2 million project would create over five miles of trail, which Mathews hopes will bring people to the airport for recreation and greenspace.
The airport was a top priority in the currently active TSPLOST 2018, and work is “substantially complete” on a new runway and other improvements funded by $1.5 million in TSPLOST 2018 dollars with an addition $10.7 million in grants and other funding from the Georgia Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration.
The 21 members of the TSPLOST Advisory Committee are evaluating all of the proposed projects, and are accepting public input through October 15. Members of the public can view and comment on the proposed projects at accgov.com/tsplost2023.
The Advisory Committee’s job is whittle down the nearly $700 million of potential to a more management list of about $217 million in projects. That’s about 150% of the expected revenue for TSPLOST 2023. That shorter list will be presented to Athens-Clarke County Commissioners in early November. After that meeting, the Advisory Committee will work to cut the list down to fit the total expected revenue of $144.5 million. That final list will be presented to Commissioner in December.
In May 2022, the voters will get a chance to approve TSPLOST 2023 at the polls, and if the tax and the final list of projects are approved by the voters of Athens-Clarke County, collections will begin in late 2022 or early 2023, once the current TSPLOST 2018 collects its allotted $109.5 million. That way the 1% sales tax of TSPLOST 2023 will replace, not add to, the current 1% sales tax that funds TSPLOST 2018.