Penny Sales Tax Crucial To City's Future

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ATLANTA,None —

As Atlanta moves forward, local leaders say this is one of the most important decisions metro Atlanta voters will face in quite in some time.

It's a one cent sales tax to fund major transportation improvements to reduce the area's congested highways, daily gridlock and lack of mass transit to many areas.

"We had a huge conversation about traffic in our state," said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. "We ended up getting the most forward-thinking transportation bill in modern Georgia history."

The Georgia legislature passed the Transportation Investment Act this year. The penny tax would fund improvements for transit, from light rail to more expressways, and new engineering for bottleneck areas. It even funds pedestrian and bike paths.

"Traffic is the number one argument our competitors use against us," said Mayor Reed.

Right now local leaders are working on a list of proposed projects. Some include enhancing the Atlanta Beltline, widening on Windy Hill Road in Cobb County, and major improvements to Buford Highway in Gwinnett County near Sugarloaf Parkway.

The list is from the 10-county area of Metro Atlanta.

LINK: Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable

"Those counties represent about 4 million people," said Todd Long, planning director for the Georgia Department of Transportation. "Those are probably the ones most stuck in congestion. They have more frustration than anybody else."

Long is working with a roundtable of 21 leaders. They consist of mayors representing each county, as well as each county chairman. The final list will be ready in October, and will go to voters on the July ballot. If approved, it will fund about $7 billion in transportation improvements.

"The person who doesn't really use the transportation network, who doesn't drive a car -- if they buy food, it gets here on the network," Long said.

Other proposals on the list include mass transit from Perimeter to Doraville in DeKalb County, the widening of Windward Parkway in North Fulton County, and restoring bus service in Clayton County.

"Sixty-three percent of the people who live in Metro Atlanta work in some other county than where their home is," said Sam Williams from the Metro Atlanta Chamber.

He said that means if you live in Cobb County, you're voting for improvements there, as well as for the area where you work in every day.

Other proposals from Cherokee County to Henry County include improvements on Georgia Highway 140 and Bells Ferry Road, and widening McDonough Road to Tara Boulevard.

"If we don't pass (this proposal), then we have really made a decision about what direction we want to go," said Mayor Reed. "We've decided that we want to be smaller and that we want to enter a period of decline. That's really what this is about."