Equitable transportation in Athens is become more and more of a reality thanks to the passing of the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST) referendum.
With nearly 74 percent of the vote in favor of the special tax, Athens will receive much needed improvements to its transportation infrastructure at the cost of a 1 percent increase to the local sales tax for the next five years, bringing the total local sales tax to 8 percent.
The tax is expected to raise over $100 million and will go to fund 19 projects in Athens-Clarke County.
Some of the projects on the docket include: $25.6 million set aside for pavement rehabilitation, $16.7 million for the Firefly Trail extension that will eventually connect Athens to Union Point, Georgia, and $10 million to expand and connect the Oconee Rivers Greenway.
“This is our opportunity to catch up with other communities across Georgia, spur economic development, boost quality of life, improve access to healthy trails, and connect neighborhoods to each other and to other amenities,” according to Complete Street Athens, an advocacy organization working to ensure equitable transportation choices.
In addition, the referendum has also budgeted another $16 million for pedestrian and bicycle improvements to make transportation easier for all of Athens residents.
“With more than 50% of the projects listed on the TSPLOST initiative earmarked for bike, bus or pedestrian projects, TSPLOST represents the greatest opportunity Athens-Clarke has ever had to address connectivity and quality-of-life issues for a large percentage of our population,” according to Complete Street Athens.
Without the SPLOST funding these projects would have to be paid for out of the general funds for transportation maintenance and rehabilitation and most of the projects on the list would be cut from the agenda if not for the special tax, according to Athens-Clarke County TSPLOST webpage.
The complete list of the funded projects will include:
- $1.5 million in matching funds for capital improvements to Athens – Ben Epps Airport that could potentially lead to a commercial airline service.
- $4 million to replace aging public transportation busses with electric busses.
- $500,000 to improve bus stop and transfer facilities outside of the downtown terminal.
- $940,000 to expand bus service out to the Kroger and Ingles on Hwy 29 just outside of North Athens.
- $10 million to improve the Oconee Rivers Greenway connectors and corridors.
- $16.7 million to expand the Firefly Trail to Winterville.
- $25.6 million for pavement rehabilitation and maintenance.
- $6 million to replace the Tallassee Road bridge over the CSX railway line.
- $4 million to add concrete medians, more sidewalks and intersection improvements to the Lexington Highway corridor.
- Another $4 million each for similar work on the Atlanta Highway and Prince Avenue corridor.
- $7 million to improve the downtown transportation infrastructure, such as sidewalks, repaving, storm drainage, and pedestrian safety improvements.
- $2.5 million for improvements to the intersection of Whitehall Road and South Milledge Avenue.
- $6 million to make bicycle travel more accessible through Athens.
- $11 million to make pedestrian travel safer.
- $4 million for pedestrian safety improvements in the West Broad area.
- $340,000 for the acquisition of private streets in need of maintenance.
- $960,000 to the City of Winterville for sidewalk and pavement rehabilitation.
- $270,000 going to the Town of Bogart for the same type of improvements as Winterville.
Many of the projects are already under construction and are intended to create more diverse transportation options for Athens residents and to ensure their safety while they travel.