FORSYTH COUNTY — The Forsyth County commissioner took a big step Thursday morning toward holding a referendum on a transportation bond.
During a called meeting, commissioners voted 5-0 to send a letter to the state Department of Transportation outlining several projects the county would like to work together on to fund.
Commissioners are strongly considering putting the bond referendum on the ballot for the Nov. 4 General Election.
On Tuesday, County Attorney Ken Jarrard explained that the letter is needed to establish an agreement between the two parties.
“If the board of commissioners is inclined to authorize a general obligation bond referendum in November for transportation projects, we may want to have something formal in place with GDOT indicating that if we can come up with this funding, they will in fact partner with us to also partially fund or contribute toward these road projects,” he said.
A transportation committee, made up of some commissioners and county staff, has been exploring the possibility of a transportation bond for some time. It’s still in the process of finalizing the list of projects that would go before the voters, as well as the total amount of the proposed bond program.
The letter approved Thursday outlines six projects that likely would be funded through a combination of bond money and state and federal funding.
They include the widening of Ga. 400 from McFarland Parkway to Hwy. 369 by adding one lane in each direction, as well as widening Post Road from two to four lanes between Hwy. 9 and Kelly Mill Road, and Hwy. 369 from between Hwys. 9 and 306.
Other projects include construction of a “continuous flow intersection” at Hwy. 369 and Ga. 400, and a “full-diamond interchange” on Ga. 400 at McGinnis Ferry Road.
The latter project would add a north and southbound auxiliary lane on Ga. 400 between the Windward Parkway and the McGinnis Ferry Road ramps, and between the McGinnis and the McFarland ramps. Southbound 400 would be widened by one lane at the McFarland exit.
The letter lists Forsyth’s proposed portion of the six projects at $81 million, with another $5 million coming from the state and another $133 million in federal funds.
However, those figures likely will change. According to Jarrard, the letter is simply a starting point for a possible partnership.
“This letter is a success if it results in a response from GDOT that says, ‘Yes, we will commit to this at this point; let’s work together on an [intergovernmental agreement],’” he said.
Also during the called meeting, commissioners touched on some other projects that could be placed on the bond referendum list, as well as the bond’s possible total, which could be $200 million over 20 years.
The other projects include improvements to McFarland, McGinnis Ferry, Union Hill and Old Atlanta roads in south Forsyth, and Pilgrim Mill Road from the Cumming city limits to Freedom Parkway, among others.
In addition, funding might be set aside for various intersection and safety improvements across Forsyth.
According to figures from county staff, a $200 million bond would equal a tax increase of about $128 per year on a $250,000 home, or $185 for a $350,000.
Chairman Pete Amos asked his fellow commissioners if they felt comfortable with that number.
“I think so,” Brian Tam said. “I think if we don’t knock out some of these lingering projects now, we’re going to have a real problem.”
Added Todd Levent: “People will pay more than that in gas, sitting idling in traffic.”
Jim Boff was “a little uncomfortable with the size of this.”
“It seems too big to me,” he said. “But, I’m not necessarily opposed to it. I will be very keen to hear, if I can, what people think of it.”
Tam added that he doesn’t believe the cost would be out of line based on the fact that Forsyth continues to rapidly add population and the accompanying traffic congestion.
“I think it’s important as the seventh-fastest growing county [in the nation], to look at some of the things the other six [counties] are doing,” he said. “This [type of bond] is not uncommon. There’s a community in Texas that’s going out for their second $250 million transportation bond.”
Members of the transportation committee will meet again at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday to resume finalizing the project list. They are scheduled to bring it to the full commission Aug. 12, the date by which it must be approved to make the November ballot.