Cobb to hire consultants to plan transit tax

Feb. 23—Cobb County commissioners are expected to vote next week on hiring three consultants to plan for a 2024 referendum on transit expansion in the county.

The hiring of the three firms — expected to cost taxpayers around $530,000 — comes ahead of a planned public outreach tour this year to begin pitching voters on the tax-hike referendum.

Working in conjunction with the Department of Transportation, the firms will be primarily tasked with developing a project list for the referendum.

County leaders, thus far, have given little indication of what that list might include, though Commissioner Jerica Richardson suggested in a recent interview with the MDJ that a heavy rail option is likely off the table.

But recent moves suggest the county will move toward a scenario favored by Chairwoman Lisa Cupid and her two Democratic colleagues, which would be a sales tax of up to 1% for up to 30 years to fund mass transit expansion.

Last May, the board's three Democrats said they favored that option, and the board voted unanimously in November to authorize staff to begin planning.

But the board's two Republicans — Commissioners JoAnn Birrell and Keli Gambrill — have expressed reservations about (if not outright opposition to) the 30-year transit proposal. They have instead favored a more limited five-year plan, with a sales tax of also up to 1%, that would lean into trails and road improvements over mass transit.

"I've said all along I can't support a 30-year tax for transit," Birrell told the MDJ in November.

If the three agenda items are approved Tuesday, the board would hire firms WSP USA, Kimley-Horn, and CDM Smith to guide planning for the referendum.

The fees each firm would receive are as follows:

—WSP USA: $207,205

—Kimley-Horn: $192,795

—CDM Smith: $129,839

Per the agenda items, WSP will be tasked with identifying "surface transportation" projects — i.e., trails and roadways — as well as developing cost estimates and public outreach materials. Kimley-Horn will focus on the financial considerations of the transit angle and developing a project timeline.

CDM Smith, finally, will examine the technical aspects of transit expansion, potential ridership, and competing for federal funding.

The board is expected to vote on the three agreements Tuesday at 7 p.m. at 100 Cherokee St. in Marietta.