ATLANTA – Sen. Lester Jackson said Monday he is sponsoring a pair of bills, one controversial and one not so.

The contentious proposal would allow the Chatham Area Transit to extend operations to the area around the Tanger Outlets. He said the stores will be hiring 900 people and a shopping center across the street has employees that could also benefit from the buses.
The senator, who uses mass transit in Atlanta and Savannah, suggested the extension because the businesses are in a tax-free, enterprise zone which eliminates one of the major objections other parts of the county have raised as they’ve sought to block new bus routes.

“How can you refuse public transportation when you don’t have to pay for it?” he asked.

Asked about fears car drivers have of being stuck behind buses, Jackson said the traffic would be worse if all of those workers were in separate vehicles.

Other obstacles are also in the way of Jackson’s proposal.

Rep. Ron Stephens, the Savannah Republican who chairs the local legislative delegation, said he prefers to be asked first by the people involved.

“It should be a request by the businesses in the area,” he said.

Stephens also questioned the timing. The House passed a budget that sets aside $100 million in bonds next year for transit systems and a funding bill that earmarks a new $200 fee that electric-car owners will pay each year. Stephens said both will mean a major adjustment that should be absorbed first.

And CAT isn’t rushing to support Jackson’s idea either.

Mike Vaquer, who represents the transit system as a lobbyist, said its board prefers to complete a study underway about the costs of different potential extensions.

“We’re not sure of what the economics of a new district would be,” he said.

A consultant is evaluating the expense and potential ridership income of various new routes. Plus, public input is being sought during meetings this month in Pooler and Garden City.

Another board objection to having the legislature create a new service district is that it could require legislative approval for future changes when the county commission already has the power to develop new districts, according to Vaquer.

On the noncontroversial side of things, Jackson is also sponsoring Senate Bill 209 that was introduced Thursday. It shifts the county commission and school board districts of four downtown blocks and about 300 residents.

He said it was sought by two county commissioners and two school board members to sort out an oversight during the last wholesale redistricting of the county.

“They all requested it, and it’s a simple change,” Jackson said.

Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, said he has no problem with the adjustment.

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