Earlier this month the 15 counties that make up the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission (NWGRC) released their “unconstrained” wish list of road projects to be paid for with a one-cent transportation sales tax being pushed by the Georgia DOT.
That means the 15 counties and nearly 50 cities included in the region were asked to submit any project, no matter the cost, to the state road department.
This T-SPLOST, made possible by the Transportation Investment Act of 2010 (HB 277), is an unprecedented attempt by the state to make up for a lack of transportation funding. All counties and cities in Georgia were divided into 12 regions based on regional commission boundaries for this legislation.
In 2012 Georgia voters in each region will be asked if they support the penny sales tax to improve various projects in their area.
One ugly problem we foresee for Pickens is that the wish list for our region totaled approximately $2.6 billion, more than double what projections say the 10-year SPLOST will collect in those 15 counties. This discrepancy means the pie-in-the-sky “unconstrained” list is headed for the chopping block, and at this point we are uncertain how Pickens will fare as the list is whittled down.
In June of this year, the GDOT will measure the projects lists against their established goals and will then give the unconstrained list to the regional commissions’ executive committees. Taking public input into consideration, in August of this year the executive committees will vote on a constrained list that will match the projected SPLOST revenues for the 10-year collection period.
Based on the goals outlined by GDOT it seems likely that as negotiations ensue it will be the projects that involve two or more counties that will foster more support in each region, and this may prove to be a pothole for Pickens.
Some of GDOT’s outlined goals for the projects include “provid[ing] border to border interregional connectivity,” and “support[ing] local connectivity to statewide transportation network,” according to www.it3.ga.gov, a government site where you can find more information about the transportation legislation.
Take, for example, widening Ga. 140 from U.S. 27 in Armuchee to I-75 in Adairsville, which is on the wish lists of Bartow, Chattooga and Floyd counties.
Where do these heavy hitting projects leave the small county of Pickens, which has submitted a wish list of projects that does not directly affect other counties? The most ambitious projects submitted here include four-laning Hwy 53 from Hwy 515 into Jasper ($55 million) and an east to west bypass from Philadelphia Road to the Tate/Marble Hill area ($38 million), both of which would be greatly beneficial to us, but not directly to neighboring counties.
If the SPLOST does pass in this region, money collected from the penny tax will be sent to the NWGRC and then redirected to the 15 counties they represent. How is Pickens going to stand up to larger counties like Bartow, Paulding, Whitfield and Floyd as this money is distributed? We also worry that if Pickens doesn’t do well in negotiations, we could end up putting more in the bucket than we get in return.
As Pickens County Commissioner Robert Jones said in an interview, wouldn’t it be simpler and more logical to have money collected in each county stay in that county?
There is no question that our regional commission will have a difficult task buffing the list into something voters in the 15-county region will support. As a caveat, we think GDOT is going to have its job cut out for them to convince voters in Pickens, where there is already a SPLOST, LOST and E-SPLOST in effect, that a regional transportation SPLOST is necessary.
It would be nice to have funding to update our road system here, but we certainly warn caution and plan to keep a watchful eye as the T-SPLOST journey continues.