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Voters to have say on T-SPLOST

Sometime during 2012, voters in Decatur County and across Georgia will have the chance to vote on a proposed 1-cent sales tax that would be used to fund transportation projects.

Voters in 12 regions across the state will weigh in on a proposed transportation tax in a primary election to be held July 2012. The proposed tax would not necessarily be state-wide; one region could vote for it and another could vote against it. No cities or counties would be permitted to be exempt from the tax if it is approved in their region. If approved, the tax would have to be renewed after 10 years.

During a special legislative session held earlier this month, legislators used part of the time to debate whether or not to move the vote to the general election next November. However, no agreement was reached, according to Governor Nathan Deal’s office, and it’s likely the issue will be brought up again when the legislature holds its general session in January.

The project list

Decatur County Proposed T-SPLOST Project List, Maps and Descriptions (PDF)

The Southwest Georgia Regional Transportation roundtable was set up by the legislature to develop a proposed project work list if voters in the region approve the tax. Among the criteria for project selection was that projects have to be able to be completed within 10 years.

• Bainbridge public transit and Ride Share parking—total cost of $2.4 million; the project would entail construction of a public Ride Share parking lot on city-owned property located at Cheney Griffin Park, next to the city’s planned riverside walkway. “Ride Share parking provides commuters with an opportunity to save time and money, as well as decrease traffic and air pollution.”

• Whigham Dairy Road widening/reconstruction—total project cost of $11 million; would widen, level and resurface the road and designate it as an official truck route. The route is listed as the City of Bainbridge’s and Decatur County’s “number one priority project due to the high volume of agricultural and commercial traffic and the associated safety concerns.” The project would aim to redirect truck traffic from downtown Bainbridge.

• College Road improvements—total project cost $447,000; project would resurface 1.7 miles of roadway and add 3,000 feet of turn lane in an effort to improve safety and reduce congestion.

• Butler Ferry Road resurfacing—total project cost $434,077; project would restore and preserve existing pavement, which is in “dire need of resurfacing,” on this highly-used truck route.

• Faceville-Attapulgus Road improvements—widen the road by two feet on each side with leveling and resurfacing to be done from Georgia 302 to U.S. 27 South; the project would aim to increase the safety of this connector road.

• Commodore One rail extension—total project cost of $1.48 million; project aims to “maximize the full utility of an existing transportation facility” and enhance the industrial park’s capabilities for handling freight and logistics needs.

• Commodore Industrial Park connectivity route—total project cost of $6 million; project would entail construction of a three-lane road in the second phase of the Commodore Industrial Park in Bainbridge. The project has the same goals as the rail extension.

Developing the project list

The roundtable held a series of meetings since last December to develop the final proposed project list for the region. The list went through three stages: the Georgia Department of Transportation first developed an example “unconstrained” list with no limit on project costs using local input.

The roundtable’s Executive Committee, in collaboration with Paul Forgey, Planning Director of the Southwest Georgia Regional Commission, produced a draft “constrained” list that prioritized projects based on their regional importance and the feasibility to fund them with the tax’s estimated revenue in mind.

The draft was submitted for the full roundtable’s consideration on August 15; the roundtable has to meet and give final approval to the list by Oct. 15.

Decatur County members on the roundtable are County Board of Commissioners Chairman Butch Mosely and Bainbridge Mayor Edward Reynolds.

Mayor Reynolds and Cairo Mayor Richard Vanlandingham are voting members on the roundtable’s executive committee; Jeff Sinyard of Albany, Ga., is the roundtable’s chairman. State Sen. John Bulloch is a non-voting member of the executive committee.

How ‘T-SPLOST’ would work

The Transportation Investment Act of 2010, passed by the Georgia Legislature last year, set up the process by which money from the proposed tax could be spent on projects.

If the one-cent regional tax, known as T-SPLOST, is approved, 75 percent of proceeds will be used to fund projects on a final list approved by a regional roundtable. The roundtable’s members are comprised of state representatives and local elected officials defined by the Transportation Investment Act.

Twenty-five percent of the tax’s proceeds would be given back to local governments. Local distribution would be determined by a formula based on one-fifth population, four-fifths lane miles. In the area covered by the Southwest Georgia Regional Commission, there are 14 counties and 44 cities, each of whom would get a share.

Decatur County Proposed T-SPLOST Project List, Maps and Descriptions (PDF)