Local leaders eye projects for 2012 transportation tax
by Mark Andrews
Apr 21, 2011 | 2847 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bartow County recently sent to the Georgia Department of Transportation its unconstrained list of potential projects to be funded through a 1-cent transportation sales tax that will be up for vote in 2012.

County Administrator Steve Bradley said an unconstrained list consists of any eligible projects that could be considered to be on the ballot. However, there are three projects Bradley said will likely be on the constrained list of projects, which are a county's target projects.

"As far as the Old Alabama-[Highway] 113 connector, that would be our top priority," Bradley said. "Once that's completed, along with the 113 improvements, then you'll have a continuous four-lane road from [Highway] 278 in Rockmart to I-75 in Bartow County. ... .the [State Route] 20 project would be our next priority, which goes from a four-lane widening project from I-75 to [Highway] 411, and its new location would be intersecting at the traffic signal at People's Valley Road."

He added, "The 411 connector is an improvement that's very much needed to relieve a lot of congestion on 20 and Highway 41. Both of those roads have also had a lot of incidents as well as a number of fatalities, so it's a safety issue along with a congestion issue."

Commissioner Clarence Brown serves on the executive committee as well as the regional round table of 30 commissioners and mayors, joined by Cartersville Mayor Matt Santini, that will decide which projects will show up on the constrained list of projects that will be up for vote. Brown said although the tax is new, it's the only option counties have for many road improvement projects in which they've already made investments.

"[The Georgia Department of Transportation] finished Phase II of Old Alabama, and they didn't have the money to finish Phase III, and I want to see that road complete," Brown said. "The county has money tied up in that project and we also have money in the Highway 20 project, and I would like to see that road finished too by DOT. ... We had a contract with DOT in which we spent a certain amount of money and they would take [the project] over and finish it, but the problem with that is they don't have the money and this is a way for them to get the money. How that's going to go, I don't know, because it is a new tax. I know our SPLOST is an important tax for us, and they're being passed all around."

Bradley said the planning director at GDOT will look at the unconstrained list and make recommendations. The list will then go to the executive board and then to the round table for final adoption.

He said also included in the review process for each region is a five-person citizen panel appointed by the governor and lieutenant governor.

"There will be negotiations between the municipalities and county governments over the projects that will make it on the final list, but I expect at least [the three projects mentioned] to be included."

Bradley explained if a county's project is voted down, there still will be Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant funds from the state that can be used to fund the project. These funds replace the original Local Assistance Road Program funds.

"The state has been running out of transportation dollars for quite some time. There's just not enough state aid money to go around to all of the projects, there's not enough federal aid to go around to all of the projects, and the state has considered legislation for a number of years on how to get transportation dollars. ... And [the tax] was, for lack of better words, the compromised bill that finally passed through the state legislature."

A regional transportation tax is brand new to the state, with local transportation funding requests originally being scrutinized by GDOT rather than local panels.

"It's different," Bradley said. "We've never done this before, but we're working with the other partners in our region to come up with a list of transportation projects because we know there won't be enough state funds to get to all these projects for a long, long time."

Bradley added, "We favored the process that wouldn't have been where some regions get the dollars and others are not, but in one sense I guess it's in our voter's hands whether or not they support doing the projects in our region."

Santini said he couldn't comment whether the new tax would be a positive or negative, but agreed with county officials that there is a continuous need for more transportation funding.

"Whether you agree with [the tax] or not, this is what the state has laid out and asked us to go through this process," Santini said. "My role is to go through this process and do as much good as we can for Cartersville and Bartow County."