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Panel weighing regional transportation needs

POSTED: June 8, 2011 12:46 p.m.

The group charged with whittling down a hefty list of regional transportation projects meets today to begin figuring out which projects get funding if voters approve a 1 percent sales tax next year.
The executive committee of the Coastal Georgia Regional Roundtable meets at noon at the Richmond Hill City Center.
Jimmy Burnsed, Bryan County commission chairman and roundtable executive committee chairman, said he doesn’t expect many decisions to be made during today’s meeting. He does expect plenty of discussion.
“We will be doing a cursory look at (the project list), with the goal of trying to reduce it down to $1.5 billion (worth of work),” Burnsed said.
Each county in the region, Bryan, Bulloch, Camden, Chatham, Effingham, Glynn, Liberty, Long, McIntosh and Screven, sent their own unconstrained wish list of transportation needs earlier this year to state Department of Transportation planning director Todd Long.
All the projects totaled somewhere around $4.5 billion, and Long said he’s spent the past few months trying to cut out some of the projects that could be considered “too local” or inappropriate for what is supposed to be a regional list.
“In Bryan County, the Greenway project is a good example of a project that I didn’t include,” he said. “It doesn’t mean it’s not a good project, but it’s recreational in my mind and not suitablefor this list.”
Long said ultimately, he’s been trying to make things a little easier for the executive committees. Still, the lists for each region total around two to three times more than the 1 percent tax is expected to produce, he said.
The executive committee has until Aug. 15 to come up with a list of transpiration projects that total around $1.5 billion. Then that list must be approved by the full roundtable sometime in October. The projects on the final list will be funded by a 10-year, 1 percent sales tax levy that will be decided by a voter referendum in August 2012.
If members of the roundtable cannot agree on a list of projects, a gridlock is declared and roundtable members cannot vote on a new list for two years.
All of this is part of the Transportation Investment Act of 2010, which was passed by the General Assembly last year and is intended to create jobs, make the roads safer and improve the state’s infrastructure and transportation networks.
If voters approve the sales tax, collection would begin around November 2012 and funds would start flowing in early 2013. Coastal Georgia could raise nearly $131 million in 2013. Local governments would retain 25 percent of the tax for more local projects and the rest would go toward the regional needs.
Long explained that the distribution of that 25 percent of the tax is determined by population and land miles in the counties. Based on those factors, Bryan County, Pembroke and Richmond Hill governments could get a total of around $1.7 million for local roads projects that didn’t make it on the regional list.
“Bryan County – even though it’s not one of the bigger counties, it does have some major regional projects,” Long said, citing the widening of Hwy. 144 and upgrades to the I-95/Hwy. 144 interchange as just two examples.
“I’m feeling real good about Coastal Georgia,” he said. “We’re watching 12 regions, and Coastal Georgia has their act together. I think they’ve produced a really solid list of projects.”

 

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