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Regional transportation projects finalized

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POSTED: September 9, 2011 10:08 a.m.

With a unanimous vote Wednesday, the Coastal Regional Commission Regional Transportation Roundtable was the first in the state to approve its list of projects for next year’s Transportation Investment Act referendum.
“We have victory; thank you very much,” roundtable Chairman Jimmy Burnsed said as he tallied the group’s votes by counting hands raised with fingers in a V formation.
The victory symbol comes at the end of negotiating, deliberating and number crunching a budget of $1.2 billion to maximize region-wide infrastructure improvements, but the projects’ greatest hurdle now may come at the polls.
The projects will be combined in a single voter referendum that would levy a 1 percent sales tax throughout the region — 10 counties from Bulloch down to Camden — to fund transit improvements and construction.
According to a state economist estimate, the tax would raise about $1.6 billion in funds within the Coastal Region; 75 percent, or $1.2 billion, would go toward the infrastructure projects and the other 25 percent, about $400 million, would be dispersed among counties and cities for discretionary spending.
Despite efforts at the state level to push the referendum to the general election ballot in November 2012, the item still is scheduled to appear on the July 31 primary ballot, according to Todd Long, director of planning for the Georgia Department of Transportation.
If enacted, the tax would run until the end of the fiscal quarter in which $1.6 billion is collected or until 10 years has passed from the beginning of taxation, according to the bill. GDOT also is supplementing certain projects with $375 million in state funds.
If the referendum passes July 31, collections on the tax would begin in early 2013, Long said. If the region did not raise the projected amount by the 10-year end date, the projects would be scaled back in relation to the shortfall.
Since it began earlier this year, the Regional Transportation Roundtable Executive Committee has whittled down a long wish list of projects from more than $4 billion to today’s list, which has 75 improvements in the region and funds allocated according to population.
Last month, the group held two public meetings on the matter to inform voters and receive feedback. According to CRC Executive Director Allen Burns, the only written opposition the project list received was from a concerned business owner who felt improvements on DeRenne Avenue in Savannah would hurt commerce in the area.
Savannah Mayor Otis Johnson advised the roundtable that the project has been in the works for a long time and its benefits would outweigh the disadvantages. The project remained on the list.
Priority projects, such as construction of a Hinesville bypass from State Road 196/Leroy Coffer Road to Highway 84, still are on the list for Liberty County, which did not endure any major changes during the meeting.
Between tax revenues and state supplements, Liberty County would receive $175,711,414 for 12 projects, with various improvements along U.S. Highway 84 and State Road 119 and an expansion of Liberty Transit Services operations. Improvements also would be made to Barrington Ferry and Highway 17 and to two areas on Highway 119.
It also would include the widening of 15th Street from E.G. Miles Parkway to the Fort Stewart boundary, a $20,675,500 project.
The list has three projects in Long County. Two of them, the realigning and widening of Stafford Dairy Road from State Road 57 to U.S. Highway 84 and construction of an overpass on State Road 57, total $21,351,346.
An additional line on the Long County list allots $25 million in capital and operations for the Coastal Regional Coaches Rural Transit system that would alleviate each county’s local share for the next 10 years, meaning that the tax would subsidize the program in place of each county.
Under the current system, Liberty County pays $24,000 per year to subsidize the program, with the contribution from each county varying by rural population and program costs, according to information from Liberty County Finance Officer Kim McGlothlin and CRC Transportation Planner Ron Sadowski.
Riders still would have to pay to use the service, however.

 

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