Nearly two dozen elected officials from Coastal Georgia met for the first time Wednesday to start brainstorming the region’s transportation needs, and the Bryan County Commission Chairman was chosen to lead the group.
Jimmy Burnsed was unanimously elected as the chairman of the Regional Transportation Roundtable during the group’s first meeting at the Quality Inn in Richmond Hill. The roundtable is comprised of 10 mayors and 10 county commission members from the 10 counties that make up the Coastal Georgia region.
There are 12 roundtables across the state. They were established in response to state legislation passed last year, called the Transportation Investment Act of 2010, which is designed to create jobs, make the roads safer and improve the state’s infrastructure and transportation networks.
The projects will be funded by a 10-year, 1 percent sales tax levy that will be decided by a voter referendum in August 2012, according to a presentation shown during Wednesday’s meeting.
An executive committee also was elected on Wednesday. Chatham County Commission Chairman Pete Liakakis, Liberty County Chairman John McIver, Glynn County Chairman Tom Sublett, Sylvania Mayor Margaret Evans and Kingsland Mayor Kenneth Smith were unanimously elected.
The executive committee is in charge of compiling a list of projects by August. Members of the roundtable have to approve the list by October. Voters will approve or deny the proposed 1 percent sales tax increase during the primary election in August 2012, according to a presentation facilitated by Todd Long, the director of planning for the Georgia Department of Transportation.
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, Long said.
Burnsed accepted his position as the committee’s chairman on the condition that the group must come to a consensus about the projects list.
“We will not have gridlock,” he said.
According to Wednesday’s presentation, if voters approve the sales tax, collection begins around three months after the August 2012 primary and funds will “start flowing” in early 2013. Coastal Georgia can raise $130,944,000 in 2013, and money collected in the district stays in the district and the GDOT is responsible for project delivery.
Long told roundtable members they have a lot of flexibility when choosing projects. However, the money is meant for projects that have been planned but not acted upon because there hasn’t been any funding, he said.
The projects can include paving new roads, widening roads, building or improving interchanges, interstate improvements, bridges, work on airport infrastructure, such as runways, bike lanes, bus and rail mass transportation systems, pedestrian facilities and ports.
Most transportation projects are funded by state and federal gas taxes and local money, Long said. The tax has been great, he said, but drivers have been buying more fuel-efficient vehicles over the years, leaving less money in the coffers for infrastructure.
Raising the gas tax has been “sort of a dirty word,” among legislators, so sales tax is the way to go to raise money, he added.
All Coastal Georgia Regional Roundtable meetings are open to the public. Go to www.it3.ga.gov/Pages/default.aspx for more information.