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IDA may turn state road aid over to county
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The refrain didn’t change for the Effingham County transportation committee.

Members met with state transportation board chairman Bill Kuhlke Jr., who is also holding the chair for the 12th District seat until Rep. Bobby Parham can fill it. Kuhlke told members what they have heard for a while — “There’s no money out there, and there’s no money to come,” said Effingham Industrial Development Authority CEO John Henry.

“We at least needed an ear from the DOT,” Henry said. “I can’t say it was a productive meeting.”

Stymied on funding for overpass overhaul at I-16, the IDA may scrap some of the state aid it had planned for access improvement to its southern tract at Old River Road and I-16. The IDA is considering sending that money instead to the county for work needed on Highway 119 in front of the new Effingham County Middle School.

The IDA received a state aid grant of nearly $150,000 for its $800,000 project of widening the turning lane into the south tract. That work, under the state auspices, includes putting in a pedestrian crossing with a signal.

“The engineering has been done,” Henry said. “It’s complete, and it’s ready to go. We need to move on that project or let those dollars go to another project.”

Henry said the work, without state aid and then minus state guidelines, could be shaved down to around $20,000-$30,000. IDA Chairman Chap Bennett suggested that extra money could be used to put in turning lane improvements in front of the under-construction middle school on Highway 119.

“We need to be able to control the expenditure and the timing, not the DOT,” Henry said.

State lawmakers remained at loggerheads and couldn’t resolve the two versions of sales tax plans that would go toward funding transportation projects — a statewide levy championed by the House of Representatives and the Senate-approved regional sales tax plan.

“Neither funding mechanism got passed,” Henry noted.

Legislators did push through a plan to revamp control of the DOT, wresting much of the power away from the state transportation board.

“The Legislature has a certain portion of the funding they will be able to allocate,” Henry explained. “It’s hard to imagine 159 counties equally funding projects where they need to go.”

Henry said he and County Administrator David Crawley asked about the Old River Road overpass at I-16. The project is in the DOT’s list of long-term funding but wasn’t deemed ready for the first round of federal economic stimulus-backed items. They also learned it may not be ready for the second round.

The DOT has not reviewed it, Henry said of the I-16 work, and there was no contract for the DOT to set aside staff time to go over the plans.

“I don’t know what exactly what the hold up is,” he said. “We’ve been told for two and a half years that this project will be a priority if we took the initiative, and we did.”

Kuhlke, who has received the information on the I-16 project, told local transportation committee members that he will find out why the project has not been reviewed.

“We’ve been told for a year and a half that DOT was getting together a priority list,” Henry added. “The ones where the communities were stepping up were more likely not to be cut.”

“What I’m beginning to realize,” said Effingham County Commission Chairman Dusty Zeigler, “is we need to develop a professional presentation.”

Bennett praised the efforts of the local transportation group and held out optimism for its success.

“I think they’re going to be a big aid in getting some of our projects done,” he said. “It’s just unfortunate none of it is moving as fast as we want it to be moving. We’re going through some trying times with transportation. It’s a big learning curve.”