ST. SIMONS ISLAND — The Effingham Parkway likely won’t look like the design submitted a few years ago, with a tie-in to the Jimmy Deloach Parkway. But even with a scaled-back version, finding the money to complete the work may not be easy, Effingham County community leaders learned Thursday.
Effingham County interim administrator Toss Allen and Brad Saxon of the Georgia Department of Transportation discussed transportation issues and challenges, most of which stem from a lack of funding.
Allen pointed out that the Effingham Parkway, as drawn up to be built with transportation special purpose local option sales tax funds, was going to cost approximately $120 million. But when TSPLOST failed to gain approval from a majority of voters in a 10-county region, planners went back to the drawing board for a reconfigured parkway.
“We don’t have $120 million to fund this,” he said. “As you look at it, it’s a $38 million project, which puts it back in the realm of reality that we can deliver this project.”
The new proposal brings a two-lane road to an end at Highway 30, rather than going all the way to Jimmy Deloach Parkway at Interstate 95 in Pooler.
“There is a fundamental shift in the actual look and geometry,” Allen said. “However, it will serve the same function.”
The length of the proposed route is cut roughly in half, Allen added, down to 6.4 miles. It also cuts down on the need for a federal environmental impact statement, since the impacts on wetlands are reduced greatly. Instead of four lanes, it will be two laneswide, with two 12-foot wide paved lanes and bike lanes that are six feet in width. Allen said the road will be built to accommodate tractor-trailers and they will try to limit the number of curb cuts along its length.
McCall Road will be turned into the northern extension of the Effingham Parkway, and the intersections of McCall and Highway 21 at the northern end and McCall and Courthouse roads will have to be reworked. There will be traffic signals at its end with Highway 30, and the road will have a connection to Jimmy Deloach Parkway.
“It’s just not the same route as before,” Allen said, “and there are no flyovers. It still has the original intent. Some of these things have to happen, but it does get us traveling that way, and I believe it will relieve some of the congestion on 21.”
Turn lanes will be installed at the parkway’s intersections with Blue Jay, Goshen and Walter Tuten roads, and with Highway 30. Chatham County also has put out a bid to have Benton Boulevard extended from its current end at Highlands Avenue. The challenge there, Allen said, is determining if Effingham can spend its own SPLOST dollars in another county for a project that benefits its residents.
“They are committed to delivering that project,” he said. “We have been working with their staff. They are willing to work with us.”
The project could be let for bid in late 2017, and that could coincide with the project being put on a list of work to be supported by another round of SPLOST. The parkway is not part of the current SPLOST.
“So between now and ’17 our challenge is to work on funding for this,” Allen said.
Less money, more problems
Saxon said the state has more needs and road work on its table than it can find funding to support. The state gets $1 billion from the motor fuel taxes, and another $1.2 billion returned from the federal government and $15 million from the state’s general fund budget. The $1 billion in fuel taxes the state receives now is equivalent to $790 million in 2003 dollars, Saxon said.
“We’re basically stagnant in what we’re investing in transportation,” he said.
The state also projects to collect less in fuel taxes in the years to come, according to Saxon, since drivers are driving less and the federal government has enacted the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFÉ, standards that stipulate cars need to get 61 miles per gallon by 2025.
“If you’re traveling less, you’re using less gas and you’re sending less gas tax,” Saxon said. “It’s not a sustainable source of revenue.”
State Rep. Jon Burns, a former state transportation board member and current member of the House Transportation Committee, said the state has projected $160 billion in transportation needs from 2005-35. But the current revenue streams are expected to bring in only about $86 billion.
“What we’re collecting on gas tax is going down all the time,” he said. “We need to look at a new way of funding transportation infrastructure.”
Burns said regional TSPLOSTs have been explored as possibilities, along with P3s, which are public-private partnerships. He also said toll roads are not an option for some areas and though toll roads are more efficient and faster for getting a driver from one point to another, there also needs to be an alternative to the toll.
“Georgia is all about transportation,” he said. “These are things we need to look at. We can’t depend on Washington. Something has to be done how we pay our money into the fed and get it back. The gridlock in Washington is gridlocking the whole country. A short-term fix on the federal gas tax is really not dependable.”
Though the counties of the Coastal Regional Commission turned down the TSPLOST, it passed in three other areas, including River Valley around Columbus. The 10-year-long, 1-percent sales tax devoted to transportation will bring in $300 million, Burns said. Sam Welborn, who on the state transportation board represents the congressional district that has Columbus, said TSPLOST is “like manna from heaven,” Burns added.
The governments in the River Valley Regional Commission decided to spend their local 25 percent share from TSPLOST on bridges, according to Burns.
“It’s going like gangbusters,” he said. “It’s working very well over there. It’s economic progress and economic development.”
A General Assembly joint study committee on critical transportation infrastructure funding will meet Oct. 1 in Savannah at 6 p.m.
“We need to be there and make our voices heard,” Burns said.
Other county projects
Allen also discussed the county’s continuing efforts to improve many of the failing or disintegrating ash roads in the county.
“We’re trying to make some progress in repairing those,” he said.
The county has completed 20 miles of repairs on 21 roads and recently awarded the bid for repairs on 20 more miles on 10 ash roads.
“We hope to get those done this year,” Allen said. “We’ll get to as many as we possibly can before the cold weather moves in. It may move over into the spring.”
Much like the state, the county also has to map out how to spend its resources on road repairs.
“We have a $7 million worth of road repairs and a $2 million budget,” Allen said. “We’re trying to figure out how to make all of this work. One of the holdups we have is trying to figure out how to make our dollars last for all the road work we have.”
The state Department of Transportation is working on a roundabout for the intersection of Highways 17 and 119 in Guyton, Allen said, and construction is scheduled for 2016. The DOT also has finished a feasibility study on a single-lane roundabout for Highway 275 and Old Augusta Road.
Rebuilding the interchange at I-16 and Old River Road also is in the works. The county is funding right-of-way acquisition and planning and engineering, and construction documents could be ready by July 2016.
That work is not currently in the statewide transportation improvement program for funding. However, it could move into STIP consideration if another project elsewhere slated for state funding falls through.
“I’m confident our friends at GDOT will help us out,” Allen said.