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Looking down the road at T-SPLOST
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Next Wednesday, the executive committee of the Coastal Regional Roundtable is scheduled to meet to go over the projects on the wish lists of 10 counties.

It’s all part of the Transportation Investment Act guidelines. It used to be known as HB 277, before that bill became a measure about feral hog hunting in the most recent session of the General Assembly.

Under the Transportation Investment Act, Georgia voters will get to approve or turn down having an extra penny on their sales tax devoted to transportation improvements. Since the vote is done on a region-by-region basis, it could pass in one region and be put in place and not pass somewhere else and that region would have to come up with the money elsewhere to get its road or transit to-do list done.

The state economist’s projections call for the T-SPLOST to raise $1.6 billion over 10 years. Voters will decide next summer if they want to spend another penny in sales tax to go toward transportation projects. If they do, 75 percent of the sales tax proceeds will go toward those listed projects.

Of the 12 regions — the regions are based on membership of what are now called the regional commissions and used to be known as the regional development commissioners, or RDCs — the Coastal Georgia region is expected to raise the second-most amount of money. In fact, the economist’s projections put only four regions at over $1 billion in sales tax proceeds in 10 years. The Atlanta Regional Commission, understandably, is projected to have nearly $8.5 billion raised in transportation funding; $18.7 billion is anticipated to be collected statewide.

The executive committee — state Reps. Jon Burns and Ann Purcell and state Sen. Jack Hill serve as non-voting members of that group — will pare down that list, with help from state transportation planning director Todd Long. Long has visited Effingham County, and local leaders have met with him several times to make their cases for local transportation needs.

Public hearings will be held on the constrained list, and that list will go to the full roundtable by Aug. 15. The final list will be reviewed and approved by Oct. 15.

The executive committee is chaired by Jimmy Burnsed of Bryan County. The other members include Chatham County Commission Chairman Pete Liakakis, Liberty County Commission Chairman John McIver, Margaret Evans of Screven County, Kenneth Smith of Camden County and Glynn County Commission Chairman Tom Sublett.

How difficult is the job of paring down those items from the unconstrained list to make the constrained list? The price tag on the unconstrained list stands at $3.2 billion. That’s twice what’s supposed to be available for projects across the 10-county region.

Chatham County’s extensive unconstrained list, four dozen projects, carries a projected price tag of $1.42 billion. Suffice to say, not all of those projects will make the final cut.

Effingham’s unconstrained list is a limited collection — the four phases of the Georgia Portway/Effingham Parkway, the interchange at I-16 and Old River Road and relocating the stretch of Highway 119 from Highway 21 to Laurel Street in Springfield.

Phase 1 of the Portway/Parkway would go from Jimmy Deloach Parkway to Highway 30. It’s all in Chatham County but it’s on the Effingham unconstrained list at an estimated cost of $45 million. Phase 2, from Highway 30 to Blue Jay Road, will be about 6.3 miles of road at a cost of $35 million. Phase 3, at a price tag of $21.75 million, will be 7.5 miles of road from Blue Jay to Highway 119.

The final phase is the reworking of the Jimmy Deloach/I-95 interchange, at an estimated $24 million.

The existing interchange at I-16 and Old River Road would be widened and improved, if it’s approved, at a tab of $16 million. The half-mile stretch of Highway 119 from Highway 21 to Laurel Street would be re-located, if it gets the go-ahead on the list, at a cost of nearly $9 million.

Each project has to show a public benefit, such as ensuring safety and security, maximizing the value of Georgia’s assets and supporting economic growth and competitiveness.

There’s no telling what the executive committee will decide to push forward to the full roundtable. But the Effingham-submitted projects make a strong case on their own. Next year, voters will get a chance to say if they want these long-awaited and much-needed road projects to be on the fast track — or left on the side of the budgetary road.