The Walton County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors strongly supports passage of the upcoming regional T-SPLOST referendum on July 31st. As the voice of almost 500 businesses throughout Walton County, the Chamber feels the referendum will not only provide critical transportation funding for some long awaited projects in Walton County, but will also enhance economic development and job creation throughout northeast Georgia.
Over the past several weeks I have had an opportunity to meet with many local business owners and civic groups to discuss T-SPLOST. The one thing I have learned is that many local citizens still have a lot of questions about the upcoming referendum. I would like to take an opportunity to present the Chamber’s perspective on T-SPLOST, and what it means for the citizens of Walton County and northeast Georgia.
The Transportation Investment Act (TIA) of 2010 provided for the creation of 12 distinct regions across the State of Georgia. Walton County is located in the northeast Georgia region along with Newton, Barrow, Jackson, Oconee, Athens-Clarke, Jasper, Morgan, Greene, Oglethorpe, Madison and Elbert County. On July 31, 2012, voters in each region will decide whether they want to add a one percent sales tax to fund transportation projects within their region. If passed in northeast Georgia, the money that is raised in our region stays in our region, and WILL NOT be used to fund projects in Metro Atlanta or other regions.
So what’s in it for Walton County? Well quite a lot actually, including approximately $156,000,000 in direct transportation investment over the next ten years. Here is a list of the key projects.
Highway 138 Widening: $74,055,000
Widening to four lanes from Monroe to Walnut Grove. Most of us have been stuck behind someone doing 30 mph and/or have witnessed many accidents on this section of road. This project will both enhance highway capacity and traffic safety along this critical corridor.
Monroe Bypass: $21,720,000
Provides for the completion of the southern leg of the Monroe Bypass beginning at Unisia Drive (SR 83), and extending south crossing Old Monroe-Madison Road, Pannell Road, and connecting to Highway 11 south of Monroe near Meadows Funeral Home and the Industrial Park area. This project has been on the wish list for over a decade, and will serve to alleviate truck traffic in downtown Monroe and provide increased connectivity in this area of the County.
Highway 20 Widening: $24,470,000
Widening of Highway 20 through the City of Loganville, including one-way traffic to ease congestion through sections of the historic downtown area. This project will alleviate congestion, enhance traffic safety, and improve north-south traffic flow through Loganville. The Chamber feels this project is also critical to sustaining the vibrant Loganville business community.
Highway 81 Corridor Improvements: $5,540,000
Improvements to 10 major intersections from Walnut Grove to Loganville to Bold Springs. These include widening, additional turn lanes, or traffic signals at each intersection. The intersections include Highway 81 at Cannon Farm Road, at Highway 138 in Walnut Grove, at Guthrie Cemetery Road near WGHS, at Youth Jersey Road near Youth Middle School, at Youth-Monroe and Center Hill Church Road near Youth Elementary School, at Highway 78 near Maxie Price Chevrolet and Loganville Middle School, at Ozora Church Road, at Bullock Bridge Road, at Double Springs Road, and at Bold Springs Road. If you travel the Highway 81 corridor on a regular basis, I am confident you will agree that each one of these projects is critically needed.
West Spring Street and Highway 138 Intersection Improvements: $2,510,000
Ever waited in line for what seemed like an eternity on the Highway 78 off ramp to Highway 138 in Monroe? This is one of the busiest intersections in the County anchored by Wal-Mart, Chic-fil-a, McDonalds and Liberty First Bank. This project will help alleviate that congestion by providing two thru lanes from the Highway 78 off ramp to Highway 138. It will also include two left turn lanes from West Spring Street onto Highway 138. This project will serve to alleviate peak hour traffic delays thru this busy intersection, enhance traffic safety, and improve access to and from local businesses in the area.
Highway 78/Highway 11 Interchange: $4,860,000
If you use this intersection on a regular basis, making a left hand turn onto Highway 11 north is a bit like playing a real life version of the video game “frogger”. This project will widen and improve the on and off ramps at US 78 and Highway 11, improve access to Mayfield Drive, and also serve as a major component of the Monroe Bypass project by conveying truck traffic from Highway 11 to Highway 83/Unisia Drive.
Local Discretionary Funds: $24,000,000
Under the T-SPLOST program, 25% of all revenue generated will be returned directly to the local County and City governments for their use on local projects over the ten year period. These funds will be split between the County and the seven incorporated Cities in Walton County based on a formula of population and total road miles. The Cities of Monroe, Loganville, Social Circle, Walnut Grove, Between, Good Hope and Jersey will each receive their pro rata share of local funds. These funds must be used for transportation projects including patching, resurfacing, intersection improvements, signage, signals, or other transportation related projects. With limited State and Federal assistance, these local discretionary funds will provide our County and Cities with the resources to address many needed improvements throughout Walton County.
We can probably all agree that these projects are critically needed, but why do we need another sales tax to get them done? First, State and Federal funding assistance for transportation projects has been declining for over a decade. Georgia is the third fastest growing state in the nation, but we rank 49th in transportation investment per capita (per person). Plain and simple, Georgia’s growth has exceeded our transportation funding sources. Each of the critical LOCAL projects listed above are on the “list” for future funding, but all of them are scheduled 10 to 20 years in the future due to project prioritization and limited available funding.
Why can’t the State just raise the motor use fuel tax to generate the needed revenue? Our State Legislature has been unwilling to adjust the fuel excise tax over the last 20 years. Consider that our excise tax on gas is 7.5 cents per gallon, compared to 30.15 cents per gallon in North Carolina. Even a slight adjustment in the motor fuel tax could provide a tremendous amount of increased transportation funding, but the solution the State Legislature has given us with T-SPLOST may be more beneficial to suburban counties like Walton. Due to the distribution formula Walton County will receive $15.6 million per year on the 1% T-SPLOST, while our local SPLOST and ELOST programs only generate approximately $10 million per year. That’s a pretty good deal for Walton County any way you look at it.
But where is Georgia DOT spending all our current transportation funds? Georgia DOT must balance transportation spending among the State’s congressional districts. The State Transportation Improvement Program prioritizes projects across the State for available funding, but none of the above projects are on the short list. Consider that in the past decade only two significant State/Federal projects have been completed in Walton County. They are the first leg of the Social Circle Bypass and the Highway 81 bridge over the Alcovy River. The State and Federal motor use fuel taxes will continue to fund critical transportation projects across the State, but the T-SPLOST program will provide each successful region with a tremendous opportunity to fast track critical local projects that have been put on the shelf due to funding limitations.
Can we wait 10-20 years to fix dangerous intersections on Highway 81? Can we wait another 10 years for the completion of the Monroe Bypass? Can we wait another 10-15 years to alleviate congestion through Loganville or improve traffic flow on Highway 138? The Walton County Chamber of Commerce feels the TSPLOST referendum provides a tremendous opportunity for us to invest in the future of Walton County, improve traffic safety, enhance the local economy, and create jobs. With the recent location announcements by Caterpillar and Baxter Pharmaceutical, northeast Georgia has emerged as a leader in economic development and job creation for the State of Georgia.
Let’s continue that trend in Walton County by voting YES for T-SPLOST on July 31st.
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