MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. — Another tough question looms for voters when they return to the polls Tuesday, May 22, for the Georgia General Primary.
The question: Whether to approve or reject a special referendum calling for an extra 1-cent Transportation-Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (T-SPLOST). The referendum, if approved, would bring in millions of tax dollars into the Middle Georgia Region to help fund various road projects in Milledgeville and Baldwin County, as well as several other surrounding counties.
Eric Wilkinson, TIA regional coordinator with the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), attended the Baldwin County Board of Commissioners’ meeting Tuesday night where he provided an update about the proposed T-SPLOST.
In 2012, voters in three regions approved a special 1-cent tax hike for transportation projects, and collections started in 2013 for the 10-year special funded tax program.
“We currently have 419 projects completed out of the 871 projects,” Wilkinson said, noting its the halfway mark of the specialized tax program. “So, you can see it’s a big program for three regions, and that’s why I think here in Middle Georgia, it could benefit this region.”
Wilkinson explained that the projects had been split into three different bands and that GDOT had been tasked with delivering those projects within the period of those bands. He said the projects were separated into three bands for reasons of cash-flow.
“It’s no coincidence that the two regions that are voting in May are touching these three regions in some part,” Wilkinson said.
When it comes to the upcoming T-SPLOST vote, voters in Milledgeville and Baldwin County will help to decide the fate of it along with voters in 10 other counties that form the Middle Georgia Region.
Wilkinson pointed out that all of the money collected within a region stays within that particular region.
“It does not go to Atlanta, like a lot of people think,” Wilkinson said. “This money stays in the region, and it will deliver the projects that are on the list. And anything that’s left over, goes back to the region.”
Any excess money would be used for LARP (Local Assistance Road Program) projects, he added.
A roundtable executive committee helps coordinate the project list within a region.
In the Middle Georgia Region, the executive committee chairman is Baldwin County Commissioner Sammy Hall.
“These guys have worked really hard getting a (project) list together,” Wilkinson said. “One of your owner commissioners was there to represent Baldwin County’s interests.”
Wilkinson said executive committee members had been working on establishing a project list for the last six months.
The list began with a lot of projects, but it obviously had to be scaled down to get within a workable GDOT budget, Wilkinson said.
In the three regions that approved T-SPLOST back in 2012, collections to date show that $700 million has been collected, Wilkinson told commissioners and several local residents that attended the commission meeting earlier this week.
“It’s a big program and we manage the money,” Wilkinson said. “It’s a reimbursable program so you get billed by the contractor; you pay it, and we reimburse you. It’s a pretty good program.”
In a slide presentation, Wilkinson shared some of the projects that have taken place in the Augusta-Richmond County area, including major renovations around the famed Augusta National Golf Course, off Washington Road, where The Masters golf tournament, considered the most prestigious golf tournament in the world, is played.
Wilkinson also talked about ways that some of the discretionary money has been spent on in the three regions that approved T-SPLOST several years ago.
A lot of it has been used for resurfacing roads, adding crosswalks near schools, signage, etc.
“There’s a lot of good things going on with just the discretionary money,” Wilkinson said.
When it comes to Baldwin County, there are four projects on the proposed list, Wilkinson said.
“And they total right over $28 million,” Wilkinson said.
One of the projects is Kings Road safety enhancements. A four-way stop is planned at the intersection of Kings and Stembridge roads, he said.
In addition, both roads will be widened by two feet on both sides. Guardrails also will be installed where GDOT officials feel it will benefit motorists traveling that area of Baldwin County.
Wilkinson said Log Cabin Road also would be widened from two lanes to four lanes under the proposed plan.
“It will tie into North Jefferson Street widening from two-lanes into four-lanes and then tie into Dunlap Road where it will go from two-lanes to three-lanes with a turn lane,” Wilkinson said.
The goal is to alleviate some of the traffic that passes along U.S. Highway 441.