COVINGTON - Newton County is getting a big chunk of stimulus dollars for transportation projects.
The county will receive more than $21 million for road improvements, according to a press release from Gov. Sonny Perdue's office and County Engineer Kevin Walter.
The lion's share of that money - $17 million - will go to the widening of Ga. Highway 142 from the new Wal-Mart to south of the intersection with U.S. Highway 278. The widening will pick up where the most recent widening project left off, at Sigman Veterinary Clinic.
Walter said the county has been fighting to get state and federal funding for that project for years. The Georgia Department of Transportation committed some funding but required a 20 percent local match, which the county could not afford, Walter said.
Now, the DOT has agreed to fund the entire project with stimulus dollars. The project is expected to be bid in November, with construction to start within 90 days after the bid is awarded.
"We're very pleased about that huge project," Walter said.
The county will also receive $1.5 million for improvements to Industrial Boulevard, including widening, resurfacing, drainage improvements and installation of sidewalks.
That project is part of $1.75 million allocated to Newton County by the Atlanta Regional Commission.
The ARC received $100 million in stimulus money and opted to give about half to MARTA to prevent the public transit system from shutting down one day a week, Walter said.
"The outlying counties that don't use MARTA didn't think that was right because they were taking money that could have gone to us and giving it to MARTA," Walter said.
The ARC responded by giving outlying counties priority when disbursing the remaining funding.
Newton County requested funding for two projects - $1.5 million for Industrial Boulevard and $250,000 for a roundabout at Turner Lake Road and Clark Street, which is a city of Covington project.
The ARC is in favor of roundabouts as a solution to traffic congestion and decided to give $650,000 in additional funds to the city, which will pay for the entire $900,000 construction cost of the roundabout.
"We didn't know that was going to happen. We just wanted to help the city," Walter said.
The county also will receive $1.06 million to add a traffic signal and turn lanes at the Salem and Spring roads intersection.
The state agreed to fund the project if the county would pay to move utilities and acquire rights of way. The county has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars during the last few years on right of way acquisition, Walter said.
The project went to bid Friday.
"We really are benefiting from the stimulus money. Everybody's been asking, 'Where's our share?' We have gotten a great share of that money," he said.
But noticeably absent from stimulus projects is what many residents of Newton County consider to be the most pressing transportation concern: Salem Road.
The reason is that the project has come to a halt. The state has stopped the design work while trying to figure out the best way to proceed, Walter said. The project is expected to cost $50 million on the Newton County side alone, not including the cost for the portion that falls in Rockdale County.
"All these other projects are ready to build. Salem Road is not ready to build because the state stopped progress on it," Walter said.
Crystal Tatum can be reached at email@example.com.