Newton could get $120M from T-SPLOST

COVINGTON - Newton County could stand to receive more than $120 million for road projects if the Transportation SPLOST is approved for the Northeast Georgia region in 2012.

A constrained list of projects was recently released, with the following Newton County projects included:

Brown Bridge Road Widening - Entails the widening of Brown Bridge Road from two to four lanes from its intersection with Crowell Road to the intersection with Salem Road, a distance of 3.3 miles. The total project cost is $25 million, with $7 million to be funded through T-SPLOST.

Covington Municipal Airport Improvements - A new terminal building, navigational aids, lighting, a southeast apron and fuel farm, at a cost of $6.6 million.

Crowell Road Widening - The road would be widened from two to four lanes from its interchange with I-20 to Brown Bridge Road. The project includes a bridge/culvert over a tributary of the Yellow River. The total project would be funded through T-SPLOST at $31,782,683.

Widening of Eagle Drive from Ga. Highway 36 to U.S. Highway 278 at a total cost $32,754,420.

Adding turn lanes on Industrial Boulevard and widening shoulders would be partially funded at $7.8 million; the total project cost is $9,799,200.

The widening of Salem Road from two to six lanes and providing signal controlled intersections at major intersections from Brown Bridge to Old Salem Road would be fully funded at $34,317,452.

Closing of Frontage Road and relocating River Road extension at Ga. Highway 11 and I-20 at a cost of $225,000.

According to Jim Dove, executive director of the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, total cost of projects has changed throughout the project selection process and could still be in flux. The above numbers are the most recent estimates.

T-SPLOST is a 1 percent sales tax will go before citizens in a referendum in August 2012.

Under the Transportation Investment Act of 2010, the state has been divided into 12 regions to develop a list of projects for each region that would be funded by the sales tax over a 10-year period. Individual counties within regions cannot opt out of the process.

Voters will consider the final project list for their particular region. If the tax passes in a region, all sales tax collected within that region would stay there to fund local transportation projects.

The tax is expected to generate $1.2 billion over the next 10 years in the Northeast Georgia Region. Seventy-five percent of those revenues would fund the final project list approved by voters. The other 25 percent would be divided among local governments within the region for other road projects. That could mean as much as $2 million a year in additional transportation funds coming into Newton County, according to Board of Commissioners Chairman Kathy Morgan. Each municipality within Newton County will get a share of those funds, she said.

The county could be adversely affected if voters here opt not to approve the sales tax, Morgan said.

If the tax passes in both the region and the county, Newton's match for other state and federally funded projects that are not included on the list would be reduced from around 20 percent to 10 percent. If it passes in the region but not the county, it would be increased to 30 percent. If it fails in both the region and county, the match would be upped to 50 percent. Those percentages would be locked in for 10 years.

"It's very important to our community to get enough voters to pass and get the sales tax dollars spent in Newton. In this case we've got a voice on what projects are going to be done and how they will impact our county," Morgan said.

Submitted projects that meet the state's criteria will be whittled down over the next couple of months. Covington Mayor Kim Carter is the local representative on the roundtable. Morgan was one of five members from the roundtable to be selected for the executive committee that will develop the final list of projects to be voted on by the roundtable and eventually, the public.

To make the final list, criteria considered include regional impact, projects that can be substantially completed within the 10-year time frame and public acceptance of a project.

A public meeting for Newton residents is scheduled for 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 22, at Georgia Perimeter College. There will be no formal presentation, but residents can view maps and discuss projects with members of the roundtable.

The final list will go to the roundtable for approval by Oct. 15 with a majority approval required before it is put before the public for a vote on Aug. 21, 2012.

If approved, collection of the tax will begin no sooner than 80 days after the election. GDOT will manage the projects, with the Department of Revenue to maintain a Web site and publish a project status report that shows whether each project is over or under budget.

A five-member citizens review panel will also be formed to review the administration of projects included on the list. The panel will report to the General Assembly.