Newton submits $260M for T-SPLOST

Photo by Heather Poltrock

Photo by Heather Poltrock

Newton County submitted some $260 million worth of transportation projects for consideration for funding through the proposed state transportation sales tax, or T-SPLOST.

All but three of the projects met the state's criteria, said Board of Commissioners Chairman Kathy Morgan, who is on the Northwest Georgia Region's Executive Committee. Those projects will be further pared down in the coming months.

Projects that met criteria and could make the final cut are as follows:

* Widening of Salem Road from Brown Bridge to Old Salem roads -- $40.7 million

* Widening of Salem Road from Brown Bridge to Ga. Highway 81 -- $24.3 million

* Widening of Crowell Road from Brown Bridge to I-20 -- $30.5 million

* Widening of Brown Bridge Road -- $18 million

* Widening of Ga. Highway 138 -- $16.2 million

* Realignment of Almon Road from Rockdale County line to I-20 -- $13.2 million

* Widening of East Covington Bypass from Ga. Highway 36 to Ga. Highway 212 -- $31.4 million

* Intersection improvements at Ga. Highway 81 Corridor -- $13.5 million

* Intersection improvements at Ga. Highway 142 at City Pond/Flat Rock Road -- $1.7 million

* Intersection improvements at Covington Bypass at Flat Shoals Road -- $1.8 million

* Multi-Use Trail Turkey Creek/Yellow River -- $3 million

*Widening of Ga. 142 from Alcovy Road to north of I-20 East (Covington) -- $15.6 million

* Bicycle and pedestrian improvements on Pace Street from Floyd Street to U.S. 278 (Covington) -- $2.6 million

* Widening of Industrial Boulevard from U.S. 278 /Ga. 138 to Ga. 142 (Covington) -- $9.8 million

* Airport improvements and new terminal (Covington) -- $6.6 million

Eliminated as not qualifying were the purchase of the greenway corridor owned by Norfolk Southern at $605,000, a request by the town of Newborn; a trail from the library to Eastside High School at a cost of $1 million; and a multi-use trail connecting Rockdale and Newton counties at a cost of $29.7 million. Those projects were deemed more recreational than transportation, Morgan said.

The state added three projects to the list: Bridge replacement for bridges on Ga. Highway 36 over the South and Yellow rivers and relocation of the Alcovy Trestle in front of River Cove subdivision onto Ga. Highway 11.

The 12 counties in the region submitted more than $2 billion in projects that will need to be pared down to about $1.2 billion, Morgan said. Newton County has the second largest project list of all the counties in the region.

What is T-SPLOST?

T-SPLOST is a 1 percent sales tax that will go before voters in a referendum in summer 2012. Under the Transportation Investment Act of 2010, the state has been divided into 12 transportation regions. Each region determines its own project list to be funded through T-SPLOST over a 10-year period. 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.

What's at stake?

Transportation projects that otherwise have no funding source could be completed through T-SPLOST. It's not clear how much money Newton County would receive yet, but given that it's the second largest county in the region, there's a chance it could get a significant amount, Morgan said.

The tax is expected to generate $1.2 billion over the next 10 years in the Northwest 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, Morgan said. Each municipality within Newton County will get a pro rata 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, the local match would increase 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.

Individual counties cannot opt out of the process.

What's next?

Submitted projects that meet the state's criteria will be whittled down to a more realistic list over the summer and fall by regional round tables in each district. Covington Mayor Kim Carter is the local representative on the round table. Morgan was one of five members from the round table to be selected for the executive committee that will develop the final list of projects to be voted on by the round table 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.

The executive committee must hold two public hearings on the final project list. The list will go to the round table for approval by Oct. 15 with a majority approval required before it is put before the public for a vote on Aug. 21, 2012.

Morgan said she's fighting for Newton County to receive as many dollars as possible.

"Every one of the projects in Newton County meets every criteria the DOT uses for any project. Unfortunately, if we spend all the money in Newton County nobody else is going to vote for it ... I think what you'll see is a balanced effort among all 12 counties," she said.

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.