COVINGTON - Newton County residents will join all Georgians on July 31 in deciding whether they want to pay an additional one percent sales tax over the next 10 years to fund transportation projects.
The sales tax, or T-SPLOST, is expected to generate more than $18 billion over 10 years if passed statewide. The state has been divided into 12 regions that will each vote on T-SPLOST. Newton is in the Northeast Georgia Region, along with Barrow, Clarke, Elbert, Greene, Jackson, Jasper, Madison, Morgan, Oconee, Oglethorpe and Walton counties. Transportation revenues generated in the Northeast Georgia Region are expected to total $987 million over the 10-year life of the T-SPLOST, from 2013 to 2022.
Of that, Newton's portion is approximately $120 million.
"I think that most people would agree these projects need to be built; the question is, do you think this is the right mechanism for building these projects," said Jim Jaquish, senior communications specialist with the Atlanta Regional Commission
Newton County projects that would benefit, and the estimated costs, are as follows:
-- Salem Road - The widening of Salem Road from two to six lanes and installing traffic signals at the major intersections along the road between the I-20 interchange and Brown Bridge Road would be funded in its entirety at an estimated cost of $34,317,452.
-- East Covington ByPass - The road would be widened from U.S. Highway 278 to Ga. Highway 36. The entire project, at a cost of $32,754,420, would be funded through T-SPLOST.
-- Crowell Road - The widening of Crowell Road from the I-20 interchange to Brown Bridge Road from two to four lanes would include a bridge/culvert over a tributary to the Yellow River. The entirety of the project, at a cost of $31,782,683, would be funded with T-SPLOST.
-- Brown Bridge Road widening - T-SPLOST would fund $7 million of the $25 million project, which would entail widening 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, and upgrading all major crossroads along the project route.
-- Covington Municipal Airport - A total of $6.6 million in T-SPLOST revenues would fund a new terminal building, navigational aids, lighting, a new apron, and fuel farm at the airport.
-- Industrial Blvd. from U.S. Highway 278 to Ga. Highway 142 - Turn lanes would be added and shoulders widened on Industrial Blvd. The total project cost is $9,799,200 and T-SPLOST would fund $7.8 million.
-- Closing of Frontage Road and relocation of River Road extension at Ga. Highway 11 and I-20 would be entirely funded at an estimated cost of $225,000.
If Newton County voters approve T-SPLOST and it is approved by voters region-wide, Newton's match for other state and federally funded projects not included on the T-SPLOST list would be reduced from around 20 percent to 10 percent. If T-SPLOST passes in the region, but fails in Newton, the match would be upped to 30 percent. If it fails in both the county and region, the match would increase to 50 percent. Those percentages would be locked in for 10 years. In addition, counties and regions where T-SPLOST does not pass will not receive any of the additional sales tax dollars.
"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," BOC Chairman Kathy Morgan previously told the Citizen. Morgan served on the Northeast Georgia Regional Roundtable of officials that selected projects for the region, along with former Covington Mayor Kim Carter.
Seventy-five percent of each region's proceeds would go to fund projects on the list, with the exception of the Atlanta region, which is 85 percent. Twenty-five percent would be divided among the regions' local governments to be spent on transportation projects of that government's choosing. The funds would be distributed based on population and road mileage.
A citizen's accountability committee in each region will ensure projects are completed on time and on budget, and the group will maintain a website and report annually to the General Assembly. The Georgia Department of Transportation would be responsible for building and repairing roads, while the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority would be in charge of transit projects.
Staff Correspondent Aimee Jones contributed to this story.