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Yes to transportation SPLOST: Investing in roads, bridges key to future growth

POSTED: October 16, 2011 1:00 a.m.

I've been in real estate here in Gainesville all my life, so I know what a smart investment a home can be. I see similar benefits in the roads and bridges that keep us connected. And if we keep them modern and in good repair, we will be reaping benefits far into the future.

Next summer, on July 31, we'll be asked to step up and make an important investment decision about that future. On the ballot will be a proposal to add 1 percent to our sales tax to pay for desperately needed highway repairs and upgrades.

Now I don't like taxes any more than anyone else, but this one makes sense. If we invest, we benefit. If we fail to invest, we lose a precious opportunity to bring jobs here - and retain them - as well as improve our quality of life.

Here's how this works. The state is divided into 12 transportation regions. Ours is Georgia Mountains Region 2 and it includes 13 counties: Forsyth, Hall, Banks, Franklin, Hart, Dawson, White, Stephens, Habersham, Lumpkin, Union, Towns and Rabun.

Earlier this year, a group of our city and county officials were asked to submit a list of transportation projects for our region. In March local leaders reviewed that list — adding some projects, trimming others — until a final list was sent to the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Statewide, those projects will cost about $16 billion to $19 billion over 10 years. Our share in this region is more than $1.25 billion. That's a major investment, and it is money that will be spent right here in our community.

All the proceeds of the money raised by the 1 percent increase would stay in the region and be distributed in two ways: 75 percent would go to the regional projects, many of which have been on the drawing boards for years but lacked sufficient funding. The other 25 percent would turned over to individual counties and cities for local projects decided upon by city and county officials. This amount is likely to be more money than what a county or city could raise on its own. Cities and counties will receive these extra funds in direct proportion to their population.

Why should we add a penny for each dollar we spend? Let me offer several good reasons:

Our roads, highways and bridges are like the arteries and veins in our bodies. If they're in good shape, we're healthy. If they get clogged or damaged, our well-being is threatened.

In this case, the threat is economic. If we are not connected to Georgia and our neighboring states with a first-rate transportation system, our businesses — all of them — will suffer. If we don't keep up with highway maintenance, the system begins to crumble. If we don't expand and modernize, congestion will clog the transportation arteries.

Making this investment has a double benefit. Not only can we improve the roads, we can create jobs. Lots of them. It's been estimated that for each tax dollar spent on improvements, another dollar (or more) is generated in economic activity. It's called the "multiplier effect," and it's a real benefit to investing in transportation.

Here's what I like most about the way these projects will work. Each one of the 12 local regions decided what improvements are needed for their region alone. Furthermore, decisions about the 25 percent turned over to counties and towns are made in those local communities. This is our money spent in our region.

What can you do to help?

First, understand how important it is for our region to grow through investing in its transportation connections.

Next, stay informed. Learn what projects are planned for this region and in your community.

Be a leader. Talk to friends and neighbors. When they say they don't like taxes, ask them how they would like crumbling roads and bridges.

Consider what happens if we don't make this investment. Our highway system is not going to get better by itself. We need to have the foresight to invest now for our future.

Recognize how this is good for us in the Georgia Mountains and for citizens across the state.

As chairman of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, I see the benefits for all 12 regions, especially the one I live in. It's a win-win idea if I've ever seen one.

Doug Carter is  president and CEO of Don Carter Realty, a 40-year-old family firm located in Gainesville. He is the 2011 Chairman of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.



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