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Northeast Georgia gets road tax projects
Region to evaluate, pare down 300-plus proposals
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Sales tax timeline

Here are steps leading to the 2012 statewide vote on the 1-cent sales tax for transportation:

Through May 31: The Georgia Department of Transportation will review submitted projects from governments throughout the state and determine the final budget that regions can use to create final project lists.

June 1-Oct. 15: Regional transportation "roundtables" and their executive committees will finalize project lists.

June 6, June 23: The Georgia Mountains Regional Transportation Roundtable's executive committee will work on preparing the project list for the 13-county region that includes Hall.

Between Oct. 15 and the referendum vote in 2012: Public hearings on final project lists will be held throughout their respective regions.

Late July 2012 or early August 2012: referendum vote, which has yet to be determined

Source: Georgia Mountains Regional Commission, Gainesville

From Interstate 985 near metro Atlanta to Ga. 17 in the mountains, Northeast Georgia has some 300-plus transportation projects that have been pitched as part of the state's planned 1-cent sales tax vote next year.

The list will be pared down over the next few months so that projects match estimated revenue generated by the tax.

But if nothing else, it shows, from a governmental perspective, the vast need of roadwork and other fixes that need to be done throughout the region.

Carnesville Mayor Harris Little hopes voters will see it that way too when they go to the ballot box in late summer of 2012.

"As a general rule, I think that people prefer consumption taxes over anything else, but that doesn't mean this'll go sailing in," he said. "... I think people see a need for improvements in roads, airports, bike paths and other safety things. If you can make it relative to (the public), then maybe they'll be OK with it."

In keeping with the Transportation Investment Act of 2010, governments throughout the state were required to send the "unconstrained" project lists - or wish lists not particularly tied to any kind of funding - to their respective regional commissions by March 30.

Hall County government and the Hall County Joint Municipal Association submitted a combined list through the Gainesville-Hall County Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Hall's projects include the widening of U.S. 129/Athens Highway from Gillsville Highway to the county line; intersection improvements along McEver Road; a new Exit 14 interchange off Interstate 985; and a four-lane road connecting the Sardis Road/Chestatee Road area to Ga. 60/Thompson Bridge Road at Mount Vernon Road.

"Hall County and its municipalities put in a lot of thought while developing the unconstrained list, which was also vetted through the MPO planning process," said Srikanth Yamala, MPO transportation planning manager.
"I am certain that the list is a good reflection of our transportation needs over the next 10-15 years."

The Gainesville-based Georgia Mountains Regional Commission, which oversees the process for 13 counties in its area, including Hall, had to submit those lists to the Georgia Department of Transportation by April 13.

Last week, it finished combining the lists into one document and posted the document on its website,

Each of the projects, as submitted by the governments, "should be part of a local, regional, state or other plan or study," said Stephanie Harmon, planner with the GMRC. "They can be part of a study that is currently being conducted or the jurisdiction can amend a plan to include the project."

The DOT will review submitted forms "for completeness and determine a final budget for (the financially) constrained list," Harmon said.

She added, "The projects do not have to span the region or multiple jurisdictions to be considered regional. Part of the submittal form allows the jurisdiction to make the case for why the project has a regional benefit.
"If the project does not in reality have a regional benefit, the likelihood of that project being selected for the constrained project list is very low."

Between June 1 and Oct. 15, a transportation "roundtable" and an executive committee made up of roundtable members in each region of the state will complete the list - matching estimated revenue to project costs - that will make up the 2012 referendum.

Public hearings will take place after Oct. 15 on the project list, Harmon said.

Those hearings will be "focused on providing information ... so that when the referendum is up for a vote, people can make an informed decision," Harmon said.

"Once the executive committee has approved the constrained list, it cannot be changed by anyone, even (the DOT)," she said.

The Northeast Georgia roundtable's executive committee is set to meet June 6 and June 23 at the GMRC "to review the project submissions and use the finalized budget to prepare the constrained project list," Harmon said.

Each roundtable comprises top city and county leaders throughout the region, with Mayor Ruth Bruner representing Gainesville and Hall County Board of Commissioners Chairman Tom Oliver representing Hall.

If voters within the district approve the tax in 2012, the state would begin distributing proceeds in 2013, with 75 percent of the money going to the regional projects and 25 percent going to local governments using their discretion on projects.

The date of the vote hasn't been determined, but it will either be in July or August 2012.

The referendum has "got to have something in it for everybody," Little said of the final list. "But (passing it) will be a challenge. It's not going to be a stick-it-on-the-ballot-and-it'll-automatically-pass (type of thing)."