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Roads forum focuses on 1-cent sales tax vote in 2012
Tax could bring in nearly $1B for area
State Rep. Carl Rogers talks with Gainesville Mayor Ruth Bruner Tuesday during the annual Georgia Department of Transportation forum at Gainesville State College. - photo by SARA GUEVARA


Hear Todd Long, Georgia Department of Transportation’s planning director, talk about federal funding issues.

OAKWOOD — Georgia Department of Transportation's planning director painted a dark future for road construction if a planned 1-cent sales tax doesn't pass in a statewide vote next year.

"There is a Plan B, but it stinks worse than you can imagine," Todd Long told a gathering of community and government leaders at Tuesday's annual DOT forum at Gainesville State College.

Long, formerly the head engineer at the DOT's Gainesville-based District 1 office, is supervising the state's efforts to prepare for the vote, which could take place in summer 2012.

He said he is not allowed to promote passage of the 10-year tax, but he wasn't shy in describing what would happen if voters don't approve it.

"Plan B probably is just to mosey on, like we're doing now, at a far reduced rate of where we are today," Long said. "Imagine the funds we have today and reduce those by 20 to 25 percent over the coming years and see what you get out of the system."

He predicted that if no alternative funding is developed in 10 years, the state could end up spending all of its transportation money just on maintenance projects.

"No Thurmon Tanner Parkways, no new Exit 16s, no widening Winder Highway — you won't have the money to do big projects like that," Long said.

Long has helped steer regional efforts concerning the 1-cent tax, the focal point of the state's Transportation Investment Act, passed by the Georgia General Assembly in 2010.

The law divides the state into transportation districts based on already established regional commissions. Hall County falls in the Gainesville-based, 13-county Georgia Mountains Regional Commission.

Each region is supposed to create a transportation roundtable made up of city and county leaders and then use that group to form an executive committee.

Each region is working with the DOT on developing a project list that will go before voters next year.

The tax could generate nearly $1 billion over 10 years in the Georgia Mountains district, with 75 percent of proceeds going toward regional projects and 25 percent to local ones.

"That is a big windfall for a lot of these smaller communities that may not get a big regional project in their jurisdiction," Long said. "... This bill probably would not have passed ... unless a significant amount of money went back to the local governments."

Long said the chief funding source for transportation in America has been the gas tax, which hasn't been adjusted for inflation in decades. Add to that people driving less and driving more fuel-efficient cars and "you have a recipe for disaster."

"We could have less money for transportation 10 years from now than we have today," he said.

The forum, put on each year by the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, also focused on road projects that are ongoing or upcoming in Hall County.

"This (event) is about roads, but it is also about economic development," said Kit Dunlap, chamber president.

DOT Commissioner Vance C. Smith Jr. talked briefly, focusing on Georgia's larger transportation picture.

"We have to look at transportation as far as freight and people mobility," he said.

Long and Todd McDuffie, District 1 engineer, discussed current and future projects.

Nearing completion is Thurmon Tanner Parkway, a four-lane link between Plainview and Mundy Mill roads. The $16 million project is the final 1.3-mile link in a road that will extend from Atlanta Highway near Oakwood to Phil Niekro Boulevard in Flowery Branch.

Work also is gearing up for a massive project — the widening of Ga. 347, or Lanier Islands Parkway and Friendship Road, between McEver Road and Ga. 211/Old Winder Highway — likely to launch in the spring of 2012.

The DOT still is busily buying up right of way for the road work.

As of Thursday, the DOT had closed on 162 of 252 parcels, or 64 percent, needed for the segment between Interstate 985 and Ga. 211, said Teri Pope, spokeswoman at the DOT's Gainesville office.

The right of way alone for that 8-mile stretch is expected to cost $66.6 million.

The DOT hopes that work will go to bid by November.

The agency had closed on 10 of 51 parcels, or 20 percent, needed for the 1.79-mile segment between Atlanta Highway and McEver Road. That right of way is expected to cost $5.5 million.

The estimated construction cost for the Friendship portion of the project is $48.8 million. The Lanier Islands Parkway work is expected to cost $18.9 million.