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State DOT may give local officials more input on projects
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Steve Farrow, member of the state Department of Transportation board, talks about reprioritizing projects.

The state Department of Transportation board is starting to consider giving local governments more say-so in the road projects they deem worthy as part of a state effort to reprioritize construction efforts.

"This has not been written in stone yet," said 9th District member Steve Farrow, "but there was enough hesitation on enough of the members ... that my sense of it is that there may be a reluctance to completely use prioritization as the sole means of funding projects."

Farrow, a Dalton lawyer, was in Gainesville Wednesday attending the Gainesville-Hall Metro Planning Organization meeting.

State auditors have said the department has a $456 million budget deficit for the fiscal year that ended July 31. As part of efforts to straighten itself financially, the DOT has set about reprioritizing projects.

Farrow said the board is looking at the concept of spending half for projects according to prioritization and half for locally accepted projects.

"That’s the concern the board is hearing from (its) constituents," he said. "If there’s this rigid formula and then we go raise all this money through a (locally approved sales-tax program) and we’re not going to get any match from the DOT, then what incentive do we have to do that?"

The Statewide Transportation Plan, which will go before the board in the next week to 10 days, will consider separately projects inside and outside metro Atlanta, Farrow told the planning group, meeting at the Georgia Mountains Center.

Economic development will be the driving force among projects outside the metro area and traffic congestion the main concern of metro projects, he added.

"Then we’ll be able to take that plan ... to the legislature and hopefully then make some plans as to funding for the next 5-10 years," Farrow said.

He said the prioritization process may not be fully operational for another couple of years.

"There are a lot of projects that have already been committed and are in various stages," Farrow said, "so it’s not just like you can come in and say, ‘OK, we’re going to start this new prioritization and we’re just going to start with a clean slate.’ "

The long-awaited final leg of the Thurmon Tanner Parkway is one such project.

Earlier this month, the DOT awarded a contract to a Lawrenceville company for the construction of the 1.3-mile, four-lane road that will run from Plainview Road to Mundy Mill Road.

Thurmon Tanner now runs as a four-lane between Spout Springs Road in Flowery Branch to Plainview in Oakwood and from Mundy Mill Road to Atlanta Highway in Oakwood.

The final leg, which will cost $6.7 million, is expected to start in the spring and be completed by Dec. 31, 2010, and landscaping work on the project is set to be completed by May 31, 2012.

"We had already completed many of the preliminary steps, such as right-of-way acquisition and environmental studies," said Mark McKinnon, a DOT spokesman, in a September interview. "So, we were past the point of no return on this project."