VALDOSTA — Editor’s Note: This article is the first in a multi-part series on T-SPLOST that will appear in The Valdosta Daily Times’ Sunday edition.
VALDOSTA — New overpasses, bike lanes and highway rehabilitations are just a few of the transportation projects that could be funded if citizens approve a new one-cent sales tax at the polls on July 31.
Georgia is the only state in the nation that has proposed another sales tax referendum to help pay for transportation projects.
The Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or T-SPLOST, is estimated to collect $670 million in revenue over the next ten years in the Southern Region (Region 11) which consists of 18 counties, including Lowndes, Tift, Coffee and Ware.
Lowndes County will by far be the largest T-SPLOST contributor in the Southern Region with $252 million over ten years. Tift County is expected to contribute $94 million; Ware County will provide $73 million and Coffee County will collect $65 million.
Some of the projects on Lowndes County’s list include a four-lane overpass on St. Augustine Road over the CSX Railroad at $12 million; the widening of Old Clyattville Road from I-75 to Ousley Road at $17 million, and the widening of Forrest Street from Park Avenue to Bemiss Road, along with pedestrian and bike travel infrastructure, at $11.4 million.
Many of the projects in Lowndes County would not begin construction until 2020.
In 2010, the Georgia General Assembly passed the Transportation Investment Act (TIA, Georgia House Bill 277) which created regional entities that would be responsible for developing a project list.
The Statewide Strategic Transportation Plan (SSTP) 2010-2030, which was approved by former Gov. Sonny Perdue and Georgia Department of Transportation chairman Bill Kuhlke in April of 2010, became a guidebook for what would become T-SPLOST.
The figures used in the SSTP drew a bleak picture of Georgia as a state with dismal funding of transportation projects. In 2009, Georgia had the second lowest per capita spending for transportation projects in the nation, second only to Tennessee. Georgia also was second only to Alaska in motor fuel tax revenues.
Currently, GDOT spends about $1 billion each year on transportation, with about a third for new projects, a third for paying back loans and bonds and the final $333 million on repair and repaving projects.
With federal and state governments cutting budgets across the country, it is unlikely this $1 billion will be increased in the near future.
Corey Hull of the Valdosta-Lowndes County Metropolitan Planning Organization said that many states are watching T-SPLOST in Georgia and depending on how it goes, may choose to implement their own transportation sales tax.
In 2011, 63 county and city officials formed a Regional Roundtable for the Southern Region and developed a recommended list of projects to be funded with T-SPLOST. These projects will be funded with 75 percent of the tax collections, while local governments will receive the remaining 25 percent in the form of discretionary funds, which will be distributed to each local government on a quarterly or monthly basis.
The 25 percent of discretionary funds are more flexible and can be used for a variety of local transportation projects. The total amount for each county or city is calculated using population, 20 percent, and total road mileage, 80 percent.
Projects on the “wishlist” that are funded by the 75 percent, non-discretionary collections must be paid up front by either the local government agency or Georgia Department of Transportation. Only after the project is completed will the Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission refund those up-front costs.
All 12 regions in Georgia developed a project list, in part to avoid certain “incentives or punishments,” depending on the interpretation of the law. If the region did not develop a project list, they would be responsible for a 50 percent match with all Local Maintenance & Improvement Grant (LMIG) funds which is currently received from the state motor fuel tax.
Currently, local government agencies are required to match between zero and 10 percent of all LMIG funds.
If T-SPLOST passes in July, local governments will be required to match 10 percent of all LMIG funds. Anything less than a 10 percent match will not be an option. If the one percent sales tax does not pass, they will be required to match 30 percent of LMIG.
Hull said in small jurisdictions such as Atkinson or Echols Counties, it is naturally more difficult to match LMIG funds compared to a larger county or city.
“Some of the representatives have said they may have to forego receiving that money,” said Hull.
Projects like the widening of Forrest Street are present on both the Transportation Investment Plan (TIP) and the T-SPLOST list.
According to Hull, if 50 percent of the voting population plus one more citizen approves T-SPLOST in July, the federal funding will be re-allocated to another project in the same congressional district. He said that any listed T-SPLOST project that doesn’t have federal or state money attached somewhere else will probably be pushed back to an even later date.
For a complete list of Region 11 proposed projects visit www.t-splost.com.