Tax program fuels Columbia County roadwork

Driving down any of Columbia County’s main thoroughfares, motorists are likely to see row after row of orange cones lining the roads. Coun­ty Commission Chair­man Ron Cross sees the bigger picture.

 

“There’s light at the end of that tunnel that we’ve been looking at for five years,” he said, speaking about road construction in general. “When you see (traffic cones), you’re on the way to something.”

In Columbia County, there’s plenty of opportunity to see orange, and there will continue to be until at least 2019.

According to information compiled by the Georgia Department of Trans­­portation and the Trans­por­ta­tion Investment Act program, there are at least seven projects totaling nearly $100 million underway or nearing completion in the county.

Some projects are more obvious than others. Improvements on Old Petersburg Road, for instance, have been in the works since 2013 and tie into the larger River Watch Parkway expansion that is expected to connect downtown Augusta to the heart of Evans.

Other projects, such as improvements to Robinson Avenue in Grove­town and on Wrightsboro Road, aren’t quite as intrusive but are expected to play a major role in alleviating the stress on roads caused by growth at Fort Gordon.

Additionally, the DOT has identified six more projects costing an additional $136 million.

Cross said very little of the money comes out of county coffers. He attributes this to the success of the 1-cent TIA tax, approved in 2012 by the 13-county region that includes Columbia County. The tax is expected to generate more than $1.6 billion over a 10-year period for transportation improvements.

According to the DOT, about 75 percent of the money is used for construction projects pre-approved by a regional roundtable, with the rest considered discretionary funds.

Cross said the county uses the extra money to pave dirt roads and improve aging structures. Being one of the most populous counties in the tax region, Columbia County gets nearly 30 percent of the funds generated through the program, or about $250 million.

“It advanced our road program 15 years,” he said. “That’s like money from home because we would never be in a position to put $250 million in roads. It just wouldn’t be there.”

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