In 1988, city planners warned Jenkins Memorial CME Church to build far back from the edge of Windsor Spring Road. The road would be widened soon, they said. Twenty-four years later, the pastor and churchgoers still haven’t seen that happen.
Now, state and local officials say, federal and state funding is secured and the widening project is closer to reality. Voter approval on July 31 of a special 1 percent transportation tax referendum could guarantee that the project isn’t delayed any longer.
“We want the road widened,” said the Rev. Timothy Green, pastor of the church at 4218 Windsor Spring Road. “We’re trying to push forward because it’s too much congestion. People can’t get around.”
Funds were allocated to begin the project’s design in Augusta’s second special purpose local option sales tax in 1991 and additional money was added in phases three and four of the tax.
While the project waited on full funding, the cost for widening the road increased.
According to The Augusta Chronicle archives, the project’s cost was estimated at $20 million in 2005. Now, $43 million is budgeted for two phases of road widening and two bridge replacements.
According to the Georgia Department of Transportation, the project has been expedited because of
vehicle congestion and numerous crashes. Two lanes will be widened to four from Tobacco Road to Georgia Highway 88.
Krystal Stovall-Dixon, the GDOT project manager, said cost estimates could have increased because material costs were inflated or values of property needed for acquisition changed.
Augusta Commissioner Joe Jackson said past city transportation engineers underbudgeted the large construction project, so the widening wasn’t started.
“The money that was earmarked for Windsor Spring Road got moved somewhere else,” Jackson said.
According to Engineering Director Abie Ladson, the construction portion was never funded. Earlier allotments from the tax were spent on design and planning.
Deputy Finance Director Tim Schroer said tax collections for Windsor Spring Road were mostly spent. Unused money is funneled into a special account where it can be used for another project approved by the city commission.
Like Jackson, some residents perceive that tax money for the project was misused.
Residents have long voiced concerns about traffic problems, especially near Diamond Lakes Regional Park, but the road was never improved.
Sammie Sias, a long-time Hephzibah-area activist, said traffic after an event at Diamonds Lake can be “total mayhem” and the project is “way overdue.”
“The money needs to stop vanishing. The money needs to stay where it’s supposed to be,” Sias said.
Jackson, who served on the regional roundtable that compiled the list of projects, said $6 million for the widening was included in the referendum list, a tactic that guarantees the project’s completion if the vote passes. Under the Transportation Investment Act, all projects on the approved list must be completed.
“All these projects have to be delivered,” Jackson said.
Jason O’Rouke, political director for Connect Georgia, a Georgia Chamber of Commerce entity created to promote the tax referendum, said most regions considering the tax referendum included projects that were already funded.
If the tax passes, the $6 million earmarked for Windsor Spring must be used in place of an equal amount of federal funding that’s been secured for the project.
“That (federal) money will be freed up for other transportation projects, but it has to stay in the region,” he said.
According to GDOT, $33.7 million was funded federally and $5.8 million comes from state money with additional contributions from other sources.