Voter-approved transportation projects funded by a special tax that began one year ago Wednesday will be evaluated and potentially scaled back after tax collections have come in far below projections, the Georgia Department of Transportation said.
The state will decide how to proceed with the transportation program – promised by proponents of the tax legislation to be a massive overhaul for roads, sidewalks and airports – within the first three months of the coming year, said Mike Dover, GDOT administrator for the Transportation Investment Act.
Each project will be analyzed by GDOT and local governments, regional commissions and citizen advisory boards where the tax is being collected, Dover said. All projects will be completed according to the legislation that created the tax but they could be of significantly less scope with a reduced budget, he said.
“You can’t build the projects with projections you don’t have,” Dover said.
For the 13-county region encompassing Richmond County, collections were 19 percent below projections through October. The regions centered on Albany and Vidalia were 13 percent and 19 percent behind, respectively.
Only three of 12 regions in Georgia approved the tax.
District 12 transportation board representative Don Grantham said he wants permission from lawmakers before scaling back any projects, and more time is needed to watch the tax collections before making big changes.
“We are in a 10-year program and we are just completing the first year,” he said. “I’m not going to push the panic button by any means.”
In the program’s first year, one major construction project began in Richmond County to widen Wrightsboro Road from Jimmie Dyess Parkway to Bobby Jones Expressway. Elsewhere in the region, construction began on a passing lane for State Route 47 in Lincoln County and a contract was let for improvements to Old Petersburg Road which will begin early next year.
Of the $48.5 million collected for Augusta’s region, 25 percent ($12.1 million) was directed to local municipalities for work on discretionary projects that weren’t named in the list that went before voters. Augusta-Richmond County spent most of its allotment on minor improvements such as pot holes and roadside grass mowing.
Dover said the program’s first year was vital time for preparing engineering and design work and proceeding with right-of-way acquisitions.
“In 2014, (taxpayers) will see significant projects underway in these three regions,” Dover said. “I’m still confident, even with the collections the way they are, we can complete the program.”
Seventeen Richmond County projects are scheduled to begin in the coming year including road resurfacings, bridge repairs, widenings and intersection improvements.