Just three months before the question of a new sales tax for transportation goes before them, officials from 13 counties in east central Georgia got a glimpse Tuesday of how they are expected to deliver $621 million in transportation construction projects during the next 10 years, on time and within budget.
Under the Transportation Investment Act of 2010, a small roundtable from the region last year developed an extensive list of projects to be funded through the new tax. The projects, half of which are in Richmond County, are spread across three “tiers” throughout the decade based on need and revenue projections.
If voters approve the tax, funds will be collected into a special Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission account, where they will remain until cities and counties submit invoices for reimbursement of completed projects, said Russell McMurry, the state Department of Transportation’s director of engineering.
While details have not been finalized, the state will develop best practices for how jurisdictions should complete the projects, using a vertical construction timeline that’s unheard of in transportation planning, he said. From then, each should expect a “strict accounting” of how the money is spent, McMurry told a group gathered for an information session in Thomson.
“If it says four lanes, that’s what we deliver,” he said.
Regardless of whether voters across the state approve the new tax, the Transportation Investment Act of 2010 “has got to be successful,” he said, “no matter how many regions pass.”
Within each region, a five-member citizen review panel selected by the speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives and lieutenant governor will oversee an audit of project scope and spending and the state will assign each region a program manager, but “outside of that, there’s not a whole lot of GDOT involvement,” he said.
The magnitude of work and uncertainty about how to get it done properly didn’t faze Augusta Commissioner Joe Jackson, who served on the roundtable that developed the project list.
“It’s about the fairest way we can maintain our infrastructure,” he said.
Jackson said he would consider pushing for a commission resolution in support of the tax and committing the 25 percent “discretionary” proceeds to certain uses, something McMurry suggested.
The discretionary funds mean rural counties such as Taliaferro will have more than $4 million in un-earmarked funds to spend, while Richmond County will gain a projected $39 million in discretionary funds during the decade.
While project administration is considered a funded line item, one idea Jackson rejected was hiring a private program manager to oversee Augusta’s projects.
Don Grantham, a GDOT board member and former Augusta commissioner, said that with the commission’s and Metro Augusta Chamber of Commerce’s support, voters are likely to approve it.
“It needs a show of support,” Grantham said.
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