Gradual start forecast for Augusta-area transportation sales tax projects

A new regional sales tax approved by Augusta-area voters will start generating revenues in 2013, but highway projects it will help finance will begin at a slower pace, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation official in charge of the program.

“It will be the first quarter of 2013 before the funds start flowing,” said Mike Dover, the department’s Transportation Investment Act administrator, who oversees the transportation special purpose local option sales tax, or TSPLOST.

The 1 percent sales tax, lasting 10 years, was proposed individually for each of Georgia’s 12 economic development regions. During the July 31 election, voters approved the measure in just three of those regions, including the 13-county region that includes Augusta.

Dover, who spoke Monday to members of the Columbia County and Augusta chambers of commerce, said the region’s sales tax collections are expected to finance 84 projects – including 50 in Richmond County and eight in Columbia County.

The newest projections indicate about $841 million could be collected over 10 years, with the potential to be combined with federal funds to raise the amount spent in the region to more than $1 billion.

“It’s a lot of bang for the buck,” he said. “We are able to leverage this money to get even more federal money.”

Although the sales tax will begin Jan. 1, the transportation projects are tiered in phases, with the first ones to begin in one to three years, he said.

“It is more of a pay as you go plan, because there is no money collected up front,” he said, adding that when the tax expires after the 10th year, officials will still be waiting for funds to trickle in.

Augusta projects expected to be under way in one to three years include Augusta Public Transit improvements; repairs to John C. Calhoun Expressway; hanger modifications at Augusta Regional Airport; Gordon Highway and Deans Bridge Road intersection improvements; resurfacing on several roads; major improvements to River Watch Parkway and Windsor Spring Road; and widening Wrightsboro Road from Bobby Jones Expressway to Jimmy Dyess Parkway.

Columbia County’s first-tier projects include major widening and modifications to Old Petersburg/Old Evans roads from Baston Road to Washington Road; widening Horizon South Parkway from Interstate 20 to Columbia Road; Wrightsboro Road improvements from Lewiston Road to Robinson Avenue; and additional improvements to Robinson Avenue.

Although Augusta has more projects than Columbia County, many of those projects are smaller in scope, Dover said.

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PUBLIC MEETING WEDNESDAY

A public meeting on a construction project for the interchange of River Watch Parkway and Interstate 20 will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday.

The project design proposes adding a left-turn lane for the I-20 eastbound ramp to the one existing turn lane to alleviate congestion. It’s funded by the 1-percent regional sales tax for transportation.

The meeting is at Warren Road Community Center, 300 Warren Road. There will be no formal presentation, but traffic engineers will be available to answer questions and hear feedback about the design.

– Meg Mirshak, staff writer

Final project list with updated cost estimates

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