Voters in three regions, including Augusta’s, approved a 10-year, 1-percent sales tax that will start in January. In the meantime, the Department of Transportation is putting the pieces in place to begin the first phase of construction on projects to be completed by 2015.
“This is going on the record saying we’re going to do everything we can to make sure these projects are delivered properly, on time and certainly on budget,” said Don Grantham, the GDOT District 10 representative.
Augusta’s region, which includes Richmond and 12 other counties, is projected to collect $841 million in 10 years to finance 85 projects. In Richmond County, several road-widening projects, 14 bridge repairs or replacements, road resurfacing, and infrastructure repairs are on the list.
Grantham said he talked with local traffic engineers about making some modifications to construction start dates, which GDOT wants finalized by Jan. 1.
The realignment of Berckmans Road with Alexander Drive, a closely watched project because of its proximity to Augusta National Golf Club, could be rescheduled sooner than its current 2015 start date, Grantham said. Pre-construction work is well under way.
“There’s a strong possibility that can happen,” he said.
Other large projects in Richmond County are widenings of Wrightsboro Road, Windsor Spring Road and 15th Street and improvements to River Watch Parkway and Broad Street.
Projects needing more work, such as engineering or right-of-way acquisition, are scheduled for the later phases. Information about the progress of each phase will be made public periodically.
“We are going to do everything we can to make sure this program is transparent and successful,” said Mike Dover, the department’s administrator for the tax-funded projects.
He and his staff have spent the weeks since voters approved the tax in July meeting with local officials to explain the next steps in the process. Local governments can apply to manage projects in their jurisdiction if they can demonstrate experience and capability.
Where the local governments don’t run the show, a consulting firm will. Dover said he asked firms last month to submit proposals for the job, and he hopes to have one selected and working by the end of the year.
“We realize that the window is closing very rapidly,” he said.
Grantham said Augusta’s Traffic and Engineering department will likely manage its projects using existing personnel.
Among other things, the board’s resolution details the working relationship with other state agencies, including the Department of Revenue, which will collect the sales tax, and the Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission, which will sell the bonds for the upfront financing.
Board member Brandon Beach wanted to make sure people in those areas know what’s going on with their taxes.
“Sounds like you’ve got all the ‘I’s dotted and ‘T’s crossed,” he said. “What about a marketing program?”
Dover explained that a marketing firm would supplement information distributed by state and local governments.
By passing the sales tax, the three regions also get a discount on the amount of local funds that must be used in routine transportation projects. Politicians from the regions where voters rejected the tax have said the discount should be blocked or watered down. That’s likely to be a key issue when the General Assembly convenes in January.