Taxpayers handing over an extra penny in sales tax for every dollar won’t see a big payout in the first year of the massive transportation system overhaul coming to the Augusta region.
By the end of 2013, the Georgia Department of Transportation plans to accept bids for only a handful of projects. Leaders say that doesn’t mean the tax fund isn’t being used but that planners need time for pre-construction work.
“Projects have planning in place,” said state transportation board member Don Grantham. “It just doesn’t put a shovel in the ground overnight.”
Collections began Jan. 1 for the 1-percent tax for transportation projects that voters in a 13-county area encompassing Augusta approved last July.
In the first three months of the tax, revenue collections were 14.6 percent below projections made in November, said Diana Pope, the director of the financing division for the Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission. About $14.2 million was collected through March.
January revenue was 30 percent below estimates, likely because many stores did not begin collecting the tax, Pope said. February and March were 5 percent and 7.7 percent below projections.
Pope said it’s too early to know what affect the low collections could have on the timetable for starting and completing projects. Revised projection numbers could be released next month followed by an evaluation of the tax program, she said.
“We’re concerned and looking at it, but not overly concerned until we get more data,” Pope said.
In Richmond County, the only construction work underway this year receiving money from the tax is the widening of Wrightsboro Road from Jimmie Dyess Parkway to Bobby Jones Expressway. The $21 million project began in 2012 and will get $2 million in reimbursement from the tax.
The extension of River Watch Parkway in Columbia County and passing lane additions on State Route 47 in Lincoln County could also go out for construction bids this year, the Transportation Department said. Widening of State Route 17 and passing lanes on State Route 10, both in Wilkes County, are scheduled for December but are expected to be delayed.
Abie Ladson, Augusta’s engineering director, said he plans to add at least four road resurfacing projects to the construction list this year: portions of Walton Way Extension, Pleasant Home Road, Highland Avenue and Jackson Road.
Local governments were allowed to deliver some of their own projects, which the state said could speed up the process.
“We’re pushing really hard on these,” Ladson said.
In 2014, construction is scheduled to begin on widening Windsor Spring Road and at least six bridge replacements or repairs, he said.
Tim Matthews, a Transportation Department representative overseeing the tax program, said in an e-mail that most of the projects need preliminary engineering, right-of-way acquisition and environmental work before construction phases begin.
“Be patient. Everything’s moving in the right direction,” Grantham said.