Augusta National offers loan to speed Berckmans reroute

Augusta National Golf Club wants the city’s realignment and widening of Berckmans Road to happen sooner than the state-approved schedule for Transportation Investment Act projects and is willing to lend the city money in advance of special purpose sales tax collections to hasten it along.

According to a memorandum of understanding scheduled for consideration Tuesday by the Augusta Commission, the city and club officials “agree that it is in their mutual best interest to advance this project one year under the present TIA scheduling,” and Augusta National “is willing to discuss pre-funding of Phase 1 of project costs” interest-free.

Originally scheduled for the final phase of the 10-year transportation special purpose local option sales tax, the realignment of Berckmans around several club-owned properties used for parking to connect with Alexander Drive was moved up by city officials this year to the second phase. Other projects, such as Gordon Highway and 13th Street improvements, were moved from the first phase to the final one.

“It was a good thing for us,” Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson said of starting the project sooner using money borrowed from the club. “The way that we’ll be paying it back won’t be at once; it will be increments.”

Johnson said that under the proposal, the club will loan the city all the money – according to project estimates, about $16.7 million – to get started in late 2014, but will allow Augusta to repay the club over four years as collections come in.

Commissioner Donnie Smith said the proposal would help the city start the project sooner and not have to wait for the transportation sales tax collections to cover the project.

Approved by voters last year in three regions of the state, the tax is an additional 1 percent sales tax to fund transportation projects. The tax has generated about $48 million for the 13-county Central Savannah River Area region, but collections are below baseline projections by about 18 percent for the year.

Club officials met with commissioners and Augusta Engineering officials behind closed doors last week to discuss the proposal.

The memorandum of understanding shows the city closing and abandoning all sections of its road, about 13 acres, within the perimeter of the reconfigured Berckmans and trading them to the club for six acres on which the new road will be built. Once property values are assessed, the club will also pay the city the difference between the properties’ values, according to city Traffic Engineer Steve Cassell.

The plan shows the road arcing west near the club’s southwestern fence and running near the acquired areas’ western edge to a new terminus at the current intersection of Stanley Drive and Washington Road, about three-tenths of a mile from Berckmans’ current terminus at National Hills shopping center.

Because the plan leaves Augusta National with property outside the reconfigured Berckmans, it also calls for three “tunnel-type walkways” to allow pedestrians and others to cross the rerouted Berckmans safely.

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