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TSPLOST vetting process slogs on

T-SPLOST meetings continue to be held around the county in the lead-up to the next May 24 question and answer session at the Barnesville Civic Center. It will be held at 7 p.m. Lanier Boatwright and Robert Hiett of the Three Rivers Regional Commission made an appearance at the May 9 Milner city council meeting to talk about the Transportation Investment Act which puts the July 31 transportation sales tax, or T-SPLOST, on the ballot. The vote is regional. If 51% of Three Rivers voters approve it, it passes. If not, it does not. This includes some 258,000 registered voters. If it passes, counties will be asked to match 10% for local projects. If it does not pass, the match rises to 30%. Boatwright noted that match would end up on the backs of property owners: ‘There is no plan B.’ Regionally, the tax is to bring in $947 million over 10 years. If the economy improves and that amount is reached before the 10 years are up, the tax stops. If the economy does not recover and the 10 years end before the goal is reached, the tax ends. The whole process would start over again for a 2014 vote. The estimated funds, based on 2010 SPLOST revenues, includes a conservative factor for inflation but does not include federal funds that would go with it, which would push the number past $1 billion. ’We’re here to educate you, not to be for or against it,’ said Boatwright. ‘At the last meeting there were people who didn’t want the public to be educated.’ For the past four years the TRRC has been working on transportation issues in a 10-county area ‘from Butts County to Alabama,’ said Boatwright. ‘We serve local governments in our region, development authorities and chambers of commerce. Our board is made up of elected officials.’ Data shows Lamar County will get back some 160% of what is generated from T-SPLOST in the county. Federal transportation funds will be added to that, about $35.9 million. Boatwright compared that to the $6.5 million spent on lottery tickets in Lamar during 2010. Regionally, people spent $210 million on lottery tickets that year. ’Other counties didn’t have eligible projects and gave their money to you,’ said Hiett. For the four-laning of Highway 36, nearly $55 million from Lamar and Upson counties’ 75% of designated money will go into the pot for studies, rights of way acquisition and actual creation or repaving of the road. The state is throwing in another $30 million to help create one of three needed east-west corridors. ‘There’s a lot of money going to state route 36,’ said Hiett. ‘It’ll be underway or done by the time the tax expires. A project of this magnitude will see continuous work. It’s in the best position to be improved right now.’ Lamar, Upson and Pike counties had transportation plans in place. For Lamar and Upson it included widening Highway 36. The project had already been approved by the Department of Transportation. ’The roundtable wanted to fund a project that could be done in 10 years,’ he said. Boatwright noted the whole highway would be redone and likely rerouted. ’It won’t be the Highway 36 we know today,’ he said. ’Overall we’ll be getting five times more money from the government than we ever have before. It’s the equivalent of a 25 cent per gallon gas increase.’ The other 25% of Lamar County’s funds, about $14 million, will be split between it, Aldora, Barnesville and Milner to be used as they see fit, including purchase of equipment which is not allowed under fuel tax money. It can even be used for matching funds ‘“ that 10% match ‘“ for state and federal grants, leveraging more funds into local road projects. If T-SPLOST is approved, that money would begin rolling in the first quarter of 2013. Hiett also addressed the fuel tax, which has been declining as people travel less and buy more fuel efficient vehicles due to rising gas prices. ’They haven’t changed the fuel tax in 20 years and what we have today is barely enough to keep up with what we have,’ he said. ‘The other options are toll roads and vehicle use taxes, which are a lot less popular with people. T-SPLOST isn’t perfect but it’s what the Legislature gave us.’

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