Sales tax proposal includes $500K for eastside base access

wcrenshaw@macon.comJanuary 17, 2012 

WARNER ROBINS -- Houston County’s proposed special purpose local option sales tax would provide $500,000 toward construction of an alternative eastside access to Robins Air Force Base.

The money is included in the Warner Robins portion of the $155 million tax, which will be voted on March 6. While the funding would be only a small portion of what would likely be needed to build it, Mayor Chuck Shaheen said it is meant as a show of support for what base officials consider a top priority.

Proposed routes have included connecting the base from the southeast end to Ga. 96 or from the northeast to U.S. 129 and Interstate 16.

The sales tax money would be the first funding committed to the project, and it could go a long way toward getting the General Assembly’s support, said state Rep. Larry O’Neal, R-Warner Robins, who is the House majority leader.

“It gives instant credibility to the mission story we are trying to tell,” O’Neal said.

The cost of the project and the route to be selected will depend upon a feasibility study and an environmental assessment, O’Neal said. He doubted state funding for construction would be appropriated this year, stating that the widening of Ga. 96 is a bigger priority. But he said once the route is settled, he expects the project to find support among legislators. He noted the base is the state’s largest single-site employer.

“We are looking at every way we can to enhance the viability of Robins Air Force Base to national defense,” he said.

Currently the only access to the base is Ga. 247. Shaheen said an eastside gate would significantly help alleviate traffic on the Warner Robins side, especially from heavy trucks.

The Defense Logistics Agency’s new distribution center at Robins has increased truck traffic, and Shaheen said there is often a backup of trucks trying to enter the commercial gate.

Robins officials are putting an emphasis on reducing traffic congestion in and around the base and have instituted a number of initiatives. Eastside access is one of the base’s biggest priorities.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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