Transportation funds take back seat this time

chwright@macon.comFebruary 6, 2012 

WARNER ROBINS -- Transportation has ruled the Houston County special purpose local option sales tax for 12 years. For an upcoming proposed renewal, the category has taken the back seat to make room for others.

“Transportation is still important, but we have put a significant amount of money in the last 10 years into those projects,” Houston Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker said.

Though the need for transportation projects has been reduced through efforts in the last two SPLOSTs, Stalnaker and other officials say the proposed $42.4 million of projects in the proposed renewal are just as necessary for wider, fresher roads and new sidewalks.

Houston County commissioners and the mayors of Centerville, Perry and Warner Robins have suggested a six-year renewal of the penny sales tax, which has been in place since 2001. Voters will cast ballots March 6 on the continuation. It is estimated to generate about $155 million for capital improvements in the county and its three cities. If passed, the sales tax would remain at 7 percent.

“You’re doing something for the future,” Stalnaker said. “If the ’01 and ’06 SPLOSTs would not have occurred, we would not have had the infrastructure to deal with the volume of traffic we have now.”

The transportation category accounts for about 27 percent of the proposed 2012 SPLOST projects. In the 2001 SPLOST, it accounted for about 82 percent. In the 2006 SPLOST, the category accounted for about 77 percent. Stalnaker said about $170 million has been spent on road projects during the past decade.

The projects in the past have included widenings of South Houston Lake Road, from Russell Parkway to Houston Lake County Club in Perry; Moody Road, north of Ga. 96; Carl Vinson Parkway, from Russell Parkway to Elberta Road; and Thomson Street in Centerville.

“If these funds had not been available, there’s a great chance that none of the work would have been done because we would not have had the funding mechanism to do it with,” Stalnaker said.

Proposed projects

The major projects in the proposed 2012 SPLOST are the widenings of Lake Joy, Gunn, Elberta and Dunbar roads. Together the projects would cost about $22.5 million.

The most expensive road project on the list is Lake Joy Road, which would be widened to five lanes. The $8.1 million cost also includes sidewalks.

Stalnaker said the project was given priority because of the increased traffic in the area and the number of driveways on the road.

“The center turn lane would be a safety factor, so that when those people go to stop to turn into their driveways, they won’t get rear-ended,” the chairman said.

Any leftover funds from the four widenings would be used on any other arterial or collector streets, such as Carl Vinson Parkway, Elberta Road and Dunbar Road. The current planned widening of Dunbar would not add any lanes; it would add 2 feet to the narrow street.

Three lanes will be added to Gunn and Elberta roads, Stalnaker said.

“It would mean a better flow of traffic,” Stalnaker said of the four widenings. “It would enhance the safety.”

A project to pave Moss Oak Road, a dirt road in the southwest part of the county, is also listed in the countywide column. Stalnaker said the $2.8 million project will allow industrial traffic to travel from the south to the Perry Industrial Park.

“We’re paving a dirt road that sits between two paved roads,” he said.

The county has also earmarked $2.8 million for resurfacing roads in the unincorporated areas of Houston and $2.5 million for intersections and other transportation needs. Stalnaker said the roads haven’t been specified because priorities could shift during the next two years.

Warner Robins is set to receive $8.1 million in the transportation category. The city’s portion of transportation projects includes resurfacings, sidewalks and an alternative access to Robins Air Force Base, which officials have said is still in the planning stages.

Sidewalks are planned for Watson Boulevard, from Willie Lee Parkway to Corder Road and surrounding the Little League Southeastern Region headquarters, which the proposed list says would cost about $1 million. An additional $1.5 million is earmarked for sidewalks, but the list does not specify where they would be installed.

Warner Robins Mayor Chuck Shaheen did not respond to requests for interviews for this article.

The cities of Perry and Centerville did not detail any of their transportation projects on the projects list. Perry has earmarked $3 million for “road and sidewalk construction,” and Centerville has earmarked $706,500 for resurfacing of streets.

Centerville Mayor John Harley said the money will fill in a gap in state funds that are provided to the city for street resurfacing.

Overall, the proposed transportation projects would improve current traveling methods and prepare for future growth, Stalnaker said. The county has more than doubled in size during the past 20 years, he said, adding many more pedestrians and drivers.

“I think the people in this county have a vision for the future; they showed their vision in the ’01 and ’06 SPLOSTs,” Stalnaker said. “They can see where the dollars are spent and are still being spent. And the same thing will happen if the voters choose to approve the 2012 SPLOST. They will see the dividends paid for many, many years through these SPLOSTs.”

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.

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