A united group of mayors and county commission chairmen from across Middle Georgia voted Wednesday to move ahead with a regional transportation sales tax plan that could pump more than $1 billion into major projects.
Voters will consider the 1-percent sales tax next summer, which would match $562 million against $514 million in state and federal money to build dozens of projects in each county. Other sales tax money would fund local road improvements.
“It’s not going to be an easy sell, but it’s a fair way to pay,” said Gray Mayor Gus Wilson said.
Wednesday’s votes at the Middle Georgia Regional Commission offices also drafted rough schedules for the projects.
Among the highlights: Several improvements to the Interstate 75/Interstate 16 interchange could begin as early as 2016, according to the schedule voted on Wednesday.
The mayors and county commission chairmen also voted to widen Ga. 96 near the Houston-Twiggs county border. To get that money, they scrapped five other projects, including a new I-16 bridge at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Politicians worried aloud about the challenge of passing the sales tax -- and the dangers of failing to get voters’ approval.
James Vaughn, the Monroe County Commission chairman who also chaired the 11-county regional roundtable looking at the sales tax, said if voters aren’t educated on the importance of the tax, “we’re going to have the worst roads in the state.”
Gordon Mayor Kenneth Turner said the regional, state and national economies are likely to make the sales tax a tough sell. But the projects are critical to economic development and the vitality of the region, Turner said.
“I don’t think it’s going to be an easy process, but it’s a very important one.”
The votes Wednesday included a decision to educate voters on the merits of the sales tax. That vote, as with the others, was made by a united 17-member contingent of the 22-member roundtable.
Wilson said he expects he’ll be telling Gray’s voters how the sales tax would put more money into local road improvement programs.
Gray typically gets $4,000 or $5,000 a year for those efforts. That would balloon to about $102,000 per year for the next decade if the sales tax passes, Wilson said.
But the focus will likely be on the sales tax’s proposed 76 projects, which range from hundreds of thousands of dollars to tens of millions.
Communities are collaborating to widen Ga. 96 through parts of Twiggs, Houston and Peach counties. That will better help tie I-75 and I-16 well south of Macon and improve access to Robins Air Force Base.
Other major projects include $29.3 million for a Milledgeville bypass; $6.9 million for a Middle Georgia Regional Airport runway extension; $27 million to upgrade Brosnan Yard, railroad tracks and railroad crossings in Bibb and Monroe counties; $22.7 million to plan a crossing of the Ocmulgee River from Ga. 247 in Bibb County to Sgoda Road in Twiggs County; and several projects to upgrade Bass Road in western Bibb County.
State Rep. Bubber Epps, R-Dry Branch, said voters always scrutinize the circumstances of tax increases.
“But at the end of the day, this is about the state maintaining its economic competitiveness,” Epps said. “It’s our only answer to resolve the issues that we face.”
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.