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Deadline looms for project list
Transportation tax could bring area nearly $1B
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Forsyth County News


Local officials have less than a week to dream big.

In the next step toward an August 2012 statewide vote on a 1-cent sales tax for transportation, the wish list of road projects from Forsyth and 12 other counties in the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission is due March 30.

The commission has until April 13 to submit the lists to the state Department of Transportation.

The list from Cumming and Forsyth County officials could include everything from widening Ga. 400 to adding sidewalks and more lanes along Hwy. 9.

The drafts will be shortened by an executive committee to match the projected $900 million in revenues from the proposed sales tax.

The 1-cent tax was the focal point of the state's Transportation Investment Act, passed by the Georgia General Assembly in 2010.

The law divides the state into transportation districts based on already established regional commissions.

Each region is supposed to create a transportation roundtable made up of city and county leaders and then use that group to form an executive committee.

Each region is working with the DOT on developing a project list that will go before voters next year.

The tax could generate nearly $1 billion over 10 years in the Georgia Mountains district, with 75 percent of proceeds going toward regional projects and 25 percent to local ones.

Both Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt and Forsyth County Commission Chairman Brian Tam serve on the Georgia Mountains roundtable. Gravitt also sits on its five-member executive committee.

“If we’re going to go to the 21st century for economic growth, we’ve got to have transportation, and this is the way to get transportation into the 21st century,” Gravitt said.

"The DOT doesn’t have any money in their budget ... so this is pushing the burden onto local governments. [The tax] is the cheapest way we can build infrastructure and update our roads.”

Gravitt said there are plenty of smaller local projects that need work, including intersections such as Hwy. 20 at Kelly Mill Road and Hwy. 9 at Elm Street.

Those will be included on the city’s wish list, as will more regionally significant projects, such as a wider Ga. 400 and Hwy. 9, including sidewalks from the downtown square to Hwy. 369.

“Also, we want to put in for [Ga. 400 exit] ramps on Buford Dam Road and Mary Alice Park,” Gravitt said.

“Each county, they turn in their local projects, and also they’ve got to be more of a help to the region also. So that’s the reason I’ve chosen Hwy. 9.”

Forsyth County is still fine-tuning its list, which likely will total about 50 projects.

Among the likely candidates are several widening projects, including Bethelview Road and Ga. 400.

Other possibilities include expanding McGinniss Ferry Road between Sargent and Union Hill roads and Post Road from Hwy. 9 to Kelly Mill.

Two portions of Hwy. 9 are also likely to be on the widening list, as well as Hwy. 369 between Hwys. 9 and 306.

Tam said the transportation tax is a great way to fund much-needed projects.

“We’re behind on our infrastructure, with the roads in particular, and hopefully we can find some common ground with our neighbors and get some of our projects rolling, in particular the continued widening of Ga. 400 and Bethelview Road,” he said.

The counties appear to be getting along well during the roundtable meetings, as have the county and city, Tam said.

Partnerships are crucial for the a project's success, he noted, because “the roads don’t end at the county line.”

After five years of working toward improving transportation, District 23 state Rep. Mark Hamilton said he’s pleased to see local communities so involved in the process.

“My goal would be whatever projects are in that list be important from an infrastructure standpoint, but also that we can demonstrate that they’re important to the local citizens that are going to be asked to vote on this measure,” said Hamilton, a Republican from Cumming.

“It’s important that it be very clear the benefit that taxpayers receive ... if they see that the benefit is there, they will support this referendum.”

The Georgia Mountains executive committee will come up with a reduced list by Aug. 15 and the full roundtable must vote on the final list before Oct. 15.

“This is not the fix to our transportation infrastructure challenges. This is merely a step in that direction,” Hamilton said.

“We still need to find long term, a continually improving mechanism to support our growing transportation and infrastructure needs. But this is a good step in the right direction.”

Jeff Gill of the FCN regional staff contributed to this report.