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More cuts needed to region's road list
Panel to meet again Aug. 2
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Forsyth County News

GAINESVILLE — Time for some wholesale cuts — and soon.

A regional panel charged with compiling a list of projects for the planned transportation sales tax vote next year left a meeting Tuesday with $500 million it still needs to cut to meet nearly $1 billion in projected revenues over 10 years.

"Some of the big road (projects) are going to be cut out — that’s what it has amounted to," said Cumming Mayor Ford Gravitt.

Referring specifically to Hall and Forsyth counties, the largest of the Georgia Mountain’s region’s 13 counties, "it looks like we’re going to have to cut another $100 million or something in that range each," he added.

"Yes, probably so," Gainesville Mayor Ruth Bruner agreed.

The six-member panel, or executive committee, set its next meeting for noon Aug. 2 at the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission, 1310 W. Ridge Road in Gainesville.

It must finish the list by Aug. 15.

The project list then goes to the Georgia Mountains transportation roundtable, a larger body of government officials that was used to create the executive committee, which has until Oct. 15 to give its OK.

Public hearings will take place before then, officials have said.

In summer 2012, voters in 12 regions statewide will decide whether to approve a 1 percent tax for transportation and transit projects.

The plan moves forward if a majority of voters — 50 percent plus one — in a particular region vote yes.

The tax, if approved, would last for 10 years, with the Georgia Mountains region estimating it would reap about $1.25 billion.

The state’s Transportation Investment Act of 2010 calls for 75 percent of proceeds going to regional projects and 25 percent going to local governments to use as they see fit.

Under that formula, about $950 million would go toward regional projects in the Georgia Mountains district, while about $300 million would go to local governments.

At one point, governments in the 13-county district submitted project lists totaling nearly $2.8 billion in projects.

That number was whittled to $1.5 billion on Tuesday, with some harsh cuts.

For example, Forsyth erased some $328 million in improvements on well-traveled Hwy. 20.

Forsyth County Commission Chairman Brian Tam said he hopes state funding will be able to pay for improvements to Hwy. 20.

Though he does not serve on the executive committee, Tam said he and Gravitt, Cumming’s mayor, are in constant communication about the projects.

"We felt that in order to spread the money around the county more, we needed to pick up multiple projects as opposed to just a select few projects," he said.

"If we did Hwy. 20, we wouldn’t have much money to do anything else. There’s only so much money and we have to be realistic."

A few of the projects Hall County has cut include widening Lanier Islands Parkway from McEver Road to Lake Lanier Islands, widening McEver Road from Lanier Islands Parkway to Mundy Mill Road, McEver Road intersection improvements, and Atlanta Highway and Memorial Park Drive expansions.

Mike Berg, Dawson County commission chairman, said he believes the committee members, going forward, need to consider revenue projections, projects that will attract voters and regional roads.

"Somehow, you allocate that out percentage-wise so that everybody might have to cut a little bit, but at least you’re doing that in a uniform fashion, rather than just going down [the list] and knocking Hall and Forsyth to make them cut more stuff," he said.

If the roundtable is unable to approve a project list, a "special district gridlock" will be declared, according to the state Department of Transportation Web site.

That means no referendum for a sales tax can be held for at least two years.

Also, governments in the region will have to match the state’s Local Maintenance and Improvement Grants by half, according to the DOT.

 

FCN Staff Writer Jennifer Sami contributed to this report.