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Panel finishes cutting road projects
Draft outlines area efforts
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Forsyth County News

GAINESVILLE — A group of Georgia Mountains elected officials has produced a recommended road projects list for next summer’s statewide vote on the 1 percent, 10-year sales tax for transportation.

The committee started Tuesday’s meeting with $500 million it needed to cut and ended four hours later with $6 million to spare, after subtracting $10 million in project management costs.

"We’ve accomplished everything we’ve intended to do," said Sonny James, chairman of the Habersham County commission and chairman of the six-member transportation panel.

The list next goes to a 26-member roundtable made up of top city and county leaders from throughout the 13-county Georgia Mountains Regional Commission.

The roundtable has until Oct. 15 to give its final OK to the projects list and is empowered to change anything on the smaller committee’s approved list.

"You’ve got two months to convince them to say yes," said Todd Long, the state Department of Transportation’s planning director.

The roundtable is set to meet from 5 to 7 p.m. Aug. 24 at the Ruby Albright Aquatic Center in Clarkesville.

The committee also agreed to hold public hearings in Forsyth, Hall, Stephens and White counties.

The date for the Forsyth hearing has not been determined, but the Hall hearing will be Sept. 13 in Gainesville.

Forsyth County Commission Chairman Brian Tam, who serves on the roundtable but wasn’t part of Tuesday’s executive committee meeting, was most pleased the list included the "widening of Ga. 400 and the Hwy. 369 interchange."

"Those will really help move traffic on Ga. 400," he said Wednesday. "I would have liked to have kept the McGinnis Ferry interchange, but it does have federal funds committed to it so we’ll just have to try to get some help from the DOT on that."

In total, Forsyth has about 20 projects on the list, with Hall County, the second largest recipient, getting nine.

At nearly $322.5 million, Forsyth stands to receive more than a third of the total funding.

"We’d like to have more, but I think everyone would have liked to have more," Tam said. "We got just under $300 million dollars.

"We did pretty well."

As for the upcoming roundtable meeting, Tam said the fact that the current list got through the executive committee is a good sign things will go smoothly with the larger group.

"I don’t expect to see a lot of changes, but I expect to see a lot of discussion."

Hall County ended up with nearly $300 million in projects, but had to make more than $150 million in cuts going into the meeting at the commission offices in Gainesville.

Gainesville Mayor Ruth Bruner announced the cuts Tuesday after conferring with Srikanth Yamala, transportation planning manager for the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization.

"I think we came out well," Bruner said after Tuesday’s meeting. "We dropped some projects that we would have liked to have, but I think we ended up in good shape."

Through the process, other counties have sacrificed projects.

At the last meeting on July 19, Forsyth County took the painful step of erasing some $328 million in improvements on well-traveled Hwy. 20.

On Tuesday, White County cut the $10 million third phase of the long-awaited Cleveland Bypass.

Committee members, as they deliberated cuts, tried to balance high-dollar projects with ones craved by residents.

"We’re not assured to get this [sales tax] passed," said Cumming Mayor Ford Gravitt on Tuesday. "We’ve got to put the roads where the votes are."

In the summer of 2012, voters in 12 regions statewide will decide whether to approve the 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 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 while about $300 million would go to local governments.

If the roundtable is unable to approve a project list by Oct. 15, a "special district gridlock" will be declared, according to DOT.

That means another referendum for a transportation sales tax can’t be held for at least two more years.


FCN Staff Writer Jennifer Sami contributed to this report.