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Regional tax could pay for road projects
Open house draws interest
Road WEB 1
A new interchange at the congested crossing of Ga. 400 and Hwy. 369 in north Forsyth, above, is among the local projects that could be funded by a proposed regional 1-cent sales for transportation. - photo by Jim Dean

On the Net

Visit http://www.gmrc.ga.gov/ to review the projects and get more information. Comments must be e-mailed before Oct. 5 to sharmon@gmrc.ga.gov or faxed to (770) 538-2625.

If silence is golden, then it appears most Forsyth County residents are satisfied with the proposed project list for the upcoming referendum on a regional 1-cent sales tax for transportation.

A meeting Thursday night in Cumming drew nearly 60 people but only a handful of comments.

Representatives of the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission have held four area meetings, including the local one, seeking feedback on proposed road projects if a 1-cent tax is approved by voters.

A finalized list must be completed by Oct. 15, following the public comment period.

In Forsyth County, 20 transportation projects have been identified, including the widening of Ga. 400 between Exits 12 and 14.

Others that made the first cut for widening include Hwys. 9 and 369, as well as Post Road.

Voters will go to the polls next year to determine whether to implement the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or T-SPLOST, in their region.

The issue is slated for a vote in the July presidential primary next year, but the state delegation may opt to move the referendum to the November general election.

Each of the state’s 12 regions will vote independently on the sales tax, and the money will remain in that region to go toward approved projects.

The tax could yield as much as $1 billion over its 10-year span in the 13-county Georgia Mountains Regional Commission, which includes Forsyth.

Most feedback has been positive throughout the meetings, said Stephanie Harmon, the commission’s regional planner.

More often, though, Harmon said people have had questions about the sales tax, which for the first time has been proposed for an election.

One she hears often is, “What will happen if the tax doesn’t pass?”

“The projects will still get done, it’ll just be a lot longer until they get done,” Harmon said. “A lot of these [projects] have been needed for a long time and they’ve just not had money dedicated to them.”

Those needs would remain if the T-SPLOST didn’t pass, since officials have said there is no plan B for funding.

Harmon said the proposed projects were aimed at increasing the flow of traffic regionally.

District 23 state Rep. Mark Hamilton of Cumming, who serves on the transportation committee, said the Transportation Investment Act allows for each region to focus on its unique needs.

“For our region, it is the only major opportunity we have right now to reduce some of the gridlock that we face,” Hamilton said.

Forsyth County resident Jane McCarthy agreed the area needs traffic improvements.

“We’ve grown bigger than the transportation allows,” McCarthy said.

She hasn’t formed on opinion on the sales tax proposal yet, but attended Thursday’s meeting to get more information and look over the project list.

The proposed project list was determined by a 26-member roundtable, with two members representing each county in the Georgia Mountains region.

Forsyth’s representatives are Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt and Forsyth County Commission Chairman Brian Tam.

At the meeting Thursday, Commissioner Patrick Bell said he felt the project list was a good one.

He expects that the tax itself will draw more discussion among voters.

“These projects have to be done, and the money has to come from somewhere,” Bell said. “[A sales tax] is a very fair way to collect revenue.”

Forsyth and Hall counties, which have the highest populations in the region, have the most projects and would receive a larger portion of the regional tax.

Forsyth County is “a great example” of an area with a lot of transportation needs, said Todd Long, director of planning for Georgia Department of Transportation.

“A lot of the projects identified for Forsyth will help with those,” Long said.

In addition to the project list, Long noted that each municipality in the region will be able to use 25 percent of the collections toward any needed transportation project.

Cities and counties currently receive some money from the state for this, but the sales tax would yield a far greater amount.

Forsyth County and Cumming are projected to take in about $4 million per year.