Posted on

What Difference Can a Penny Make?

Toombs Officials Outline Past and Future of T-SPLOST

(Editor’s Note: When voters participate in the May 24 General Primary, the ballot will include a very important question affecting the future of the transportation infrastructure in this region. Voters will be asked whether they support the renewal of T-SPLOST. In an effort to acquaint readers with what the 1% Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax has accomplished in this area in its last 10-year cycle and what it could mean for the next decade, The Advance is publishing a series of articles highlighting T-SPLOST’s impact on three counties in the newspaper’s coverage area: Wheeler, Toombs and Montgomery counties. In this issue, Toombs County is profiled.)

If a one penny tax is approved by voters on May 24, Toombs County residents will see a massive redesign of local traffic flow—specifically, the four-laning of Georgia Highway 292 and a bypass that lessens the congestion on U.S. Highway 280, Georgia Highway 292, and in downtown Vidalia. In its last cycle, TSPLOST accomplished major improvements to U.S. Highway 1, as well as a number of less high-profile projects that have made transportation throughout the county—and its two municipalities—safer and easier. Why wouldn’t citizens readily embrace a penny tax that can fund major transportation projects that might be beyond the reach of area governments without it? Amazingly, the last time the tax was voted on by area residents—2012— the tax question barely squeaked by a vote of 52% to 48%. The 10-year 1% sales tax to fund local and regional transportation improvements was introduced to voters via a referendum in 2012 and passed in three of Georgia’s 12 regions, River Valley, Central Savannah River Area, and our own Heart of Georgia Altamaha (HOGA) which includes Appling, Bleckley, Candler, Dodge, Emanuel, Evans, Jeff Davis, Johnson, Laurens, Montgomery, Tattnall, Telfair, Toombs, Treutlen, Wayne, Wheeler, and Wilcox. In the last decade, the HOGA Region has successfully completed 601 projects with 141 more currently under construction. The current T-SPLOST has collected over $290 million in total revenue of an original budget of $366 million. Upon completion, that penny of sales tax will have funded 27 projects in Toombs County, 31 projects in Montgomery County, and 18 projects in Wheeler County.

In an effort to inform the voters about the projected benefits of the tax that is shared by anyone who makes a purchase in the region, and with a guarantee that 100% of the tax will come back to this area, local officials including the Greater Vidalia Chamber, have launched a campaign to get the word out about T-SPLOST and why it is important to support it. Cities of Vidalia, Lyons

In Vidalia, TSPLOST has covered over $1,109,302.92 of transportation- based projects within the city during the last two years. These projects include $960,992.92 of work completed on: Pete Phillips Drive, Brinson Road, Lowery Place, Curry Street, Truman Street, Rudell Road, and Semco Road, as well as $148,302 spent on the rehabilitation of railroad crossings on Morris Street and North College Street. According to Vidalia City Manager Nick Overstreet and Lyons City Manager Jason Hall, if passed, T-SPLOST will help fund a number of projects, including two regional plans to expand Highway 292 into a four-lane roadway from Oxley Drive to Broadfoot Boulevard, which was estimated to cost $11,271,792 in 2019 and benefits both cities. The reconstruction of the intersection of Highway 292 and Highway 297 to create right turning lanes in all directions is also a regional project planned to be completed. That project was expected to cost around $1,824,000 in 2019. Other possible projects are the creation of railroad parking in the downtown area, which, with Vidalia T-SPLOSTassociated projects, will include $700,000 of resurfacing roads. It will also help to fund the creation of two places for railroad parking in the downtown area, as well as the creation of a new road between Stockyard Road and Meadows Parkway, in the area just north of the railroad, and a new road to extend McNatt Street from Highway 280 to Highway 292. T-SPLOST may also possibly be used to install and repair 8 miles of sidewalks citywide, and 15 miles of thermoplastic striping.

T-SPLOST funds have also been used throughout Lyons to contribute to projects, such as the resurfacing of South Victory Drive from Highway 280 to U.S. 1, the resurfacing of West Oglethorpe Avenue from Highway 292 to Page Lane, and the resurfacing of North Lanier Drive and North Lexington Drive from Highway 292 to their respective dead ends. Currently, T-SPLOST is aiding to fund the creation of a roundabout roadway at the intersection of Highway 292 and Oxley Drive. According to Hall, the possible local projects that T-SPLOST could be used for include a new parking lot between Highway 292 and the West Columbia Street alley. “This parking lot will help the city by providing parking for the growing downtown Lyons area,” Hall explained. Other possible projects include the resurfacing of several streets – 2nd Avenue, 3rd Avenue, Collins Street, and Mary Street – and 20,000 linear feet of restriping. A roundabout may also be constructed at the intersection of Bulldog Road and Park Street.

Toombs County

Toombs County Manager John Jones said that the last cycle of T-SPLOST, which ends December 31, funded 10 projects with a price tag of $5.3 million in Toombs County. This money was blended with discretionary funds from T-SPLOST for a combined total of $6.5 million for local projects.

Toombs County’s first T-SPLOST project in the last cycle was creating acceleration- deceleration lanes on Georgia Highway 130 where U.S. Pet in located. The other nine projects were: resurfacing Lyons Center Road; countywide road striping; resurfacing and widening of Providence Church Road; resurfacing Old Donald Anderson Road; resurfacing and widening at Five Points; and resurfacing Mt. Moriah Road, Marvin Church Road and New Normantown Road. “The biggest project was the paving of Ezra Taylor Road, which had been on the books and budgeted for some time,” Jones said.

The regional project, which was partially funded by Toombs County’s TSPLOST allocation in the last cycle and is being finished now, is the widening of U.S. Highway 1 to the city limits sign. Jones explained that every county is given a regional project as part of its T-SPLOST package. These programs must benefit the county and the entire region, and have to be approved by DOT.

Also, each local government is provided a percentage of monies to use at their discretion for transportation projects. For Toombs County, these funds are running around $300,000 a year, or $3 million in the past 10 years.

“Some of these local projects would never have been done without T-SPLOST,” Jones said. “We are trying to get all of the county roads to 24 feet wide, which makes for a safer road,” he said of the importance of having this extra funding.

Jones outlined the future projects which TSPLOST could fund: resurfacing of Cedar Crossing-Alston Road; resurfacing and widening of Old Normantown Road; resurfacing of Aimwell Road; paving Dasher Street and extending it south of Santa Claus to Crab Apple lane, then connecting the new road from U.S. 1 to Georgia Highway 178 to facilitate the east-west movement of traffic flow.

Toombs County has two regional projects identified for T-SPLOST funding: a $14.5 million bypass and an approximately $20 million project on Georgia Highway 292, between Lyons and Vidalia, which adds turn and center lanes, starting at Chatters and running into Vidalia. The bypass will start at U.S. 1 south of Santa Claus, continue to just behind Toombs County High School, cross Ezra Taylor Road, come out east of the Old Onion Factory, bridge over Highway 292, the railroad tracks, and Highway 292 and circle back in south of the industrial park in Lyons.

“Both regional projects will offer some relief from traffic between the cities of Vidalia and Lyons, and are part of plan that anticipates the growth of our community. The projects not only help with transportation issues associated with that growth but create economic stimulus,” Jones said.

Recent Death Notices