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Newton to get good return on T-SPLOST
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Only a handful of residents attended Thursday night's T-SPLOST open house at Georgia Perimeter College despite the fact the additional penny tax will totally revamp transportation funding in the state and will greatly affect major regional thoroughfares.

Newton stands to get approximately $160 million between 2012 and 2022 if T-SPLOST passes, while the county's residents and visitors would contribute $98.5 million based on current spending patterns. The local contribution will grow as development or spending increases.

Regular yearly SPLOST collections for the 12-county Northeast Georgia Regional Commission are around $71.2 million, based on this numbers from this latest fiscal year, July 2010 to June 2011. That level would result in $712 million for 10 years of collections, but commission officials have said previously they expect to collect just under $1 billion.

That seems to imply total sales tax collections will grow by 40.4 percent during the next decade. Even with a 40 percent markup, Newton residents would still contribute only $138 million.

Newton will get $140 million in direct projects:

- Widening of Salem Road from Brown Bridge Road to Old Salem Road - $34.3 million

- Widening of Covington Bypass Road from Ga. Highway 36 to U.S. Highway 278 - $32.75 million

- Widening of Crowell Road from Brown Bridge Road to I-20 - $31.78 million

- Widening of Industrial Boulevard from U.S. 278 to Ga. Highway 142 - $9.79 million

- Covington Municipal Airport improvements - $6.6 million

- The relocation of intersection of I-20, Ga. Highway 11 and Alcovy Trestle Road -$225,000.00

In addition, 25 percent of the $1 billion will be split between counties based on population and miles of road for discretionary local spending. Chairman Kathy Morgan said she expected Newton County to receive about $2 million in discretionary spending per year, or $20 million during the life of T-SPLOST.

The maximum recommended daily traffic for two-lane highways is 15,000 cars per day, but Salem Road is at 25,000, the Bypass Road at 20,000 and Crowell Road around 16,500. All three roads will be widened to four-lane highways.

The key for Newton's projects are to reduce congestion and to increase the ease with which residents can reach major highways, Morgan said. That will attract both residential and commercial development.

While the federal government originally wanted to widen Salem Road to six lanes, Morgan said Thursday that would kill any sense of community and simply make Salem Road a pass-through road.

Regional projects of interest to Newton

The entire idea of the T-SPLOST is to improve regional transportation and several projects will ease Newton residents' paths to Atlanta, Athens and Savannah.

Ga. Highway 138, which barely crosses Newton's northern tip, is often used by residents in that part of the county to travel to Monroe, Conyers or Atlanta via I-20. It will be widened in both Rockdale and Walton counties.

Morgan said Newton County couldn't afford widening its small portion because of the two bridges that would cost nearly a $100 million to replace. The federal government may be able to provide funding for that.

U.S. Highway 441 will be widened south of Monroe, which leads to Milledgeville and eventually onto Interstate 16 which leads to Savannah.

Jackson County Chairman Hunter Bicknell also serves as the chairman of the Northeast Georgia regional T-SPLOST committee. He said the majority of projects are state routes and U.S. highways which simply help traffic flow better between major destinations. The idea, he said, is to create connectivity and tie in to existing infrastructure, while setting the stage for future projects.

The five most populous counties, Athens-Clarke, Barrow, Jackson, Newton and Walton, received the most in project money.

He said the T-SPLOST is needed because the state simply doesn't have much money for transportation. Not only does Georgia have a low gas tax, the state also spends billions of dollars of its shrinking budget paying down debt on previous transportation projects.

The Northeast Georgia T-SPLOST committee is expected to vote on its final list of projects Oct. 6. The list will then be voted on by each county in a public referendum which will be held with the July primary.

Officials will be pushing hard for the list to pass because there is no back up plan for improving roads. Although the public will be hesitant to vote for another tax, Morgan said previously that a failure to pass this referendum means major road projects will not be completed because the state simply doesn't have the money it used to.