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T-SPLOST list takes next step
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Georgia's new regional approach to funding transportation, the transportation-only SPLOST, or T-SPLOST, took its next step recently as state officials made their changes to lists submitted by local leaders.

The 12-county Northeast Georgia region, which includes Newton County, had its list cut from 162 projects totaling $2 billion to 132 projects. Based on past sales tax collections in the region's 12 counties, a 10-year T-SPLOST would collect $1.02 billion if it's approved by voters in July 2012 primaries.

The list will be further trimmed by a regional roundtable, consisting of a chairman and mayor from each county. Chairman Kathy Morgan and Covington Mayor Kim Carter are Newton's representatives.

Newton County originally submitted 18 projects totaling $260 million. The state cut out three projects which it deemed to be more recreational than transportation oriented:

- a $29.7 million bike and pedestrian trail that would have connected Newton and Rockdale counties

- $1 million to complete the planned pedestrian trail from the Covington Branch Library to Eastside High School

- and a $605,300 request from the town of Newborn to convert the out-of-use Norfolk Southern railroad corridor into a greenway corridor.

However, the state also added four projects to the list:

- two bridge replacement on Ga. Highway 36, one at the Yellow River 10 miles south of Covington and one at the South River near the Butts County line

- relocation of Alcovy Trestle and River Cove roads at their intersection with Ga. Highway 11 near exit 98 on Interstate 20

- bringing the Xpress public commuter service east to Newton County.

Costs for the four added projects were not given. Chairman Kathy Morgan said bringing public commuter service to Newton was her lowest priority because it would cost the county $537,000 in maintenance and operation per year.

Among Morgan's top priorities were the widenings of some of the county's most heavily used roads:

- $64 million to widen Salem Road from Ga. Highway to Old Salem Road

- $30 million to widen Crowell Road from Brown Bridge Road to I-20

- $15 million to widen Ga. Highway 142, from Alcovy Road to I-20 east

- $10 million to widen Industrial Boulevard from U.S Highway 278 to Ga. 142.

Newton County's 19 projects are the third most in the region, behind Athens-Clarke, 28, and Jackson counties, 21.

The T-SPLOST is designed to totally revamp transportation funding in Georgia by tying it to local sales taxes. The majority of voters in a region must approve the T-SPLOST for it to be passed, and the additional penny sales tax will be collected for 10 years.

While 75 percent of collections will go toward regional projects, the other 25 percent will be returned to local counties for local projects of choice, Morgan said. That 25 percent along would be more than $2 million per year for Newton County, which is twice as much as the county devotes to roads currently.

Because T-SPLOST will largely replace state transportation funding, if the list is not passed by voters, it could cripple local transportation funding, Morgan and other officials have said.

Public hearings are expected to be held in the fall.