published Friday, August 12th, 2011

Georgia panel OKs highway projects

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ROME, Ga.—After weeks of wrangling over how to divide the money from a proposed 1 percent sales tax, the five members of an executive transportation committee voted to approve the project list they say will provide critical infrastructure for the 15-county region in Northwest Georgia.

Their vote came a day after Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said he wants legislators to consider changing the vote date on the transportation tax from July 2012 to November 2012 during their special session beginning next week.

Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, attended Thursday's meeting and said he supports moving the vote date.

"I think the better date and the fairest would be when the most voters show up," Mullis said. "That would be in the presidential election in November."

The 30-member Georgia Department of Transportation's Round Table for Northwest Georgia must approve the projects list before Oct. 15. The projects must also be presented to the public, with public meetings planned in Bartow and Whitfield counties in September.

The final list contains more than 100 transportation projects, ranging from major road-building projects in some counties to adding bike lanes and sidewalks in others. The tax is expected to bring in about $1.3 billion over 10 years, with 25 percent to be used in discretionary spending and 75 percent on special projects.

When the executive committee first began the projects list, southern counties such as Bartow, Polk and Floyd received the lion's share in funding, with several $100 million projects. After northern county representatives complained, the committee agreed to add dozens of projects to Walker, Catoosa, Murray, Gordon and Whitfield counties.

To divide the money more evenly, the committee used a chart that showed how much each county would receive compared to its population and the amount of sales tax raised.

To find money for the added projects, the Georgia Department of Transportation agreed to help pay for some of the larger projects or revised their estimates of costs.

In addition to the projects, the committee agreed to set aside about $10 million to pay for the Department of Transportation to oversee the projects and about $7 million to spend in regional transit projects.

After the vote, Dade County Executive Ted Rumley said he was satisfied with the final list.

"We've worked hard and come a long way since that first day," Rumley said.

The committee has expressed doubt that the tax will pass voters' muster, either in July or November. The Georgia Chamber of Commerce plans to promote and support the tax, but Tea Party groups have said they will organize to defeat the initiative.

In Dalton, Mayor David Pennington opposes the tax and has promised to fight it.

Mullis said the tax may be difficult to pass, but said the transportation projects would improve infrastructure and bring an economic boost to the region.

"This is being led by local officials who are controlling the list," he said. "That money will be spent in this region. Not a penny goes to Atlanta."

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about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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August 12, 2011 at 11:18 p.m.
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