ALBANY Time to change has come and gone; Watched your fears become your god; It’s your decision.
— Alice in Chains
Dougherty County Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard invoked the names of political heavy hitters from a bygone era as he discussed current proposed road projects in Southwest Georgia, names like (former state House Speaker) Tom Murphy and then-area representatives Al Holloway and George Busbee.
Sinyard was addressing area leaders during a recent Dougherty Area Regional Transportation Study Policy Committee meeting in Leesburg, and he encouraged them to point to the future — much as those past leaders had — in pushing a referendum that would allocate a 1 percent transportation tax in the region.
“They’re about to finish up (construction on U.S.) Highway 19 from Thomasville to Griffin,” Sinyard noted. “They started on that project 25 years ago, and it’s already had an impact on the communities that the highway runs through.
“We’re benefitting today because those leaders saw how that highway would have a positive impact on Thomasville, Albany, Leesburg, Americus, Griffin and all the other communities along 19.”
In a follow-up conversation, Sinyard remembered the process that led to officials pulling the trigger on the U.S. 19 project.
“Man, I was a 30-year-old, just-elected official, and those were the first meetings I ever attended from a regional standpoint,” he said. “Those guys — Murphy and Holloway and Busbee and others — not only had the vision to see the future impact of that road project, they understood that it would take time to get the road system in place.
“I see major differences, though, in 25 years ago and now. The biggest thing is that governments then lived within their budgets and they were more responsive to the needs of their citizens.”
Georgia’s Department of Transportation perfectly illustrates Sinyard’s point. In an attempt to keep up with the hustle and bustle surrounding metro Atlanta, the department’s decision-makers pretty much spent it broke. In the wake of what can only be described as poor management decisions, GDOT made any and all future transportation work in the state an iffy, at best, proposition.
Before he left office, though, then-Gov. Sonny Perdue took a big step toward turning the mess in Transportation around when he picked Todd Long to run the department. Long, who got his start with GDOT as a planner whose duties included oversight of the DARTS program in Southwest Georgia, is not a typical political appointment whose priority concern is keeping his bosses happy. From all reports and observations, Long has a plan in place that will benefit transportation needs throughout the state.
A huge part of that plan was the state Legislature’s 2011 passage of the Transportation Investment Act, which allows 12 separate regions of the state to place referendums on the ballot that would allow for a 1 percent tax collection over 10 years. All of that money would be used for transportation projects located solely in the various regions.
Sinyard said he hopes voters in Southwest Georgia will consider the July measure carefully before casting their ballot.
“As a small businessman and a fiscal conservative, I have a problem with most any tax,” the Dougherty Commission chairman said. “I especially have a problem with taxes that are used the wrong way. And I also know it’s not easy to vote to spend another penny.
“But if we don’t pass this T-SPLOST, there are some things we aren’t going to be able to do for our kids and our kids’ kids. Transportation is our biggest problem in the state, but if we don’t do what we can to take care of it now, it’s going to become an even bigger problem. And, yes, any way you look at it, a penny tax increase is still an increase. But this is one time that our citizens won’t be giving and not getting anything in return.”
Projects like the widening of State Highway 133 from Albany to Valdosta, which is on the regional T-SPLOST list, is one of those U.S. 19-type projects that could greatly impact the future of Southwest Georgia in general, Albany specifically. It is seen as a key component in any future fight to keep Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany where it is.
Ultimately, though, if future political leaders look back on 2012 as the starting point for a vital roads project in this region, they might appropriately invoke the names of Sinyard, Ed Duffy, Willie Adams and Jim Quinn, Dougherty and Lee leaders who helped push the projects list that included work on 133. But if that project does move forward as planned, the real credit will be due the people who made it happen, the voters of Southwest Georgia.
Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at email@example.com.