Over the past 30 years, Georgia has benefited from both a strong economy and a growing population. Unfortunately, both are threatened by the under-investment in our transportation network. In fact, Georgia ranks 49th among all states in per capita spending on transportation.
During the three most recent fiscal years, Georgia only invested about $88 per person per year on our transportation infrastructure. Most Georgians spend this much each month on gasoline or insurance alone. The simple truth is that we cannot build the necessary new roads and maintain the existing roads for just $88 per person.
The actual needed investment is at least twice this amount. Think of the economy of Southwest Georgia: from paper products to crop dusters; from beer to peanuts, corn and cotton; from health care to insurance, banking, homebuilding and the list goes on and on. Virtually every business is directly dependent upon a well-maintained transportation network and every business will suffer from a poorly-maintained network.
We have a unique opportunity on July 31 to significantly increase highway and street construction and maintenance funding. The Transportation Investment Act of 2010 (TIA 2010) provides the mechanism whereby all 12 regions throughout the state have the opportunity to impose a special 1 percent sales tax (T-SPLOST) dedicated to needed transportation improvements within each region.
Southwest Georgia is Region 10, covering 14 counties. If the T-SPLOST is passed, it will be in effect for 10 years and will provide funding of approximately $530,378,773 and is projected to create 14,320 jobs in Southwest Georgia. Of this $530 Million, 75 percent, or $398 million, will be spent on a pre-determined project list across Region 10 and the remaining 25 percent, or $132 million, will be returned to the region’s local governments.
This 25 percent discretionary fund will return over the next 10 years these total amounts to area counties: Dougherty ($16.1 million), Lee ($6.5 million), Mitchell ($8.6 million) and Worth ($10.8 million). The counties can use their funds for a host of transportation projects including paving dirt roads, resurfacing, bridge construction and maintenance, etc.
The $398 million pre-determined project list for our region covers numerous important projects, none more important to our region than the four-laning of State Route 133 from Albany to Valdosta. Each time the BRAC Commission has met to evaluate bases for possible closure, our Albany MCLB has escaped due in part to our commitment to widen SR 133. T-SPLOST represents our best, and likely last, opportunity to get S.R. 133 widened to four lanes to facilitate the MCLB equipment moves to and from the ports. Also, this will give Albany another improved direct access route to 1-75.
Just last week, the Congress finally passed a federal highway bill after three years and nine extensions of the old bill. However, the new bill is only a two-year Bill rather than the normal six, and it provides funding levels about 10 percent below the previous bill. The Georgia D.O.T. continues to struggle with declining motor fuel tax revenues and debt from the programs of 2001-08.
It is obvious that Southwest Georgia can no longer depend upon Washington and Atlanta to fund all our needed transportation improvements. Additional taxes are never popular, especially in difficult economic times. However, I believe if you consider all the facts that you’ll agree with me that T-SPLOST is the most important economic development opportunity in a generation. So I ask you to join me on July 31 to vote “YES” for transportation and for the economic well being of Southwest Georgia.
J. Bruce Melton is president of Oxford Construction Co.