On July 31, or earlier with advanced voting, we will have the opportunity to vote for or against transportation for our region. Not only will Columbia County citizens have the opportunity to vote on the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or TSPLOST, but so will Richmond, McDuffie, Oglethorpe, Fulton and all 159 counties in the state of Georgia.
The Georgia Legislature passed the Transportation Investment Act 2010, also known as TSPLOST, to maintain and enhance our transportation infrastructure. A sales tax is the fairest tax, shared by anyone who buys a product, including visitors and tourists to the region, counting our South Carolina neighbors who frequent Georgia to shop. This fair tax does not solely put the burden on the property owner, business owner or vehicle driver.
Isn’t this why we have a state fuel tax? Why can’t we fund our transportation needs with this tax? Well, we’ve been trying to. Such a tax has been in place for decades, but it has been steadily declining each year due to an increase in more efficient cars and fewer miles traveled. The fuel tax can’t keep up with the growing Georgia population and the demand for new and better infrastructure. With the gas tax funding, we have to petition Atlanta for our regional projects and wait in line for improvements. This 1 percent sales tax is equivalent to an additional 25 cents per gallon fuel tax increase. TSPLOST also has a deadline. This 1 percent increase in sales tax can last for only 10 years, or until our region hits its goal of $841 million.
Georgia is divided into 12 regions, and Columbia County is one of 13 counties in region 7. Our county grew more than 38 percent in the past 10 years. That is more than 35,000 new county residents. Just the city of Grovetown grew by 87 percent in those 10 years. What happens if we grow just 25 percent in the next 10 years, but don’t widen or extend these major arteries in our county?
The Columbia County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors supports TSPLOST because unlike other taxes, the money raised here, stays here. We know what this tax is buying. TSPLOST revenue stays in our region and is applied to road projects selected by our local leaders and officials. TSPLOST comes with a citizens’ accountability committee to ensure our projects are completed.
If all 12 regions pass TSPLOST, there is an opportunity to receive $19 billion for transportation. Out of that $19 billion, our region is projected to receive over $841 million in revenue. This $841 million would be distributed two ways: 75 percent would go to the regional projects on the approved list, and the remaining 25 percent would be used for local projects chosen by city and county officials. If TSPLOST passes, here’s what we achieve in Columbia County:
• Completion of Riverwatch Parkway: four-laning Old Petersburg Road and Old Evans Road from Baston Road to Washington Road.
• Flowing Wells Road improvements from Interstate 20 to Washington Road.
• Furys Ferry Road widening from the South Carolina line to Evans-to-Locks Road.
• Lewiston Road widening from I-20 to Columbia Road.
• Horizon South Parkway widening from I-20 to Wrightsboro Road in Grovetown.
• Wrightsboro Road improvements from Horizon South Parkway to Robinson Avenue.
• Improvements to Robinson Avenue to Gordon Highway in Richmond County.
• Bridge replacement and intersection improvements on I-20 at Appling-Harlem Highway.
For all regional proposed projects, including 50 Richmond County projects, visit www.connectgeorgia2012.com.
The 25 percent for local Columbia County projects consists of intersection improvements for Chamblin Road at William Few Parkway, Blue Ridge Drive at Lakeside Middle and High schools, Hereford Farm Road, and Blanchard Road. Sidewalks would be added to school complexes, and we would pave several remaining dirt roads in our county. The cities of Harlem and Grovetown have additional local projects.
We enjoy great quality of life in Columbia County with new schools, parks, libraries and other capital improvements. We made this happen when we took control and passed our education and county SPLOSTs. People are more likely to shop, live and work in places that are easy to access. New and large businesses are more likely to be found in areas with updated and modern infrastructure. On July 31, we are voting for local control of our future regional transportation needs.
For more information, a town hall meeting will be held at 6 p.m. July 24 in the Columbia County Government Complex, Building A Auditorium in Evans.
(Tammy G. Shepherd is president and CEO of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce.)