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Is T-SPLOST the road to future or nowhere?

7/27/2012

By GORDON JACKSON
The Brunswick News

If some of the Glynn County projects in the Transportation Investment Act referendum seem familiar, there's a good reason.

Most of the projects in Tuesday's referendum - commonly referred to as the T-SPLOST for its original designation as the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax - are taken from a list on the state Department of Transportation's long-range plan, said Glynn County Commissioner Tom Sublett, who was a member of the regional committee that selected the projects in the referendum.

Voters in a 10-county coastal region will be asked to approve a 1 percent sales tax for the next 10 years to fund those projects and 62 projects in the other nine counties.

"Most of them have been in the planning stages, engineering stages for many, many years," Sublett said of the 13 Glynn County projects.

"We got input from literally hundreds of people. We didn't pull these things out of a magic hat like a rabbit."

Members from surrounding counties were also asked for their input because of the connectivity goal the state DOT has for the projects. DOT officials didn't want road widening projects to end at county lines if the goal is to create jobs and make roads safer.

"It was negotiation, give and take and prioritizing," Sublett said.

But the list of projects may also discourage people from voting for the T-SPLOST, said Jeff Kilgore, a Glynn County Republican Party vice-chairman and outspoken opponent of the sales tax.

Kilgore says the project to widen Ga. 99 to four lanes in Glynn County is unnecessary because it's a lightly traveled road and will remain that way for at least another decade. He claims the only people who support widening the road are developers and real estate brokers.

Sublett says widening the highway is important to accommodate the growth that will come.

"It's the road to the future of Glynn County," Sublett said. "There's already a lot of growth and activity there. Growth has slowed down, but it hasn't stopped."

Ga. 99, as well as U.S. 341 and U.S. 17, are main arteries in Glynn County, which is why sections of those roads are scheduled for improvements, Sublett said.

The U.S. 17 Thornhill Creek Bridge reconstruction project is one that is high on the priority list of projects. "Thornhill Creek Bridge is ancient," Sublett said. "It was built back in the '40s."

Kilgore questions why, if the bridge is in such bad condition, isn't it the No. 1 priority in the county?

Replacing the fire station at the Brunswick Golden Isles Airport is another long-overdue project, Sublett said. "The fire station goes back to the Navy days, World War II," he said, when what is now Brunswick Golden Isles Airport was a Navy airfield.

The floor of the station is crumbling from the weight of the newer fire trucks and the doors are so narrow there is less than a foot of clearance on either side for trucks to pull in and out of the building.

Kilgore says the fire station may need replacing, but a cheaper way to do it is to have a local Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum with a short list of important projects.

The general aviation terminals planned for the St. Simons and Brunswick airports are generating perhaps the most questions, Sublett said. Many people don't understand the difference between a commercial terminal where passengers board and disembark from flights and a general aviation terminal for private pilots, air freight carriers and corporate aircraft.

"They have definitely confused our commercial terminal," he said. "General aviation in Brunswick is tremendously busy. There are planes in and out of there all day."

Kilgore calls the airport terminal projects "an absolute waste of money."

He contends that of nearly 80,000 residents of Glynn County, only a handful use the airports, and "the other 79,000 couldn't care less."

A project Sublett says will improve safety is reconstruction of the Interstate 95 interchange at Exit 42 to Ga. 99.

Sublett says the lanes to get on and off the interstate need to be extended to make it safer for motorists. While land near the exit is undeveloped, it won't be that way for long, he said.

"Fifteen or 20 years from now, Exit 42 will be as busy as Exit 29 (at U.S. 17) or Exit 36 (at U.S. 341)," he said.

Kilgore argues that voters are being misled about the importance of projects on the list and says he will continue to encourage people to vote it down Tuesday. "The only project of merit I can think of is widening (U.S.) 17," he said. "It should be done near-term."

But Sublett says projects on the list are intended to help the county grow and make transportation safer.

"This is a major, major impact for infrastructure," he said. "It's an investment in the future."

Voters throughout Georgia will vote Tuesday by regions on the Transportation Investment Act. Regions that approve it will collect a 1 percent sales tax for 10 years for their projects. Regions that reject the tax will neither collect it nor get the projects it would fund.

Along with Glynn County, the coastal region includes McIntosh, Camden, Chatham, Effingham, Bulloch, Bryan, Liberty, Long and Screven counties.

Project list

The Transportation Investment Act, if passed in the 10-county coastal region, would fund these projects in Glynn County, listed in descending order of cost:

* Ga. 99 widening from Ga. 32 to U.S. 341: $35.6 million

* Ga. 99 widening from U.S. 341 to Interstate 95: $22.5 million

* Ga. 99 widening from U.S. 82 to Ga. 32: $15 million

* Glynco Parkway widening from U.S. 17 to Spur 25: $12.5 million

* New Brunswick Golden Isles Airport general aviation (non-commercial) terminal and apron, and new McKinnon St. Simons Island Airport general aviation terminal and auto parking rehabilitation: $10.2 million

* U.S. 17 widening from Yacht Road to Harry Driggers Boulevard: $4.7 million

* I-95 Exit 42 reconstruction: $3.3 million

* Ga. 99 widening from 1-95 to U.S. 17: $2.6 million

* Brunswick/Glynn County fixed-route transit subsidy: $2.4 million

* New Brunswick Golden Isles Airport fire station: $2 million

* U.S. 341 ramp extension at Knight Road: $1.1 million

* U.S. 17 Thornhill Creek Bridge reconstruction: $1.1 million

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