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Tuesday, May 31, 2011 - 10:41am

Proposed Transportation Tax Project List Coming

Voters will get a glimpse next week of what transportation projects a proposed sales tax could fund. State officials are expected to release lists of eligible projects for 12 regions on Wednesday.

It’ll give voters a glimpse of what might be on the ballot when a referendum for a proposed sales tax takes place.

Residents will vote on a one-percent sales tax for transportation next summer. And at the heart of the vote is which projects the sales tax would fund.

The Department of Transportation is reviewing 4,000 proposed projects from 12 regional transportation districts, known as roundtables, to see if they meet certain criteria.

DOT spokeswoman Jill Goldberg says the regional lists released this week are preliminary, and won’t have a financial cap.

“It could be, for example, $10 billion when they are only expected to received $1 billion from the tax," she said. "So that executive roundtable will need to take the list that we’ve given them back and narrow it down to meet the financial constraints they will have, based on the collections that are predicted.”

The state economist has predicted that Coastal Georgia, for example, would receive as much as $130 million in 2013 if voters approve the tax.

The 12 regions will finalize the list of eligible projects by October.

“Once that regional roundtable has agreed to the projects, those are the ones voters will be voting on in their region," Goldberg said. "It is a set list, it’s not a changing list or something broad, like, ‘This goes to transportation.’ Voters will know the specific projects they are voting on.”

If voters approve the sales tax, it would fund road projects, transit, airport expansions and bridges. But it may also pay for landscaping improvements, parks or nature trails. That’s because each of the 12 designated transportation districts would receive a percentage of the collected tax back.

The money wouldn’t come with any strings, and could handily exceed what a given city or county spends on transportation normally, Goldberg said.

“Each city and county will get back some amount of money that they can use on any type of project," she said. "So they could do their trail if their voters vote the tax in. They will get their discretionary money, and they can use it for that. It doesn’t have to be approved by anyone. It’s their individual choice what to use it for.”

The Atlanta region would receive 15 percent of the tax back. The rest of the state’s regions would receive a total of 25 percent of the tax back.

David Austin chairs regional transportation roundtable for Northwest Georgia. He says the discretionary dollars could be the key to convincing voters to approve the tax.

“It should incent the counties with small populations to be on board, whether they have a regional project that goes directly through their county or not," he said. "The discretionary money will be huge.”

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