Local News

September 23, 2011

Transportation meeting draws little interest

Officials from several Northwest Georgia counties, the state Department of Transportation and the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission turned out at the Whitfield County Courthouse to answer questions about a regional transportation plan Thursday night. Members of the public curious about the plan didn’t, however.

“I’m taking this as 100 percent support for the plan,” joked Whitfield County Board of Commissioners Chairman Mike Babb.

But in a more serious moment he said that he feared that people have already made up their mind about the plan, or more specifically the regional Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) that will fund it.

Voters across Georgia are slated to vote on regional transportation SPLOSTs during the July 2012 general primary. Whitfield and Murray County residents will vote as part of the 15-county Northwest Georgia region.

If approved by voters, the tax is expected to generate some $1.2 billion over its 10-year life that would fund transportation projects across the state.

Catoosa County Board of Commissioners member Jim Cutler said the advantage of the tax is that local officials don’t have to keep going back to Atlanta each year to ask for their projects to be funded.

“In the past, counties have had to apply to GDOT for funding for their plans. With the current economic situation, those funds are becoming harder and harder to get,” Cutler said. “This way, as a region, we get to decide our priorities. I’m sure that Whitfield and Catoosa will continue to get out fair share. But this way, Chattoga County benefits. Walker benefits. Fannin benefits.”

The regional plan has been put together by a six-man executive committee, which includes Babb. The full 30-member regional panel will vote on the plan on Sept. 29.

“That is the final thing we will do. That will send it to the state,” Babb said.

Cindy Miller, of the Marietta-based marketing group Comm360, was one of the few people not employed by a government at the meeting.

Comm360 has been hired by a coalition including the Georgia Chamber of Commerce to help encourage people across the state to support the transportation plans and to vote for the SPLOSTs.

Miller said that at the moment Comm360 is just gathering information since the various regional plans haven’t been finalized yet.

In August, Ryan Mahoney, the chamber’s director of public policy, told the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission that the coalition will spend about $6 million in the metropolitan Atlanta area to promote that regional SPLOST next year and some $3 million to promote transportation SPLOSTs in the rest of the state.

Babb noted that Whitfield County officials got all of the transportation projects they asked for included in the SPLOST plan. Those include new roundabouts on College Drive and on Highway 201 at Ga. Highway 2, as well as a redesign of the I-75 interchange at Carbondale.

Babb said Thursday’s public meeting was much more subdued that the first one on the plan held Tuesday in Cartersville. About 60 people turned out for that meeting to protest a plan to connect U.S. 411 to I-75 in Bartow County.

“There were some property owners down there who were concerned about what it would do to (Dobbins Mountain),” he said.

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