Development Authority hosts TIA celebration, ribbon cutting

Published 1:39 pm Sunday, April 7, 2019

By Beth Alston

AMERICUS — A group of local community leaders gathered Wednesday morning on the lawn of South Georgia Technical College (SGTC) to celebrate the Transportation Investment Act (TIA) and to cut the official ribbon on the roundabout at Ga. Highway 49 and South Georgia Tech Parkway.
The TIA is designed to use TSPLOST (Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) to complete transportation projects and purchase needed equipment. The voters of Sumter County, and the River Valley Region approved the additional 1-cent tax in 2012, a 10-year tax to fund regional and local transportation improvements. With collections beginning in 2013, as of January 2019, Sumter County has collected over $6.5 million, representing a 25 percent regional share.
The revenue allotments are as follow:
Americus — $1,392.236.52
Andersonville — $52,678.58
DeSoto — $32.316.87
Leslie — $66.646.91
Plains — $66.672.45
Sumter County’s unincorporated areas — $5,017,714.64
Clay Jones, chairman of the Sumter County Board of Commissioners, gave the welcome and introduced special guests. “TSPLOST has been a significant investment made by all of us as taxpayers, and it is our hope today that you will see the magnitude of the investments,” Jones said.
John Watford, Ed.D, president of SGTC, welcomed everyone to the beautiful campus, noting that the college offers many transportation-related programs, as well as a Law Enforcement Academy. Watford shared a personal note. His wife’s best friend was killed in a traffic accident at the intersection of the former Ga. Highway 49 and Southerfield Road intersection in January 1991. “Thanks to the citizens of Americus and Sumter County voting the TSPLOST in, that is much safer intersection with the roundabout.” Watford said the college has nearly 340 employees and over 2,000 students “and we enjoy a safe commute to work.”
Watford introduced Kenneth Franks, administrator of the TIA Program for the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT). Franks’ job is to ensure delivery of the 10-year program. “When this passed, GDOT was in charge of ensuring delivery … a very overwhelming task when you look at the sheer numbers. He said there 871 projects that needed to be accelerated to completion in 10 years’ time, with zero dollars in hand to do it. They started collecting tax revenues in January 2013, and are now 74 months in, he said. “In River Valley, we’ve collected $280,873,999.54. That’s a lot of transportation money.” Franks stressed that none of the funds would have been available if not for the region’s voter support and delivery of the projects would not have been possible with local community support.
Franks said to date, 526 projects have been accelerated to construction in the first six years. “This couldn’t have been done without the cities and the counties that aided us in this work and have taken on the task of doing the work on their own,” he said. He said design work started on SGT Parkway in early 2013 and when the tax revenue collection started and they had enough in the bank to start work. It was completed in June 2015. “That kind of time frame doesn’t happen with TIA tax dollars attached to the project,” he said. “This is local revenue and it’s treated differently from federal dollars. We don’t have to follow the strict environmental compliance acts that we do with federal money,” he said, adding that without the TIA funds, a project like this could have lingered in the design phase for five to 10 years.
The roundabout connects SGT Parkway with a new project, a truck route that will take traffic to U.S. Highway 280/Ga. Highway 30, a project which has just been let to Reeves Construction Co. “This will help complete this outer loop around Americus and hopefully reduce some of the truck traffic going downtown,” Franks said. He ended by expressing appreciation on behalf of GDOT for the community support.
Paul Hall, chairman of the Sumter County Development Authority, said from the beginning, they recognized the TIA as a key to economic development, and so gave town meetings around the county to garner voter support.
Hall addressed the local economic impact of the TIA, which, he said, gave the counties the means to help themselves.
“Over $6 million has been spent in our economy,” he said. “Supplies have been purchased, equipment has been rented, contractors have been hired.” Hall mentioned repairs to Crisp Drive, along which over 450 people are employed. He mentioned the resurfacing of the J. Frank Myers Industrial Park. He mentioned partnering funds with the One Georgia Authority, the Development Authority, and One Sumter to build Eaton Road which has opened up an additional 77 acres for industrial growth.
Americus Mayor Barry Blount reminded those present that in 2012 when Sumter County and the other counties in the River Valley Region voted in the TSPLOST, many others did not. He said Lee and Dougherty counties have recently passed their own TSPLOSTs, recognizing the benefits. He said the city used about $600,000 to resurface streets in Americus and another $300,000 for street improvements. He said the city and county gave money for the Eaton Road project, for the resurfacing of the parking lot of PharmaCentra, and for the airport authority’s apron expansion at Jimmy Carter Regional Airport. He said all this proves what local governments can do for themselves, as well as the lack of a need for federal dollars and the accompanying restraints.
Andersonville Mayor Marvin Baugh first of all thanked the people “who dreamed up this program. It has benefited Andersonville greatly and we do appreciate it.” He said the city used the TSPLOST revenues to upgrade and purchase new equipment to make Andersonville more attractive for tourists and the local citizens.
DeSoto Mayor James Cutts said, “We don’t have a lot, but through TSPLOST we are now able to resurface … that work is in progress and we hope to have it done very, very soon. … Through TSPLOST and what you all have done to help the little small entities in Sumter County, we’re able to get that done.”
Leslie City Clerk Jessie Rees said, “ … a lot people don’t know how important it is for small cities in this county to receive this money. Without this money we get from (the TSPLOST), there would no road work in our area. We would not have the funds to pave the roads and fix the holes and correct the problems we have in our smaller towns. Leslie received over $66,000 … We’ve some of it … It is a blessing to have this and it’s great to see everyone come together and support our county and our little cities that have so much riding on this. We wouldn’t be able to do any of it without this and we do thank you.”
Barbara Grogan, executive director, Sumter County Development Authority, spoke on behalf of the city of Plains. She said the city of Plains plans to resurface Park Street, which runs behind the Plains Community Center, with its TSPLOST funds.
Chairman Jones spoke for Sumter County called up the two public works directors: Frank Whitaker who is retiring, and Jim Littlefield Jr., who was just hired recently.
Jones listed over 80 roads in Sumter County, some shared with municipalities, which have been resurfaced with TSPLOST revenues. “That’s a lot of roads,” he said to applause. “If not for TIA, none of this would have been done.”
Jones asked Whitaker to list the equipment the county purchase with TSPLOST: four motorgraders, an excavator, backhoe, two dump trucks, an 84-in. compactor for dirt roads, a roller, and numerous chainsaws, weedeaters, and lawnmowers.
Littlefield commented that his family’s former business, Littlefield & Associates, was contracted by the county some 15 years ago to survey the former Southerfield Road (now SGT Parkway) and District Line Road … They found out quickly when we turned in our survey that they couldn’t afford to make any improvements on those roads so those plans were put on the shelf. But the voters had the foresight to pass that one percent tax, and there you go. The DOT was there to step and re-engineer it and do it quicker … The TSPLOST gives you a future we you look down road and can do some planning. … Where are you going to be expanding? Where will you need the roads? Now you can start thinking along those lines and start creating a budget … ”
Jones recognized former state Sen. George Hooks, who was instrumental in the entire TIA process from its inception. Hooks said he was glad to be there.
Jones pointed to SGT Parkway as an example of success. “Sen. Hooks and others knew South Georgia Tech Parkway was a key piece of Sumter County infrastructure and would need to evolve for future growth,” he said. “We knew South Georgia Technical College would be here for years to come, and in some form the land across the parkway would also develop, which meant more traffic.  As projects have evolved, we will now have students from both South Georgia Technical College and Sumter County Schools using the parkway daily. When the new high school is built, we will have student drivers and bus drivers. Additionally, the Ted Baldwin Industrial Park, just to our west, moves workers and products through the parkway daily. This parkway service as an integral component to our infrastructure, provides a great entrance into SGTC to accommodate guests, and can also handle the needs of all adjacent properties.”

Local leadership gathered for the official ribbon cutting of the roundabout at SGT Parkway and Ga. Highway 49 North, which was funded by TSPLOST revenues.

Jones then invited the group to board the SGTC bus for transport to the roundabout for the official ribbon cutting.