For the state of Georgia, 1996 was the year the Olympics came. But the year also has significance to Paulding County—specifically, to its transportation infrastructure.
“1996 was the last project we widened, which was Highway 120 from Cobb County onto Highway 278. That’s the last federal capacity project we’ve seen in Paulding County,” Scott Greene, director of Paulding’s Department of Transportation, told audience members at the Tuesday night. “Ever since then, it’s been Band-Aid’s and duct tape trying to get things done in Paulding County.”
Greene was one of six people to serve on a panel during a forum focused on the referendum to create a Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or TSPLOST. Voters across the state are weighing in on the measure in the July 31 primary; early voting in the election is under way.
Another local representative on the panel was Dallas Mayor Boyd Austin. During his time on the microphone, Austin highlighted several of the 13 projects that would be funded by the discretionary monies that would come to the county should the TSPLOST pass in its region. Those projects include improvements to State Route 61, the continuation of the Xpress Regional Commuter service out of Hiram, and a West Dallas bypass. A list of Paulding’s projects is attached to this article.
“There’s already a plan looked at by the DOT to widen 61, but everybody knows they cannot go through and tear down historic homes or homes more than 50 years old, so they’ve got to go an alternate route for 61 North from the red light in Dallas. One of our projects is the West Dallas Bypass, that would include the study and the construction,” Austin said. “It would help move the thru-traffic, the truck traffic, that travels between I-20 and I-75, between Villa Rica and Cartersville.
“And the other thing that’s very important to me is public safety. In the tornado back in March, at times when we’ve had trees to fall or motor vehicles that have blocked the road, there is no other access to the northern part of this county from the city of Dallas,” Austin added.
In all, officials say the TSPLOST is projected bring to the county more than $164 million for transportation projects.
“This is a boon for Paulding County,” Austin said. “It will give us more money than we’ve ever had the opportunity to have at one time to do big things.”
The ability to do big things is also being eyed by officials in neighboring Cobb County. Faye DiMassimo, director of Cobb’s Department of Transportation, served as one of the panelists. She said that while Cobb officials were working with their region partners to determine the projects they would fund, they were also working with Greene and other Paulding officials, as well as leaders of other neighboring counties to identify common projects.
For Cobb and Paulding, those projects were Macland Road and state routes 6 and 92.
“Our presence here tonight demonstrates more than anything else a lot about what the regional transportation referendum statewide is all about,” DiMassimo said. “The roads, the bridges, our transit and so forth, those things don’t know when they cross the county line. The people moving through, our commuter flows and so forth, they’re trying to get from point A to point B, and so the roadways and bridges and transportation structure that we need to serve them must be coordinated in a much larger picture.
“There were a number of investments that we considered in Cobb that you were also considering in Paulding. We’ve coordinated and made sure that we were talking to each other and that we were planning those investments in a way that we could best serve all of our citizens,” she added.
For panelist Josh Rowan, principal engineer for Jacobs Engineering Group out of Norcross, the TSPLOST represents an opportunity for jobs.
“The Federal Highway Administration estimates that for every billion invested in infrastructure, it generates 37,000 jobs. … The construction jobs, you’ll see right out of the gate,” Rowan said. “Along the lines, a couple of ripples out, you have businesses, for example, equipment suppliers, Caterpillar’s come here, the mechanics that are involved, material suppliers, the various vendors that are involved.”
Rowan added that beyond those jobs, such an investment in infrastructure would continue to “ripple out” to other industries.
Bill Steiner, executive director of the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission, of which Paulding is a part, also served on the panel. He addressed one audience member’s question regarding a proposed alternative to the TSPLOST—increasing the gasoline tax. Steiner said that alternative plan was neither politically nor economically feasible.
“If you had to increase gasoline taxes to pay for what this one-cent sales tax is going to pay for, you’d have to increase gas taxes by 25 cents a gallon,” he said. That’s a big burden, particularly when you’re traveling to and from work every day, shopping, school, hospital, etc. Twenty-five cents a gallon is a lot of money to a lot of people nowadays.
“A one-cent sales tax is the fairest way to go.”
It remains to be seen if the voters of Paulding, the region and the state agree.
See the attached videos and documents for officials’ thoughts on the TSPLOST and more details about the referendum and what the approved tax would fund.