Failed 2012 T-SPLOST + no plan B = dramatically scaled back plans for Effingham Parkway

June 4, 2014 9:45 am

by Bill Dawers · 18 comments

The long-discussed Effingham Parkway, also known as the Georgia Portway, would have gotten over $100 million in funding if coastal Georgia voters had approved the regional T-SPLOST in 2012. That would have covered the vast majority of the total of all phases of the project.

But T-SPLOST got thumped at the polls, and Georgia’s leaders have found no viable long-term funding for transportation infrastructure. (Charlie’s column this week hit a few themes relevant to this post.)

The certainty that the elected leadership could not and would not have the vision or courage to implement any sort of plan B was one of the reasons I supported the T-SPLOST down here on the coast, but that fight is long over.

So now we’re seeing a dramatic scaling back of the plans for the Effingham Parkway, which seems like a truly necessary project given both population growth and increased traffic at the ports. From Effingham Parkway may be two-lane road in the Savannah Morning News:

The road, which would take pressure off of Ga. 21, originally was contemplated as having four lanes from Ga. 30 to Blue Jay Road and two lanes from Blue Jay Road to Ga. 119.

That configuration would cost an estimated $120 million, a number that’s unlikely to be realized anytime soon since the region voted down a transportation special-purpose local-option sales tax (T-SPLOST) in 2012.

A more reasonable project now would be $32 million for a new, two-lane road from Ga. 30 to Blue Jay Road – 6 1/3 miles. McCall Road would be improved from Blue Jay Road to Ga. 21. No new construction would be done north of Blue Jay Road.

Interim Effingham County Administrator Toss Allen notes in the piece that it’s uncertain where the $32 million will come from. Construction will not begin before 2017.

GDOT’s 2009 Project Concept Report made an overwhelming case for the parkway. An economic analysis from Georgia Southern University in 2009 concluded:

With an estimate cost of 135.4 million dollars internalized by the region, there is a short-term drag on the region’s economy. So the key question to be asked is, are enough of the benefits of the road captured locally to justify the investment? The answer to that question is a very strong yes. In 2020 alone, Gross Regional Product will be 2,140.0 million dollars higher if the road is built compared to the no build scenario. In that same year, real disposable income will be 230.0 million dollars higher if the road is built compared to the no build scenario.

linuxfanatic June 4, 2014 at 11:06 am

“The certainty that the elected leadership could not and would not have the vision or courage to implement any sort of plan B was one of the reasons I supported the T-SPLOST down here on the coast, but that fight is long over.”

Yep, that was my reason for supporting it too. But now that I see all the major transportation projects and developments that are being built without it (Beltline, streetcar, MMPT, expansion of MARTA to Clayton) I am glad that it did not pass, as it appears that Atlanta-Fulton did not need it after all. But as for the other areas that rejected it … this is evidence that they cannot say the same.

Bill Dawers June 4, 2014 at 11:20 am

Yep, fewer dollars and the funds are under more centralized control in Atlanta, which basically leaves projects like the Effingham Parkway and upgrades to Highway 80 (the road from Savannah to Tybee) high and dry . . .

linuxfanatic June 4, 2014 at 11:29 am

Yes. I understand (I disagree but nonetheless understand) why T-SPLOST failed in the Atlanta metro region: suburban voters did not want to kick in for hundreds of millions of dollars for MARTA and the Beltline that they will never ride on. It was still a bad decision, because their doing so cost them a bunch of projects in their own region. As many of the suburban counties wound up passing their own SPLOSTs immediately after T-SPLOST failed, they aren’t going to tack on another penny after that, which basically means that none of the regional in scope projects that the T-SPLOST was supposed to fund simply are not going to get done. But while it was a bad decision, it was at least understandable.

But the areas apart from metro Atlanta that were not being faced with having their wealth redistributed to the evil MARTA, what was their justification? It simply made no sense. And when GDOT does come in to do some projects, it will only be those of “statewide need”, which to a political GOP administration will mean the Atlanta suburbs and anything required to move freight from the widened Savannah port to Atlanta (hence the MMPT). Folks in other areas of the state should have known that the needs of metro Atlanta would still get met regardless while theirs would get ignored.

Will Durant June 4, 2014 at 12:44 pm

If I never hear about the 2012 TSPLOST vote again it would make me happy. In the case of Gwinnett there was a supposed 70% ROI to the county. Many of the projects named were already in GDOT’s 20 year plan and a few were in plans before that. The widening of GA20 between Buford and Cumming was first held hostage to the Outer Perimeter Project. That project is now finally in progress after Gwinnett passed its own SPLOST with a guaranteed 100% ROI to the county. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that taxpayers are not going to vote a tax upon themselves where the other guy gets a piece of the pie. These are hard decisions that a legislature and Governor have to make. It’s either that or scrap the representative system altogether for popular votes on guns everywhere, marijuana legalization, Georgia Power rate increases…

linuxfanatic June 4, 2014 at 2:26 pm

Will Durant:

“These are hard decisions that a legislature and Governor have to make.”

Yes, and when Roy Barnes made the “hard decision” to support the badly needed northern arc (and now sprawl has gotten to the point where the northern arc is no longer even viable, unless you build it out even further) and to create GRTA as a way to eventually have a coordinated regional transportation system, he got called “King Roy” and was bounced out of office in favor of 12 years of do-nothing. Perdue and Deal saw what happened to Barnes and created T-SPLOST to avoid it. Voters who demand that politicians make tough decisions only to punish them deserve the leaders that they get.

And wow, Gwinnett County is going to get 100% ROI on projects funded in Gwinnett and built in Gwinnett. Good for you. But what you fail to realize is that many of Gwinnett’s traffic problems are not due to people going from one place in Gwinnett to another, but people coming from Cobb, Fulton, Hall, Cherokee, DeKalb etc. into Gwinnett. The SPLOSTs that were passed in Cobb, Gwinnett and other places WILL give 100% ROI, but they WILL NOT do a thing in moving commuters – and in 2017 Braves fans – from county to county, and the inter-county traffic people will get tied up by all the folks just passing through. That is why the ROI was 70%. Gwinnett was being asked to contribute revenue to build transportation projects that Gwinnnet commuters use when they leave Gwinnett. That is the only way that it is going to work, because Cobb is not going to spend Cobb revenue to build infrastructure for Gwinnett commuters who do not pay taxes or vote in Cobb.

“It’s either that or scrap the representative system altogether for popular votes on guns everywhere, marijuana legalization, Georgia Power rate increases…”

No, what needs to happen is for voters to stop behaving the way that they do.

Dave Bearse June 4, 2014 at 1:33 pm

The Highway Trust Fund is in trouble and federal inaction could jeopardize half the state’s transportation funding, and Georgia’s motor fuel taxes are low. Governor Deal is doing the sensibly by reducing state motor fuel tax revenue by executive order.

Harry June 4, 2014 at 2:25 pm

Yes, fuel costs are too high right now. Anything to reduce them temporarily will help turn the economy in the right direction and save jobs. Meanwhile, we can wait for a short time and see if DC gets serious about federalism as it relates to road money. I know I’m preaching to the choir.

Ellynn June 4, 2014 at 6:31 pm

They only thing that is going to reduce the price of gas is if China and India stop growing. We can drill all we want but high demand in Asia will mean higher prices for everyone REGUARDLES of who runs the federal government. It’s all about the captialism of Fungibles.

Harry June 4, 2014 at 7:58 pm

Federal/state policies have a lot to do with the price of gas. That’s why Canada decided to sell to China instead of us when we didn’t build the Keystone Pipeline. Sure, some of the Keystone product would have been processed and re-exported from this country, but you do know that in spite of recent Obama-caused increases we still have among the lowest-priced gas in the world. Hydrocarbons are not a fixed-price commodity around the world, and there are reasons for that.

The Last Democrat in Georgia June 4, 2014 at 9:24 pm

Excellent points.

Will Durant June 4, 2014 at 10:44 pm

Well at least he hasn’t invaded more countries to the get the price lower. The price at the pump doesn’t reflect the additions to the deficit caused by unfunded wars in the Middle East or the cost of still keeping 12,000 troops in Kuwait, carrier fleets, etc. Another huge factor on pump prices is one of the lowest tax rates on gasoline and diesel of the industrialized nations averaging at only 10 to 20% of the rate of most non-OPEC countries. We either increase the taxes on motor fuels to pay for the infrastructure or we add to the deficit. Either way I’m sure it will be “Obama-caused” in your circles.

The Last Democrat in Georgia June 4, 2014 at 2:59 pm

If the proposed road in question (Effingham Parkway) is intended as a developmental highway (…a road that sparks the construction of new commercial development along its path), I wonder if it might be possible to fund the construction of such a road through Tax Increment Financing.

(…Tax Increment Financing or TIF is the use of property tax revenue from new commercial development that pops up along a piece of transportation infrastructure (like a roadway or a transit line) to pay for the design and construction of said piece of transportation infrastructure. While still a relatively very-foreign concept in North America when it comes to funding transportation infrastructure, TIF is a form of financing that is used to pay for transit lines in other parts of the world, particularly in Asia and Europe.)

Will Durant June 4, 2014 at 5:12 pm

We’ve been doing the exact opposite of this in the race to the bottom of states bidding against each other for business relocation and new construction. For example in the recently touted move of a Caterpillar plant or real world vs dream world:

“Caterpillar announced a new plant in Georgia, which offered $44 million in incentives. Local counties chipped in free land and other aid, including $15 million in tax breaks and $8.2 million in road, water and sewer repairs.” –NY Times 2DEC12

Then we have the very Governor who touts this “coup” now suspending an automatic $0.008 per gallon increase on the very means used to pay for road improvements in this state.

Ellynn June 4, 2014 at 6:49 pm

This area is already a high residental area with a large number of schools on the route. Some of it is in the marsh and wetlands area of the Ogeechee River. Some places are less the 10 miles from Ft Stewart, so the level and type of commerical construction could (and in the past has been) restricted. The main takeaway from this is currently the number of very deadly accidents that have happened on either the over loaded Hwy 21 or along the roads discussed. Locals tend to stay off 21 unless they are headed from Savannah to Rincon or Springfield. The number of container trucks traveling to either existing warehouses or to US 25 to get to Augusta is amazing. Increasing the size of the Effingham Parkway will improve traffice on a dozen other highways, not to mention increase commerce in the whole state.

The Last Democrat in Georgia June 4, 2014 at 7:34 pm

If the proposed road in question (Effingham Parkway) is not a developmental road, that would eliminate the options of using revenues from Tax Incremental Financing and/or private real estate investment to fund the construction of the road.

(…Private real estate investment could potentially be used to fund the project by selling the road project with a big chunk of highly-developable land along the path of the proposed roadway to private investors for the cost of designing, constructing and maintaining the roadway.)

Though with the prime location of the proposed roadway being so close to I-95 (a critically-important transcontinental superhighway route between the Northeast and Florida), the Savannah-Hilton Head Int’l Airport and the explosively fast-growing international seaport at the Port of Savannah, one strongly suspects that the proposed Effingham Parkway is much more for developmental purposes than it is for logistical and traffic relief purposes….Which would mean that Tax Incremental Financing and private investment might possibly be good ways to fund the construction (and continued maintenance) of the proposed roadway.

Engineer June 4, 2014 at 5:01 pm

“The certainty that the elected leadership could not and would not have the vision or courage to implement any sort of plan B was one of the reasons I supported the T-SPLOST down here on the coast, but that fight is long over.”

My thoughts exactly. Oh how many times did I keep hearing people telling me about these great plan B’s and alternate solutions that would be made, and 2 years later, still nothing.

Rambler14 June 5, 2014 at 7:01 am

But Debbie Dooley told us so!
The Sierra Club too!

linuxfanatic June 5, 2014 at 2:30 pm

Debbie Dooley was only concerned with not having suburban money being sent to MARTA and the Beltline. Seriously. That. Was. Her. Entire. Agenda. She could have cared less about what happened with badly needed projects in the rest of the state so long as she and her Tea Party cohorts were able to stick it to Atlanta.

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