Long-range plans to widen Bass Road, relieve traffic, could take a decade
Road projects that would have been funded by a regional sales tax that narrowly failed Tuesday could still get done, but don't count it.
The Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, or T-SPLOST, on the ballot in 11 Middle Georgia counties narrowly failed by a vote of 31,024 against it to 29,748 in favor, according to unofficial results. The 1-percent additional sales tax over 10 years was expected to raise $637 million, funding 55 specific projects with 75 percent of the funds and the rest of the money going to counties to be spent on local transportation projects.
Laura Mathis, executive director of the Middle Georgia Regional Commission, said without approval of the tax there is no alternative funding for the projects at this time. However, she added that the state could fund some of the projects in the future.
"Anything is possible," she said. "It would have to come out of existing revenue streams."
Even if some of the projects are funded, she added, it will likely take longer than if the sales tax had been approved.
It's the second time the tax has failed. It also failed on 2012, but this time it was much closer. It could be considered again if enough counties want it.
Tommy French, chairman of the Baldwin County Commission, said he would like to see it re-considered at some point. Baldwin was among six counties where a majority of voters approved it, with 2,715 voting for it in Baldwin and 2,139 against it. French said voters there recognized the need for it.
"It would have improved the road situation in Baldwin County," he said.
The close vote across the region could raise the prospect of a request for a recount, though Mathis said she has not heard from any officials asking for one. French said he may discuss that option with his fellow commissioners. Georgia law allows for a recount if the margin is within one percent.
Mathis said the role of the Middle Georgia Regional Commission has been to assist the counties in deciding whether to move forward on a T-SPLOST referendum and in developing a project list, but she said the commission has not taken a side one way or the other on whether it should the approved.
The largest project in the T-SPLOST is the widening of Ga. 96 from Interstate 16 in Twiggs County to just outside of Bonaire in Houston County. The project is estimated to cost $105 million.
Voters in Houston played a key role in the defeat of the tax, voting it down by a margin of 7,769 opposed and 6,390 in favor. It was closer in Bibb County, but it also failed there by 10,799 to 10,555. The overall outcome was based on the total number of votes in the region.
Houston County Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker, who took a neutral position on the tax this time while he opposed it in 2012, noted the margin was much closer in Houston than in 2012, when it failed 3-1. He also said it passed in Bibb in 2012 while it failed this time, so that was a key factor.
He offered a few explanations as to why the tax continues to draw opposition, but he thought the most important was simply that it would have pushed sales taxes overall to eight cents on the dollar in Houston.
"I think people are really sensitive about taxes right now," he said.
He also said he heard a lot of people say they didn't like that the tax would go on for 10 years.