One Major Road Project Completed, Others Underway
By Tammy Shepherd
I have seen it all in Columbia County, and major growth tops the list!
As someone who in 1980 could ride her horse from the stables on Belair Road – now the University Medical Complex – across Washington Road and down North Belair Road and back, I have witnessed firsthand the bustling growth Columbia County has experienced. Back then it was easy to walk across Washington Road from the former Evans High School/Jr. High to Evans Baptist Church – now First Baptist of Evans – and across the street to Roundtree’s convenience store.
Today is a totally different story. For the newcomers to Columbia County and the Greater Augusta area, the Columbia County Chamber took a bold stand in 2012 to advocate for the passage of the Transportation Investment Act (TIA), otherwise known as T-SPLOST. This legislation was a state-wide referendum to impose a one cent sales tax per region for identified transportation project.
If passed, the region’s sales tax would increase from 7 percent to 8 percent sales tax for 10 years. These funds would pay for eight major corridor road projects in Columbia County and more than 50 projects in Augusta.
The Columbia County Chamber and the Augusta Chamber, in partnership with the Georgia Chamber, understood that critical infrastructure was needed to spur economic development and growth for our area.
Convincing people to tax themselves would not be an easy task. The Chamber invested about four months advocating and educating groups about the vote on July 31, 2012. It was a complicated piece of legislation and would have been easy for people to vote “no” because it was a tax increase. We made presentations to many organizations like civic clubs, builders and realtor associations.
The estimated revenue for Columbia County alone was $165 million for the eight projects plus additional 25 percent discretionary funds for other transportation improvements. Luckily for our region, the yes votes outweighed the no votes for Region 7. Remember these signs all over the county!
The Chamber led the charge on the following principles:
- Based upon the previous 10 years (2000-2010), Columbia County grew by more than 35,000 residents. If we stayed on that same projection, which we currently have, our roads would not support this growth. Roads would have to be built and the funding could come from property tax instead of sales tax. This would burden only home owners and business owners, basically property owners.
A sales tax was the fairest way to tax everyone who purchased goods in our region.
- All revenue collected had to stay for identified local projects and a citizen’s advisory council would serve as oversight group to insure our region got what they were paying for.
- The tax increase is only 10 years. We will reap the reward of our investment by the time we save from not being stuck in traffic.
Fast forward to February 2018 and Columbia County will celebrate the first and largest TIA project accomplishment budgeted at $65 million, half of which was included in federal funds. The completion of Riverwatch Parkway from Baston Road to Washington Road will benefit the 70 percent of the professional workforce that leaves Columbia County to go to work and also will increase commerce for the entire region. We have been waiting on this project for almost 20 years! It is long overdue.
Other road projects under design, but not yet funded, include the widening of Hardy McManus Road and Hereford Farm Roads.
What about Washington Road from Gibbs Road to William Few? The $30 million project is almost complete too! The county SPLOST funded this road.
SPLOST is a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax that voters passed for specific identity projects only in the county, not the region. The projects can be infrastructure, parks, buildings and more.
Examples of these are Savannah Rapids Pavilion, Evans Town Center Park, and the library and performing arts center. Voters have the option to extend the county SPLOST every six years.
The Columbia County Chamber’s Board of Directors also supported the passage of the county’s last SPLOST and the Educational SPLOST. The E-SPLOST allows the Board of Education to build new schools without any debt or a mortgage. This helps keep property taxes lower.
All of these quality of life features, from good schools and parks to safe infrastructure, is why Columbia County is one of the fastest growing and attractive places for businesses and residents. By passing TIA, and the County and Educational SPLOSTS, the citizens of Columbia County took control of their own hard-earned money and assessed themselves, but ultimately they will reap the rewards of a great quality of life!