The Thomaston Upson Chamber of Commerce held the last Sun’s Up Breakfast for the year on Wednesday, October 29 with Adam Smith, of the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), serving as the guest speaker. Smith, who is a Preconstruction Engineer with GDOT District 3, updated the crowd on how the passing of HB 170 and HB 169 will affect the transportation department and the public and gave updates on several projects planned for the area over the next few years.
House Bill 170 deals with the State Motor Fuel Excise Tax, which is now 26 cents per gallon on gas and 29 cents per gallon on diesel. Smith broke down the elements of the tax as follows: 7.5 cents was the current excise tax before the passing of HB 170; 11.8 cents comes from the four percent state sales tax; and 6.7 cents is added on for the HB 170 adjustment, giving a total of 26 cents per gallon.
“The net effect of this bill on the average motorist who drives 12,000 miles per year and the average fuel efficiency is 25 miles per gallon, is about an additional $32 per year or $2.68 per month,” said Smith. “Not to say that is negligible, but the impact it can have is worth it in my opinion.”
Smith stated the additional 6.7 cents a gallon added to the motor fuel tax is projected to bring in $665,950,000 in FY16; $740,700,000 in FY17; $791,750,000 in FY 18; $824,250,000 in FY19 and $837,050,000 in FY20.
HB 170 will also add a Hotel/Motel Nightly Fee of $5 (excluding extended stay guests); an Alternative Fuel Vehicle Fee of $200 per year for non-commercial alternative fuel vehicles and $300 for commercial; and a Heavy Vehicle Impact Fee of $50 to help counteract the damage done to roads by large trucks. It is projected that the entire HB 170 will bring in a total of $1,223,600,000 by the year 2020, which Smith noted doubles the amount of money the state will get to go towards transportation.
House Bill 169 deals with temporary state routes and right of way acquisitions. Smith stated the passing of this bill will eliminate the need to designate local roads as temporary state routes for the purpose of purchasing local right-of-ways with state or federal funds.
“A good example of this is the bridge replacement we had on Pobiddy Road,” said Smith. “That is not a state route so we had to get Upson County and Talbot County involved to try to get them to fund the right-of-way and sometimes that is difficult for small towns.”
Now with the passing of HB 169, GDOT can purchase the right-of-ways on their own without having to go through the other communities, which Smith noted saves time on the projects.
GDOT is required to submit a strategic plan every 10 years for the House and Senate Transportation Committees to see how the funding will be used over the next decade. Smith stated the plan is not project specific, but the funding is broken down into categories. The first of those is construction of new highway projects, such as the widening of Highway 19 North in Upson County. Approximately $100 million will be designated to those projects over the next 10 years.
The next category is maintenance of existing infrastructure which also includes mowing, pavement preservation, resurfacing and guardrail repair. Smith stated that when the economy experienced a downturn the last few years, GDOT was not able to mow the state routes more than once or twice a year, which can be a safety concern. However, with things beginning to look up, they now will be mowing those areas three to four times a year. Approximately $150-$200 million will be designated to this category.
The third category is the repair and replacement of bridges throughout the district. Smith stated it is GDOT’s goal to start with the bridges in the state route system and then work their way back to those on the local roads. Each bridge is rated a certain amount that tells you what type of vehicles can safely travel over it. An example he gave was a bridge rated 1,500 tons is technically not supposed to have a school bus go across it. Another is a bridge rated nine tons is technically not supposed to have an ambulance on it. Smith stated that GDOT hopes to be addressing the same issues on local roads by 2019 or 2020. Approximately $500-$600 million will be designated to those projects over the next 10 years.
Finally, Smith updated the crowd on three main local projects GDOT will be working on for the next few years, which include the Highway 19 North widening project, the realignment of Delray Road and the roundabout at the Five-Way stop.
The Highway 19 project is a continuation of what has already been done between the County Road intersection and Walmart and will widen the road from County Road to Atwater Road. Smith stated each of the lanes will be widened to 12 feet and there will be a raised median instead of a center turn lane. A big part of this project is the realignment of Delray Road with Jimmerson Road as it crosses Highway 19. Motorists will no longer be allowed to make a left turn off of DelRay road, which Smith noted has been the cause of many accidents. Instead they will be rerouted behind the church to an intersection on Highway 19. Smith added that after many discussions and hearing concerns from the public, this will now be a regular traffic light intersection, not a roundabout. He noted Highway 19 is considered a high speed route and after much consideration, GDOT did not feel it was a good spot to ask people to slow down. The right of way for this project was authorized in July 2015 and cost roughly $15.5 million. Construction cost for the project is expected to be around $8 million.
The roundabout at the Five-Way stop (intersection of Highway 74 and Highway 36) is actively being designed and will be a four-leg roundabout. Smith stated it makes sense to put a roundabout at this intersection and statistics show it will be a safer intersection with the change. He noted a standard intersection has 32 different ways an accident can happen and with a roundabout, that number is reduced to eight. Construction for this project is still a ways off however, with it not being expected to start until the fall of 2017.
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1