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Henry Chamber promotes regional transportation bill

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Government and business leaders in Henry County are working against a fast-approaching deadline, to devise a wish list of transportation projects for the community.

Members of the Henry County Chamber of Commerce's Government Affairs Committee met Thursday, to discuss ways to maximize the list's effectiveness. The projects would be funded a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST), as part of House Bill 277, also known as the Transportation Investment Act of 2010.

Chamber President Kay Pippin said the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) has formed a regional roundtable, spanning 10 counties in the Atlanta area, including Henry, to create a preliminary list of road projects March 28.

"Then, it's the obligation of the decision-makers at the roundtable, along with the state director of planning, Todd Long, to come up with a constrained list that then gets approved the ARC," Pippin told the committee.

Terry McMickle, director of Henry County's Division of Public Works, outlined the criteria for the ARC's wish list for the committee Thursday. Those criteria, he said, specify that projects must carry an economic benefit for the region, support Georgia's economic growth and competitiveness, ensure safety and security, and maximize the value of Georgia's assets.

The ARC, he said, is focusing its efforts on transportation projects with regional significance. "This is not like our local one-cent sales tax projects," McMickle said. "Those types of projects are great for us, but regionally, are not going to score well. So, we're tasked with ... presenting projects that will be passed the region."

McMickle likened transportation to a game of chess. "What you've got to do is, put projects out there that will go through this test, and come out the other end. You've got to try to anticipate what they're thinking," he said.

Pippin added that members of a local delegation received alarming news for transportation concerns Wednesday, during a meeting at the State Capitol with Gov. Nathan Deal.

"He said, ‘If this regional SPLOST does not pass, there is no money anywhere to keep your current roads up, to keep your current bridges safe, or to add to anything else,'" Pippin lamented. "We are really in hard shape, and we are building a monster when it comes to transportation, or congestion in metropolitan Atlanta."

State planner Long was among a group of individuals who met, last month, to address transportation and economic-development issues, during the 9th Annual South Metro Development Outlook conference.

Long said Georgia does not have a passenger rail system, because there are not enough funds to support the project. "There is no dedicated funding source for rail," he said.

Henry Commission Chairman Elizabeth "B.J." Mathis also attended the February conference, and said county residents are not completely sold on the benefits of the regional SPLOST concept. "We certainly have our work cut out for us," Mathis said in February. "We are in an anti-tax environment," she said.

While she was not at the session Thursday, she said the county would benefit directly the approval of a regional SPLOST. She said money from the measure could be used to help relieve traffic congestion and spur economic prosperity.

— Clayton News Daily staff writer M.J. Subiria Araúz contributed to this article.