This article appeared in the February 2017 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
The new bridge built across Oconee River will provide a more direct route to the area’s medical facilities and business district.
It’s been just four years since the Transportation Investment Act (TIA) was passed in three Georgia regions: River Valley, Heart of Georgia Altamaha (HOGA) and Central Savannah River Area (CSRA), and residents are already seeing their investment make significant transportation improvements. Over a ten year period, 2012-2022, the one cent sales tax will ultimately fund 871 projects across the three regions. By the end of 2016, 286 of those had been completed, and an additional 108 are under construction. While these projects vary in scope, all are making an impact on their communities.
Connecting Communities and Spurring Growth
Simply improving the quality of everyday commutes for residents is the goal of many TIA projects, which is seen in a cluster of four Augusta-area projects ($19.5 million combined) completed in 2016. River Watch Parkway, one of the city’s major thoroughfares, saw upgrades that included resurfacing, new turn lanes, a new concrete median barrier, limited widening, two intersection overhauls and improved street lighting. Augusta Commissioner Sean Frantom believes the River Watch projects have certainly helped better manage traffic and provides greater safety for residents (and the 110,000 neighboring Columbia County residents that work in Augusta), but that the projects have a bonus of creating a “Gateway to Augusta.”
“We’re creating gateways with River Watch that enhance the image of our city and give a lasting first impression. Every April the world embarks on Augusta [Masters Tournament] and every day we have thousands of commuters, and they see us putting our best foot forward and showing that Augusta is a place of enthusiastic development and growth,” Frantom said.
Some TIA projects serve as catalysts to larger economic and community building opportunities. In the River Valley region, the city of Columbus is hoping the US 27/Custer Road Interchange will do just that. Currently under construction, the $20 million project will create a new interchange at Fort Benning to allow civilian passage to a 183 acre area effectively “landlocked” for decades. Mayor Teresa Tomlinson believes the results of the reconstruction will have a major economic impact on the area by creating access to that land area which will eventually become Columbus’ first Tax Allocation District and home to the Benning Technology Park.
“TIA has given us the transportation opportunity we needed to transform a large wooded lot that no one could get to into a development district that will inject new development interest, hundreds of new jobs and additional revenue into a blighted part of our city,” Tomlinson said.
Likewise, in the HOGA region, a new bridge utilizing $7.5 million in TIA funds is being built across the Oconee River near Dublin. The crossing will provide a more direct route to the area’s medical facilities and key business district, and provide an alternate river crossing in the event of flooding. By improving regional traffic between Dublin and East Dublin, major employers, including some distribution centers in the area, are also hoping the increased access and interregional connectivity will promote more positive growth following the projects’ completion.
More Than Just Roads and Bridges
When voters passed the TIA in 2012, they approved a specific list of preapproved projects for their region determined by committees of local leaders. These Approved Investment Lists are dominated by what many consider traditional transportation improvements, such as building new roadways or rehabilitating bridges. However, many communities took TIA as opportunity to develop frequently overlooked or underfunded aspects of their local infrastructure.
Augusta has recently completed a $1 million project to restore the hangar doors at Daniel Field airport. The pre-WWII era doors were hardly functional, potentially hazardous and took approximately 20 minutes to open with a modified lawn mower. The renovation kept most of the original doors intact, preserving a piece of Georgia’s aviation history. Moreover, the new doors, which open in a minute, have the potential to save lives. Daniel Field, with near exclusivity, serves the Augusta medical community, with air ambulances, organ transports and patients seeking specialists flying in and out daily.
Another TIA project is making transportation accessible to those without cars. Committed to creating a true multimodal experience for residents, the city of Columbus is expanding public transit operations as part of a $22.4 million TIA project. The project will allow METRA to expand routes, add park and ride facilities, extend operating hours, better serve disabled riders and bring 26 new jobs to the community.
METRA Director Rosa Evans said the organization has looked carefully into how these improvements will fit into Columbus’ overall vision of a continuous multimodal system including ensuring riders will have a seamless pedestrian experience from their homes to their destinations.
“We are taking a strategic look at where our stops and routes are located, and figuring out which ones need to be relocated to be in better proximity to the bike paths, sidewalks and ADA-accessible locations where people actually need to go, like hospitals and shopping centers,” Evans said. “We’re just going to keep making METRA even more accessible for all of our riders.”
For more information on TIA, program news and project updates across all the TIA regions, visit Facebook at Transportation Investment.