Dawson County could see some major transportation improvements if voters next year approve a measure to raise the sales tax to pay for area roads.
The 26-member Georgia Mountains Transportation Roundtable voted Oct. 5 to approve putting on the ballot some $1.26 billion in projects for a 13-county area that includes Dawson.
The list includes $35 million in local projects, including a bypass on Hwy. 53 between Dawson Forest and Harmony Church roads.
Also included are the widening of the Lumpkin Campground Road and installing a roundabout at Dawson Forest and Hwy. 9.
In addition, the bridge on Shoal Creek Road would be replaced.
The projects would "definitely improve safety" and relieve some of the local transportation issues, according to Mike Berg, chairman of the Dawson County commission.
"The bridge is one of 30 that we need to look at, some with pipes that are 40 years old and need to be replaced," he said.
The access roads would also ease traffic concerns along the business corridor, Berg said.
Georgia residents will go to the polls sometime next year to determine the fate of a proposed 1-cent sales tax for transportation projects.
The vote will be decided in 12 regions throughout the state.
A majority vote, or 50 percent plus 1, will pass the referendum in the Georgia Mountains region.
If approved, the region could receive $1.26 billion over 10 years, with 75 percent going for regional projects and 25 percent going to city and county governments to use as they see fit, including for maintenance and operations.
Berg said Dawson would stand to receive about $12 million that could be used to repair roads and improve intersections, among other projects.
"That in itself is a great benefit that we'd never be able to do in our general budget," Berg said.
Transportation roundtables, comprising top city and county leaders, were set up across the state to develop project lists, per the state's Transportation Investment Act of 2010.
Bill Kendall, Towns County commissioner, was the only roundtable member who opposed approving the projects list and putting it to voters.
Asked about his opposition after the meeting, Kendall provided a letter addressed to roundtable members and Todd Long, director of planning for the Georgia Department of Transportation.
In the letter, he said he did not support the Towns County sales tax rising to 8 percent from 7 percent.
"I also feel the [transportation act] is flawed in many areas and should be sent back to the legislature," he wrote. "I am adamantly opposed to legislation that, instead of putting before voters issues to be decided on their merits, attempts to [force] officials and voters to vote for the tax or else."
If the roundtable had been unable to approve a project list, a "special district gridlock" would have been declared, meaning that another referendum for a transportation sales tax couldn't be held for at least two more years.
Also, governments in the region would have to match the state's Local Maintenance and Improvement Grants by half.
Danny Lewis, executive director of the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission, cautioned area leaders about trying to influence voters on the issue.
"Make sure you understand: We can't sell it, but we can educate," he said. "There's a lot of difference between selling and educating ... The main thing we want people to do is vote."
Several activist groups, including tea parties, are mobilizing against the tax.
Jeff Gill of the DCN regional staff contributed to this report.