BY THE NUMBERS
Walker and Catoosa county projects earmarked in 2012 TSPLOST:
$20 million: Widen Wilson Road from Battlefield Parkway to the state line.
$10 million: Widen state Route 151 from Ringgold to the state line.
$19.4 million: Mineral Avenue widening.
$5.3 million (plus equal local matching funds): Mack Smith Road widening.
$9.6 million: Widening South Cedar Lane to three lanes.
Source: Georgia Department of Transportation
Walker County Sole Commissioner Bebe Heiskell hopes a majority of county voters -- and those around Georgia -- will support a 1-cent, 10-year statewide transportation special purpose local option sales tax when it's on the ballot July 31.
Heiskell said passing the tax could give Walker County something it's sorely lacking: a direct connection to the interstate highway system.
The proposed tax earmarks about $34 million for Walker County, and $20 million of that would go to widen Wilson Road from two to four lanes between Battlefield Parkway and the Tennessee line.
If Georgia voters OK the TSPLOST, Heiskell -- who just announced she's seeking a fourth four-year term -- said she'll go to Tennessee legislators and attempt to revive a plan for a new highway leading from the Central Avenue interchange on Interstate 24 through open land near Chattanooga Creek to connect with the widened Wilson Road.
With that road, traffic could bypass Rossville Boulevard, she said. A truck on I-24 could take the new highway to Battlefield Parkway, then head east to U.S. 27, the main north-south route in the county.
"It's a long-range plan which never got off the ground -- but it should," Heiskell said. "Walker County is the county around here that doesn't have an interstate. We'd like to correct that."
The project would take about a decade to complete, she said.
Heiskell said the I-24 connector could help Walker attract employers. For example, a business that made parts for Volkswagen's assembly plant in Chattanooga might be more inclined to set up shop in Walker County if the connector is built.
A total of 10 TSPLOST projects are proposed in Walker, including roughly $154,000 for new sidewalks in Chickamauga, $1.4 million to take a dangerous curve out of Johnson Road between Mission Ridge and Gravitt roads, and $1.7 million to replace the Vulcan Road bridge near Vulcan Drive on Lookout Mountain.
While no project is earmarked for the LaFayette area, Mayor H. Neal Florence still endorses the tax. He said one-quarter of the money will go to communities for discretionary spending.
"We still would get some spillover funds that would be allotted to each community," Florence said. "We have a lot of streets that need to be resurfaced."
The Georgia sales tax earmarks about $48 million for seven Catoosa County projects, including $5.3 million to widen and enhance Mack Smith Road; $19.4 million to widen and enhance Mineral Avenue; and $10 million to widen Ooltewah-Ringgold Road, also known as state Route 151, from Ringgold to the state line.
Despite the earmarks, Fort Oglethorpe Mayor Lynn Long isn't sold on the proposed 1-cent tax.
"I don't like sales tax. It's a regressive tax. It sounds fair, but it's not," Long said.
He also worries that, if Georgia's sales tax goes up, Tennessee residents will have less reason to shop in North Georgia. The combined state and local sales tax ranges from 9.25 percent to 9.75 percent in Tennessee, he said, while the combined sales tax in nearby Georgia cities is 7 percent, with the proposed 1-cent addition increasing that to 8 percent.
"You're not talking a lot of difference," he said. "If we lose those Tennessee residents coming across the state line, we're in deep trouble."
Catoosa County Chairman Keith Greene thinks the measure's benefits would outweigh any harm from higher sales taxes.
"It's a concern, but we're still lower than Tennessee," Greene said. "We're still looking at a cent and a half, maybe two cents less than Tennessee."
Greene said infrastructure improvements and low property taxes are both important for attracting employers.
"If we're not able to fund projects, then we're going to have issues attracting new businesses and having economic development," he said.
"If it's not approved, I think it's going to put a greater burden on the county and the residents who do own property," Greene said. "[TSPLOST] allows us the opportunity to have improvement projects and not stick the whole burden on the property owners in the county."
Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township¹s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...
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