The Savannah City Council voted Thursday to approve infrastructure projects that would be funded through a possible Transportation Special Option Local Sales Tax, or TSPLOST.
Following approval of the vote by the 6-3 council, the city’s TSPLOST wishlist is sent to the county to be added to a package that includes projects from other municipalities as well as the county government. Voters will have the final say on TSPLOST, with a referendum appearing on the midterm ballot in November.
TSPLOST is intended to serve as a source of revenue for municipalities in Georgia, specifically to fund various transportation-related capital improvement projects, such as road works, bridges, walking and biking trails, and public transportation.
Mayor Van Johnson and council members Bernetta Lanier, Detric Leggett, Nick Palumbo, Linda Wilder-Bryan and Kurtis Purtee voted to approve the list of projects, which is part of the intergovernmental agreement, or IGA, needed to move forward of the TSPLOST process.
Aldermen Alicia Miller Blakely, Kesha Gibson Carter and Estella Shabazz voted in opposition.
Read more:Savannah City Council to review list of projects for proposed Chatham transit sales tax
TSPLOST 2022:How the cities propose to spend their revenue from the proposed sales tax
Also:The DeRenne project, entering its 16th year, could receive $20 million in federal funding
Shabazz said she couldn’t vote for the IGA because none of the projects she and District 5 residents produced at town hall meetings — most of which were about flood mitigation and drainage — were included in the list of projects.
“We ask that you include our list, all the work that my constituents, my residents, have done,” Shabazz said. “All we ask is that you join our list.”
Melder applauded the pro-tem mayor for her community outreach, saying she “got the job done” in the 5th Ward.
Shabazz’s list was not attached, but Melder assured him that the list of projects on the IGA was not the final list, and would be updated annually as part of city budget considerations. that would be voted on by the board to “ensure that [it] is fair and just. and would have “investments in our needs, but also investments in our communities.”
What does Savannah want from TSPLOST?
Thursday’s approval was for an intergovernmental agreement between Chatham County and the eight municipalities within the county’s boundaries, which outlined the projects Savannah’s slice of the pie would fund.
Earlier this year, all but one municipality in Chatham County submitted project lists and signed agreements to participate in TSPLOST, if adopted. Savannah was the only holdout.
The City of Savannah dropped support for the tax due to the lack of commitment to countywide public transportation from several other municipalities.
But now a provision to that effect is included in the Programs and Objectives section of the IGA, which Melder said would require other municipalities to at least consider countywide expansion on an annual basis.
The section reads, in part, “County and municipal TSLPOST support will include appropriate consideration of transit support infrastructure such as sidewalks and shelters as well as funding partnerships to leverage grants for system expansion, fleet and operational sustainability, including electric vehicles, and a strong focus on connecting all of Chatham County.”
“It’s part of the IGA’s list of programs and goals, so a pretty meaty paragraph about greater countywide engagement,” Melder said.
A section of the IGA says CAT is “embarking on a transit master plan and implementation strategy for the remainder of this year and into early 2023 that will define transit investments to improve connectivity and mobility serving the county and municipalities as well as the region.”
Although the idea of taking Chatham Area Transit across the county has been mooted a few times this year, Mayor Van Johnson said he hadn’t heard anything to indicate there had been substantial movement on the idea or support from other municipalities.
In May, during the primary election, residents of Pooler rejected a referendum that would have raised property taxes by 1.15 mills to help fund Chatham Area Transit bus stops.
About 4,000 residents, less than 20% of eligible voters, cast their ballots, 61% of whom said no.
The city is pushing a big list of projects
According to IGA exhibits, TSPLOST revenues would provide the City of Savannah with $143.5 million to fund and execute critical transportation-related projects and priorities.
Nearly $42 million would go to a local traffic congestion relief program, which would include additional citywide projects that would be determined by the city council. These projects include widening Skidaway Road and improving intersections; Contribution to the President Street Overpass with improvements in Chatham County and Louisville Street.
Other projects on the list are $20 million for local road resurfacing and maintenance; transportation stormwater improvement, $7 million; transportation safety/signage program, $12 million; expansion and maintenance of sidewalks, $18 million; Pedestrian and Cyclist Safety and Connectivity Program, $18 million; traffic calming improvement and expansion program, $7.5 million; and bridge repair program, $3 million.
The President Street Railway Cross was upgraded earlier this year. Now the city of Savannah and Chatham County are eyeing an overpass, which is included as a project for the upcoming proposed transportation sales tax referendum in November.
Additionally, a portion of the funds would be used for the DeRenne project, which includes three separate projects: a redesign of the I-516 Eastern Terminus interchange, improvements to East DeRenne Avenue, and improvements to West DeRenne Avenue.
The most dramatic change in the project will be the new interchange: an elevated exit that passes around the corner from Hunter Army Airfield and connects to Hampstead Avenue.
In addition to local projects, there are also Tier I regional projects which are projects for the use and benefit of the entire county, cross multiple jurisdictions, and have been jointly identified by staff from all county jurisdictions. Chatham.
Phases I and II of Benton Boulevard have been identified as regional projects and have a combined price of $24.5 million.
Will Peebles is the corporate reporter for Savannah Morning News. He can be reached at [email protected] and @willpeeblessmn on Twitter.