Monday, June 15, 2009

West Fayetteville Bypass Blues

Last Thursday the County Commission approved the West Fayetteville “Bypass”. It was a unanimous vote, 5-0.

[Just a tidbit in case you’re wondering --- the West Fayetteville Bypass (WFB) is not a Bypass. It’s just a road. At some point someone called it a Bypass and the name stuck. It’s not intended to bypass anything.]

It was a foregone conclusion that they were going to approve it, but not for the reasons stated in their various explanations as they voted. I know I have a tendency to be a bit skeptical about the motivation of the Commissioners, but last Thursday’s gnashing of teeth and sackcloth lamenting about being forced to vote for the By-pass was sublime theater.

A few of the Commissioners intimated that their hands were tied... There was a SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax), which the voters barely passed in 2003, that included the project thus they had to move forward… Those nasty Commissioners before them forced them into this tough position...

Not so.

They do not HAVE to do all the projects in the SPLOST.

The SPLOST the Fayette County voters approved is a five-year SPLOST which can raise up to $115 million. The money collected MUST be used on the projects on the list. They cannot take any of the money and use it to fix or build a road that wasn’t listed in the SPLOST. They can’t build a library or park instead, either.

As said, they don’t have to do every project in the list. In fact, there’s no way they COULD do all the projects on the list as $115 won’t cover the costs.

The Commissioners have to prioritize.

The so-called WFB wasn’t a priority until sometime in the last two years. In fact, the number one priority was the East Fayetteville Bypass which, to the best of my knowledge, is now languishing.

The current Board moved the WFB up from somewhere down the list. If they hadn’t moved it up, chances are many of the folks on Lee Road who are so rightfully upset about losing their property or having a road right out their bedroom window would be long gone from Fayette County before it had made it to the top of the list.

When the voters said yes to the transportation SPLOST the WFB was included, but a specific route was not designated. The engineering, environmental studies, surveying to determine the route are all expenses that must wait until the money from the SPLOST is available.

Many SPLOST projects for roads are adjusted, changed in scope or even dropped completely after all the costs, including public input, are analyzed.

Completing Phase 1 of the Bypass, which is the area around the hospital, was the only part scheduled for completion until the current Board got their hooks into things. That phase alone would use up the majority of the dollars allocated in the SPLOST.

Bottom line – if our Commissioners are voting to proceed with the WFB it is because they WANT to build the road, not because they’re being forced to build it.

NOW for a bit of speculation, observation and conjecture. All mine.

I noticed at least two developers and one developer’s representative in the crowd at the Commission meeting Thursday night who didn’t have any requests on the agenda. They stayed through the WFB vote.

I believe the two Commissioners who said none of the people who contributed to their campaign had property along the newly proposed WFB route. If I remember correctly, the other three didn’t pipe up and say anything, not sure if that means they received contributions or just figured they didn’t want to join in. To my way of thinking, having a contribution from a developer along the route would be horrific given the change in SPLOST priorities. Especially since many agree that there are other projects on the list that should be given higher status.

Campaign contributions or not, that doesn’t mean that developers aren’t interested and that they won’t benefit from the WFB. It also doesn’t mean that the Commissioners are or aren’t developer friendly. I don’t know the Commissioners motivation or rationale. Based on what I’ve seen and heard, they’re not doing a very good job of coming up with real good reasons for changing the priorities and pushing so hard on the WFB.

I also wanted to toss out a thought about the possibility of someday seeing an Industrial Park somewhere along this route. Commissioner Jack Smith has tried to get this one going since being put on the Board, and prior to being elected when he sat on the Fayette County Development Authority.

It’s pretty much died on the vine mainly or partially because there aren’t any good truck routes coming into the county aside from the already congested Hwy. 74.

Guess what’s going to change when the WFB is completed? Yup, a very nice route for trucks and commercial traffic to get to a brand spankin’ new County industrial park. I’m going to go back and dig through the recordings I made of the meetings were the proposed locations were discussed to see if anything in that area was mentioned. It won’t mean anything if it wasn’t --- I’ve been told (but haven’t verified for myself) there are some huge parcels of land owned by developers along the route. I’d guess at least one would make a nice industrial park.

After all is said and done, there are still going to be many road projects that need to be addressed in Fayette County. In today’s world, about the only way to afford to fix roads is to have outside-the-county governmental monetary assistance and to have a mechanism for raising money like a SPLOST.

When the money from this SPLOST runs out you’re going to see another pop up for a vote on a ballot. Whether it passes or not is likely to depend in part on how those who’re asking for the dollars have spent the current SPLOST dollars. Here’s another bit of speculation – I’d bet the voters will see some sort of civic or multi-use arts center included in the next SPLOST. That’s going to open up a whole new can of worms.

People have a tendency to wait until something is right on their back doorstep before they get involved or start paying attention. I hope that doesn’t hold true in this county. I hope that people will take the time to watch, complain, encourage and vote. Get involved. Keep up with what’s going on. Don’t wait until a 4-lane bypass is routed through your back yard.

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