Pfeifer: County could halt West Bypass today
I keep hearing, or seeing, statements from some writers or from some county commissioners and their staff about the SPLOST and the East and “West” bypasses.
These statements simply don’t make any sense. Here’s why.
We had a SPLOST adopted by the voters of Fayette County in 2003. There were many potential projects on the list for that SPLOST. The law says that SPLOST money can only be spent on projects that were on the list when the voters adopted the SPLOST.
The county part of the SPLOST list is the projects that were proposed in the Fayette County Transportation Plan. This plan contained many projects that were a “need.” It also had many that might be “nice to have.” No one had expectation, or desire, that they all would be built.
Since no one can know with certainty how much money a SPLOST will raise in the time period of the SPLOST, the total cost of the list of potential projects usually exceeds the amount that could potentially be raised. The available funds are spent on the project list until they are exhausted.
There isn’t any magic to this process. The people you elect set the order in which those funds are spent. In the case of these SPLOST funds, that would be the county commissioners.
There is absolutely no legal necessity or requirement to complete all the projects on the list if there is no funding remaining to complete them.
In this case, both the East Fayetteville Bypass and the “West Fayetteville Bypass” were on the SPLOST list. This means that both are eligible for SPLOST funding. I’ve placed quotation marks around “West Fayetteville Bypass.” I said at the time that the SPLOST was placed on the ballot that it should not be called a “Bypass.” It is not.
The East Fayetteville Bypass would be a bypass. Its location and purpose was to divert north/south traffic, whose destination was not the downtown Fayetteville Courthouse Square, 54/85 intersection. There isn’t any room there to expand existing roads or add new ones.
The “Old Commission” — Dunn, Wells, Frady, Pfeifer and Horgan — initiated Phase I of the “West Bypass” (the part almost completed). The purpose was to improve traffic movement around the hospital. The “Old Commission” did not place a priority on the rest; Phases 2 and 3 of the “West.” That commission did place a priority on the East Bypass.
The current commission — Smith, Maxwell, Frady, Horgan and Hearn — placed their priority on Phases 2 and 3 of the “West Bypass,” and moved the East Bypass off their list.
In this recent election, the voters told the commission that they did not agree with the choices made by this commission. They clearly said that they wanted the “West Bypass” stopped after the completion of Phase 1.
Again, no magic here. It is perfectly legal for this commission, or the next (Frady, Horgan, Hearn, McCarty and Brown) to set their priority on either bypass or on neither.
What gets funded by SPLOST is a function of the priority choices made by the commission. Could be one, could be both, could be neither and spend the money on the other eligible projects that were on that list.
Some money has been spent on engineering and maybe some right of way acquisition for the “West Bypass.” I do not have an accurate estimation of that amount. Some money has also been spent on the East Bypass for the same purposes. I understand it is around $800,000. But, I can’t attest to the accuracy of that amount either.
So, both projects are equally qualified for SPLOST funding because they were both on that list. Some funds were expended on both. There is simply no legal, or logical, reason not to stop the “West” and re-start the East, just as these commissioners stopped the East and focused on the “West.”
Given the clear message sent by the voters in this recent election, I think that this change is exactly what this commission should do. The three commissioners still serving should (responding to Lynn Tolbert) certainly do this.
I think that Jack Smith and Eric Maxwell should support this as well. They would be saying, “You voters are the boss. We heard your instructions and we don’t ignore you.”
We don’t even need to wait for Steve Brown and Allen McCarty to take office to fix this. Just do it, commissioners.
Peachtree City, Ga.
[Pfeifer is a former member of the Fayette County Commission.]