FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Forsyth County Chief Financial Officer David Gruen warned officials Sept. 8 that the county needs to be frugal with any new transportation projects it considers in the near term.
At a work session with county commissioners, Gruen said the county could see all its SPLOST 8 funding for transportation projects wiped out as costs rise.
The majority of recent road improvement projects and those slated to begin soon are funded by the county’s $200 million transportation bond, which was approved in 2014. Funding also comes through SPLOST 7 dollars and funds from SPLOST 8 approved by voters in 2018, and impact fees. The Georgia Department of Transportation adds funding of its own to assist with many of the projects.
Projects paid for by the transportation bond and SPLOST 7 have cost significantly more than anticipated, however, and that will force the county to dip into SPLOST 8 dollars to cover the shortfall.
At current costs, all major improvement projects have come in over budget, including a deficit of $12.2 million for the Ga. 369 interchange/widening project and an $8.5 million shortfall for the Ronald Reagan Boulevard extension.
“So, to complete all those SPLOST 7 and transportation bond projects, right now our best estimates say we need $25 million more,” Gruen said.
Those dollars will likely come from SPLOST 8, which is estimated to bring in $274 million over its six years, with $153 million slated for transportation improvements. Of that $153 million, $100 million will be used to pay down the county’s debt for the 2014 transportation bond.
The remaining $53 million will be set aside to cover the county’s over-budget projects and new improvements, including $19.2 million for resurfacing Forsyth thoroughfares. The county has committed an additional $2.6 million for four projects; widening Brookwood Road to two lanes in each direction with a raised median with curb and gutter; sidewalk construction along Sanders Road; sidewalks along Brannon Road; and a Pilgrim Mill Road bike path.
That leaves around $6.2 million available in SPLOST 8 transportation dollars, Gruen said, but those funds could be wiped out by the widening of McGinnis Ferry Road. The project has been in limbo in recent years with the estimated cost swelling significantly from $35 million to $70 million. Forsyth County is not the only jurisdiction on the hook for funding the project, though.
GDOT has allocated $20 million and the cities of Johns Creek and Alpharetta, which share about 2.3 miles of the roadway with the county, have also committed dollars. Under an agreement between the county and its neighboring cities, Forsyth is paying for half of the remaining costs not covered by state funding with each city committing around 25 percent each.
With ballooning costs, the county has not yet identified how it will pay for $14.1 million of its contribution to widening McGinnis Ferry. Dipping into SPLOST 8 funds would, at current projections, only cover half of that cost increase. It would also mean only 2 percent of the SPLOST 8 dollars committed to transportation would go to new improvements, excluding the McGinnis Ferry Road widening.
Gruen said GDOT could potentially add more funding for the McGinnis Ferry widening, or Johns Creek and Alpharetta could contribute more cash to cover the county’s shortfall. There is also the potential that SPLOST 8 funds could be higher than anticipated. Gruen said SPLOST 7 generated around $13 million more that expected.
Gruen said the projected costs are fluid and “moving weekly.” He added that the widening of McGinnis Ferry and Old Atlanta Road are the “wildcards” that are most likely to come in over or under projected costs, and much of that depends on the contract for construction.
“We don’t want to get to the point where those contracts are ready to be awarded and we’re running up against short funding,” Gruen said.
County Commission Chair Laura Semanson said she appreciated the “reality check” of Gruen’s presentation, and commissioners agreed to have him update the board on transportation project funding each month.
Officials wasted no time in talks of trying to save some dollars after the presentation. At the same meeting, the board approved a $100,000 contract with American Engineers, Inc., for design and engineering for the Brannon Road sidewalks.