Savannah area leaders' visions on transportation policy deserves scrutiny ahead of TSPLOST – Savannah Morning News

County and municipal officials have offered few details about their transportation system priorities. Communicating those to voters will be vital if leaders hope to pass TSPLOST referendum.


This is the City Talk column by Bill Dawers, a longtime contributor to the Savannah Morning News.

After a contentious meeting of area leaders last week, the future of TSPLOST, a proposed penny sales tax to fund transportation-related projects, is in doubt.

Chatham County Chairman Chester Ellis came into the gathering ready to move ahead with putting the 1% sales tax referendum on the May ballot, even though the municipalities have not fully detailed their plans for the revenue and even though the measure would be much more likely to pass in the general election in November.

As the wrangling continues, area residents should pay close attention to the proposed projects. It’s a good time for a gut check about our public policy priorities.

I supported the regional TSPLOST that was defeated 57% to 43% in Chatham County in a low-turnout primary in 2012. I didn’t like all of the planned projects, but I thought that the referendum would address several significant needs, including grade separations to alleviate traffic back-ups at two of the most problematic railroad crossings, new bridges on U.S. 80 on the way to Tybee Island and removal of the I-16 exit ramp over Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard.

The removal of the flyover proved especially controversial, but the vote was probably doomed no matter what. Numerous friends who supported the exit ramp removal nevertheless voted against the new tax, and most readers of this column seemed to oppose the referendum as well.

Opinion: An obituary to the Chatham TSPLOST, a penny sales tax that was dead before arrival

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None of the projects that attracted my vote in 2012 have yet been prioritized for this year’s TSPLOST.

The largest single line item announced to date is the $50 million redesign and widening of Little Neck Road, which extends from Ogeechee Road to the Bloomingdale Road exit on I-16.

The New Hampstead area has long been targeted for extensive residential development, but the two Census tracts through which Little Neck Road passes had a total of just 6,700 residents in 2020.


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Longtime readers of this newspaper might recall that the City of Savannah annexed land near Little Neck Road and spent about $15 million on infrastructure during the housing bubble in the early 2000s. Despite the slow pace of development, the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System forged ahead with building New Hampstead High School off Little Neck Road even though it was many miles from the population centers in West Chatham.

Since then, the system spent millions more on the New Hampstead K-8 School that opened last week.

City Talk: Uncertain future for west Chatham high school

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If local governments keep spending tax dollars to encourage sprawl into expansion areas, the costs will ultimately fall most heavily on existing neighborhoods that sorely need infrastructure upgrades, new development and more residents.

Other West Chatham projects announced so far include more than $70 million for Benton Boulevard, Pooler Parkway and Airways Avenue, but county officials have not yet committed to expand transit in the area.

Chatham County voters have routinely endorsed both SPLOST and ESPLOST, but TSPLOST hit some raw nerves in 2012 and could prove even more unpopular this year.

Ellis and other area leaders need to present a broader vision for future transportation policy, detail projects that can appeal to various constituencies and convince voters to support the referendum even if they have strong objections to individual line items.

Ellis suggested at last week’s meeting that voters won’t pay close attention to the details of a TSPLOST vote, but the 2012 project lists were widely scrutinized. Voters will be watching even more vigilantly now.

Dawers can be reached via @billdawers on Twitter and


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