Henry County commissioners: New lobbyist helps secure $72 million for Ga. 155 widening

Henry County commissioners say the county’s newly hired lobbyist helped secure funding to widen Ga. Highway 155 to four lanes from Interstate 75 to Bill Gardner Parkway. (Photo from Google Maps)

McDONOUGH— Henry County commissioners say the county’s newly hired lobbyist has already helped the county secure a $72 million state project in widening Ga. Highway 155.

A budget amendment for the payments had not been included at that time, so the Board of Commissioners voted Aug. 16 to transfer $22,000 from its general fund balance to the BOC professional account to cover expenses of the lobbyist contract.

Chairman Tommy Smith, who was not in attendance at the Aug. 2 meeting, voted Tuesday against funding the contract.

“I would like to think that if I was a state representative or senator that I could be the best lobbyist,” said Smith. “If I was a state legislator I would have a problem with this.”

Commissioner Blake Prince told Smith that after just one week on the job, William Woodall, president of On-Point Strategies, got the county $72 million last week for a project after meeting with county officials and Georgia Department of Transportation Planning Director Jay Roberts.

“That’s a pretty good investment, I think,” said Prince, of funding the lobbyist’s contract.

“So y’all are telling me the lobbyist can do things a state senator can’t do?” asked Smith, who had not been made aware of the funding allocation prior to the Tuesday meeting. “I would have a real big problem of y’all getting somebody to lobby against me because I would want to be the best cheerleader and best hunt of funding for anything the state has.”

“We ought to get rid of the our reps and senators then,” he later joked.

Commissioner Gary Barham said he spoke with most of Henry County’s legislators whom he said supported the decision for a lobbyist.

“Some of these counties, like Cobb County, have three or four lobbyists,” said Barham. “Woodall has an office here in McDonough, and he got Jay Roberts down here in a week’s time and he is the man. Jay Roberts is the man!”

Barham went on to explain the project that will widen Ga. 155 to four lanes from Bill Gardner Parkway to Interstate 75.

Roberts told the Henry Herald on Thursday that the project was programmed last week, which will allow the state to set aside funding for the project. He said it had been brought to the state’s attention in the past.

“This is one that I heard was very important to y’all,” said Roberts. “There’s a lot of growth in that area, there’s lots of trucks and it backs up traffic there. With the future growth expected, this will help people get through that area.”

Roberts said the project is programmed for about 10 years out, but can be be moved forward if funding is moved forward. That time frame is on the longer stretch, but build-out would depend on the timing of preliminary engineering, right-of-way acquisition and other steps that go along with carrying out a large-scale project.

“We’ve asked about this project in the past and didn’t get it,” said Barham. “William really helped us with this. He’s got a good connection with Jay Roberts and I’m really looking forward to getting more projects on the state level.”

Woodall could not be reached for comment.

Roberts signed off on the Ga. 155 expansion project last week in front of Henry County’s delegation.

“This project is a result of a collaborative effort from many people whose goals are to improve traffic congestion in the area, while also increasing the safety of our roads for the citizens of McDonough and those traveling through our state,” said Ga. Sen. Rick Jeffares. “I sincerely appreciate the time and dedication of everyone involved that made this project a reality.”

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