Downtown Atlanta transit hub could get boost from feds

By Dave Williams and Maria Saporta
Published in the ABC on Friday, July 20, 2012

The Obama administration may put a rush job on a proposed transit hub in downtown Atlanta.

The Multi-Modal Passenger Terminal is being considered for a national list of infrastructure projects to be expedited through streamlined federal environmental review and permitting, Derrick Cameron, MMPT project manager for the Georgia Department of Transportation, said July 18.

If selected, the MMPT would become part of the Dashboard initiative, outlined in an executive order President Barack Obama signed in March fulfilling a commitment he made in his 2012 State of the Union address.

“These projects go to the top of the pile,” Cameron told members of the State Transportation Board. “It will definitely take some time off our schedule.”

After languishing on paper for years due to lack of funding, the MMPT has finally begun to show significant progress during the past year.

Last fall, the DOT signed a two-year, $12.2 million contract with a consortium to serve as master developer for the project, overseeing the conversion of the blighted “Gulch” area between the CNN Center and the Five Points MARTA station into a bus and rail terminal with associated mixed-use development.

In January, three consultants hired by Central Atlanta Progress, a downtown business association, released a study predicting the project would create more than 15,000 jobs and add almost 6 million square feet of office space by 2040.

FIC — the consortium made up of Forest City Enterprises Inc., the Integral Group LLC and Cousins Properties Inc. — revealed three alternative designs for the MMPT on July 11. The developers expect to narrow those down to a preferred alternative this fall.

“We are excited with the great progress that [the DOT] and the FIC team are making in their planning process,” Central Atlanta Progress President A.J. Robinson said.

“They are off to a great start and have done a great job of raising the bar on what multi-modal can be and the impact it would have on the city, region and state. This project can transform our community in many ways.”

Dana Lemon, chairman of the State Transportation Board’s Intermodal Committee, said federal environmental reviews typically take up to four years. But with the streamlined process contemplated by the Dashboard initiative, the review schedule could be cut to as little as 18 months, she said.

“If this project is selected, it will bring a tremendous amount of national attention to this project, to make sure it’s on schedule or, hopefully, ahead of schedule,” Lemon said. “The project will be pushed through instead of being allowed to linger.”

Jim Richardson, senior vice president and project manager for FIC, said Obama’s executive order instructed federal agencies to recommend projects for the Dashboard program that they believe have major job creating potential. The MMPT is among up to two dozen projects that have made the White House list, he said.

“The [MMPT] is being recognized as a significant project across the country to help stimulate jobs,” Richardson said. “It really puts Georgia and Atlanta in the forefront of the nation.”

Lemon said that without the federal streamlining, the MMPT wouldn’t be able to break ground until the spring or summer of 2015 and wouldn’t be completed until two to three years after that.

She said DOT officials expect the White House to announce project selections by the end of this month.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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