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Atlanta prepares for its future as it builds its first modern streetcar

By Guest Columnist LEON EPLAN, former commissioner of the City of Atlanta’s Department of Planning and Development

As work progresses on the Atlanta Streetcar, the city has aken a giant step towards confronting its current and future traffic problems.

Construction on the entire 2.6-mile loop will continue until the day the line is open for public travel, now scheduled for spring, 2014. By then, planning for additional lines will have already begun.

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Plan for big changes at MARTA receives little push-back, except from union; ready for vote at Capitol

The most significant proposal in decades to reform MARTA is sailing through the legislative process at the state Capitol and could be up for a vote in the House as early as next week.

So far, no serious objections to the proposal have been raised in public by MARTA or the three governments that control MARTA – Atlanta, and Fulton and DeKalb counties, though union has voiced concerns. The sponsor said the bill intends to help MARTA serve its current and future riders.

“I hope that the bill is received in the way it is intended – and that is to improve MARTA’S financial conditions so that we can, hopefully, see some future expansion of the system,” said Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Brookhaven), who chairs the MARTA oversight committee.

GRTA quietly making case to state lawmakers to fund Xpress bus service

GRTA is working diligently at the state Capitol to support funding for Xpress, the regional bus service that is in line to receive $8.7 million in state funding, if state lawmakers support budget requests by Gov. Nathan Deal.

GRTA, which manages the bus system, is making the case to help lawmakers see the value in state funding for a transit system that reportedly takes 1.5 million cars a year off metro Atlanta’s roads with its 2.4 million boardings in fiscal year 2012.

Jannine Miller, GRTA’s executive director, on Wednesday walked GRTA board members through the presentation the agency is delivering to lawmakers. The message is simple: Xpress represents a good fiscal policy for lawmakers to support.

Transportation Camp attracts usual suspects to explore transit advances

Technology is disrupting nearly every aspect of the transportation industry — whether its state-of-the-art robotics revamping the automobile assembly line to a computerized conductor system navigating the railroad tracks or a mobile application providing real-time train and bus locations.

Nearly 250 technologists, planning students, professional experts and other transportation enthusiasts gathered at Georgia Tech for TransportationCamp South, an “unconference” organized by New York City-based Open Plans — a transportation technology and planning startup. Previous launch cities include San Francisco, New York City, Montreal and Washington, DC.

Buckhead Trail to move ahead with design/build agreement with GDOT

Atlanta made a final step Wednesday, perhaps the conclusive one in terms of creating needed bureaucracy, in the journey to build a new park system along Ga. 400 in Buckhead at minimal public expense.

A proposal that formally brings Georgia’s Department of Transportation into the design and construction of the planned Ga. 400 Greenway Trail was approved unanimously by the Utilities Committee of the Atlanta City Council. The council is expected to approve the deal at its Feb. 4 meeting.

Hopes for the trail are high: “This project has the chance to be an example of inventive use of space that people will fly in to see,” Atlanta Councilman Howard Shook said Wednesday evening.

Buckhead a study in contrasts: Mobility to improve as office market sags, construction slumps

Buckhead provides an interesting glimpse into the mixed bag that is metro Atlanta’s commercial real estate industry, a vital piece of the region’s economy.

The good news is two major transportation projects should improve access measurably in a region where prestigious buildings are surrounded by traffic congestion. One project involves MARTA’s Buckhead Station, while the other addresses the interchange of Ga. 400 and I-85.

The not-so-good news is the office market continues to drag. Buckhead was one of the region’s five submarkets that lost tenancy in fourth quarter 2012, though Buckhead showed an overall gain in the year, according to the latest vacancy report from Cassidy Turley, a commercial real estate services provider.

Xpress bus service funded in Gov. Deal’s proposed FY 2014 budget

The Xpress bus service operated by GRTA will continue to operate through at least June 2014 if the Legislature leaves intact the operating funds recommended by Gov. Nathan Deal in his budget proposal for FY 2014.

Deal also made history by including Xpress funding in the state’s annual budget, rather than its supplemental budget. That’s significant because eliminating money from programs that are included in the annual budget has, historically, been much more difficult than eliminating funding that was provided in the amended budget, or supplemental budget, the Legislature adopts in the middle of a fiscal year.

Deal provided $8.1 million for Xpress operations in the budget he unveiled Thursday. The money would offset the loss of local and federal funds, according to the line item in the governor’s budget.

ARC’s first reorg in a generation aims to meet region’s emerging needs

The Atlanta Regional Commission is embarking on its first reorganization in a generation, in order to meet the demands of the post-recession paradigm that’s emerging from the public and private sectors.

Silos of expertise are to be replaced by collaborative teams. An example of the new approach would be for ARC planners to examine mobility rather than transportation – a shift that frames the issue in a fashion that begs for broader solutions.

“Because we are changing in so many ways as a region, ARC realizes we have to be more adaptable to help local governments solve more problems,” said Doug Hooker, ARC’s executive director.

Ups and downs of Atlanta Streetcar project due to reintroducing transit

It’s been more than a half century since streetcars ran on Atlanta’s roads.

But that’s about to change — despite numerous obstacles that have revealed that we’re a bit rusty in the streetcar development business.

Construction work is progressing on the Atlanta Streetcar — and it currently appears that service will begin in the spring or early summer of 2014.

That is about six to seven months after the original schedule. But the project has experienced unforeseen delays — primarily over the relocation of underground utilities and the surprises of what exists underneath out streets. More than 15 utilities have been impacted.

New MARTA GM Keith Parker visits GRTA board for hellos, handshakes

MARTA GM Keith Parker got a warm reception from the GRTA board when he visited on Wednesday.

Parker made a few remarks in which in he introduced himself as a complete person – a manager who favors “low cost, high impact improvements,” a leader who’s a good listener, and a family man with three children – including one just a month old.

The visit was just the latest of Parker’s stops on his outreach tour. Parker didn’t make any grand announcements, but he did make the important effort to meet his professional colleagues in the public transit arena.

Would Jesus vote yes on the T-SPLOST?

A conversation with Rhodes Scholar Katharine K. Wilkinson, 29, provoked this question as related to her recent book, “Between God & Green: How Evangelicals are Cultivating a Middle Ground on Climate Change” (Oxford University Press).

While the issue of climate change is global, and her book focuses on national politics, Atlanta is where Wilkinson started to become aware of the vast natural resources in the Appalachian foothills and beyond.

Only much later did Wilkinson, an agnostic, begin the see the power and numbers of the people in Atlanta and beyond who call themselves evangelical Christians.

“If you understand American evangelical Christianity, representing at least a quarter of the U.S. population, as the politically and theologically complex, fractious, and ultimately mainstream phenomenon that it is, then you’ll appreciate the nuance and sensitivity with which Katharine Wilkinson navigates her subject,” said a Boston Globe reviewer. “Wilkinson tells a vitally important, even subversive, story.”

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Bob Voyles’ Moment was hearing Atlanta’s traffic would prevent his daughter’s return

Bob Voyles has spent much of his career developing signature buildings that grace Atlanta’s prime intersections and highways, so “it was like a fire bell going off in my head” when his daughter Virginia revealed she wasn’t moving back to her hometown because of Atlanta’s growing congestion.

“This was a huge surprise to me, because I love Atlanta and worked here nearly 40 years and my family is from here and always expected my children to want to embrace the city that I loved,” Bob recalled in our accompanying video.

Forums aim to help small firms win work as Legislature debates “small businesses”

Two upcoming forums will provide information to small and minority companies seeking contracts to design and build projects in Atlanta to be funded with proceeds of the proposed 1 percent sales tax for transportation.

Presenters will talk about the procurement processes to be used to award contracts for planned transportation projects in Atlanta, MARTA, DeKalb and Fulton counties. Registration for the session Wednesday is closed, but openings remain for the March 6 event.

The forums occur as the state Legislature debates a proposal to redefine small business as it relates to state purchasing contracts. House Bill 863 would change the size of a small business, for purposes of competing for a state contract, from 100 employees to 500 employees.

Transportation sales tax: Proceeds could not pay for routine MARTA maintenance

Over the next year, MARTA expects to spend up to $700,000 maintaining its train tracks, grinding them into proper shape and otherwise ensuring they will safely carry trains.

The amount may not seem terribly huge for a system with a total annual budget this year of more than $740 million. The project also seems to be an expense that could be deferred in the expectation that it could be funded with MARTA’s portion of the proposed 1 percent sales tax for transportation, which will be on the ballot July 31.

Except, proceeds of the sales tax could not be used for the rail maintenance project, a top MARTA official said. And the reality of the need for routine maintenance, in and of itself, speaks to the ongoing challenge of maintaining and operating the system – especially in an era of MARTA’s own declining local sales tax revenues and the uncertainty of federal funding for transit nationwide.

Atlanta region standing strong on regional transit governance and changes to MARTA Act

It should be so simple.

Establishing a regional transit governance structure and tweaking the MARTA Act to make the transit system more functional should be no brainers.

But when sound ideas are placed in the hands of some members of the General Assembly they somehow become distorted, convoluted and warped with political baggage.

Then when people and institutions object to proposed bills have been drafted with flawed thinking rather than common sense, those bills often just die on the vine and nothing gets done.

City of Atlanta develops plan for spending its 15 percent of region’s transportation tax

By Maria Saporta

When metro Atlanta voters go to the polls on July 31 to vote on a one-penny regional sales tax for transportation for the next 10 years, they will be voting for two pots of money.

One pot — $6.14 billion (or 85 percent of what would be collected) — would go to a list a projects approved by the Atlanta Regional Roundtable, of which 52 percent will go towards transit projects.

The other pot is for the remaining 15 percent, which would total about $1.1 billion, would be distributed to the region’s local governments to spend on their own transportation projects.

Buckhead Trail

Buckhead trail in Ga. 400’s right-of-way begins final planning phase this week

The proposed five-mile trail to be built alongside and beneath Ga. 400 moves into its final planning phase this week.

If all goes as scheduled, design work that begins at this time will lead to construction starting in mid 2013, according to Denise Starling, the executive director of Livable Buckhead, Inc. Livable Buckhead is the chief organizer of the $10 million trail that is to stretch from a cemetery off Loridans Drive in North Buckhead to the planned Peachtree Creek spur of the BeltLine, near MARTA’s Lindbergh Station.

The Buckhead trail is not directly affiliated with the BeltLine. But the two projects are complementary, and are to constitute the largest expansion of greenspace now underway in any U.S. city, according to Trust for Public Land.

The Atlanta region is adrift without an elected captain

By Guest Columnist JERE WOOD, mayor of the City of Roswell

Metro Atlanta needs more than a one-cent transportation sales tax to recover from the recession and regain its position in a competitive world. We need to work together as a region, not independently, to meet our transportation, water and other regional challenges.

To act as a unified region, we need leaders with the authority to speak for the region.

Who has the authority to speak for metro Atlanta?

GDOT report: Transportation sales tax won’t begin to fix state’s freight systems

It turns out that more than $18 billion really doesn’t go as far as it used to.

That’s the amount to be raised within the next decade if voters in July approve the 1 percent sales tax for transportation in each of Georgia’s 12 special tax districts. Even that amount didn’t provide for the majority of road, transit and airport projects initially proposed.

Nor does the sum begin to make a dent in the $18 billion to $20 billion list of upgrades that must be made to the state’s freight handling systems – its highways, railroads, Savannah seaport and airports in Atlanta and Albany, according to a new report from the Georgia Department of Transportation.