By Maria Saporta
Bus or rail? I-75 or U.S. 41?
Those are just two of the questions that are being asked on how to connect Cobb County with the Arts Center MARTA Station.
A program was held Monday evening at the Woodruff Arts Center where representatives from Cobb County and the City of Atlanta talked about the proposed alternatives that exist to serve people traveling along the northwest corridor.
Cobb County has received a grant from the Federal Transit Administration to conduct an “Alternatives Analysis” along the corridor.. Those options include enhanced bus service, a dedicated busway, bus rapid transit and light rail.
Four routes were presented — all of them connecting to the Arts Center MARTA Station primarily along the I-75 corridor until it gets close to the Cobb County line. Then there are couple of options that would continue up the I-75 corridor and other options going along the U.S. 41 corridor.
A decision on the preferred option is expected to made in September, and the meeting on Monday was held to get public input. A couple of other meetings will be held in the next month or so.
This corridor has had quite a history. A few years ago, former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin had a major disagreement with Cobb County over plans that had been proposed at the time.
At the time, Cobb had wanted to have a rail line along I-75 with only one or two stops within the City of Atlanta.
Franklin argued that such a line would be geared to serve Cobb County residents rather than people living in the city. She also questioned aligning the transit line along I-75 rather than an existing city street, such as Northside Drive.
A rail line along an interstate minimizes the economic redevelopment potential because few town center type developments are located on highway interchanges. Instead, town centers tend to be developed in people-oriented environments that encourage walkability rather than automobile-oriented places that accommodate cars.
Faye DiMassimo, Cobb County’s director of transportation, said the team is working closely with the City of Atlanta to determine the alignment as well as the location of the transit stations.
Joshua Mello, assistant director of transportation for Atlanta’s Department of Planning, confirmed that there’s been a high level of cooperation between the city and Cobb County.
He also said that there would be opportunities to redevelop areas near Atlantic Station, Howell Mill Road, West Paces Ferry Road and Mount Paran Road.
In each of those cases, the transit line could veer off from the interstate to serve existing commercial centers that could be redeveloped into walkable urban communities.
But a big question remains whether the preferred alternative will be on tires (some kind of bus service) or on rail.
The answer to that question becomes especially confusing when considering the relationship between this project and the project that’s included in the Transportation Improvement Act that will go before voters on July 31.
DiMassimo insisted that the “Alternatives Analysis” is different from the TIA project list that was approved by the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable. In what has become a particularly controversial item on the TIA’s project list, there is $689 million that’s been set aside for “high capacity transit.”
That funding would pay for a Bus Rapid Transit line from Ackworth to Arts Center, but it would not pay from a light rail line between Arts Center to the Cumberland Mall area. The big question is whether light rail has become a long shot for the northwest corridor.
“We have not at all discounted the light rail alternative,” DiMassimo insisted.
Much will depend on whether the “Alternatives Analysis” will recommend light rail and whether the region can get additional federal funding to upgrade transit service in the corridor from bus to rail.
To weigh in on this discussion, please visit the Connect Cobb website.