Final transportation project list builds on existing system

By David Pendered

In the end, there is no magic bullet that promises to kill traffic congestion, no gee-whiz technological solution to end gridlock in metro Atlanta.

The region’s transportation options will look a lot like they do today, even if the region embarks upon a 10-year, $6.14 billion construction program that would be funded by a proposed 1 percent sales tax collected in 10 counties.

If voters approve the tax next year, MARTA is to build its long-awaited rail line to Emory University; Cobb County is to provide express bus service linking north Cobb and Midtown Atlanta; and Atlanta is to install transit along the BeltLine. Scores of roadways and interchanges are to be improved in hopes of hastening traffic.

These improvements are to be built upon the bones of the region’s existing roadways and rail corridors. There is no recommendation for a project the magnitude of running Ga. 400 from Sandy Springs through Buckhead, or building transit along the top end of I-285 from Cumberland Mall to Doraville.

The Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable on Tuesday endorsed its state-mandated project list that continues the region’s historic pattern when it comes to transportation. Click here to read more details.

Roads and transit will both be funded, this time with the scale tipped slightly toward transit. Staffers were still calculating late Tuesday the exact proportions of roads and transit being funded in the project list.

All that’s left to make the plan official is a pro-forma vote by the roundtable on Thursday, the ceremonial signing of a proclamation, and delivery to the state Capitol by the legislated deadline of Oct. 15. The staff, meanwhile, will compile a proposed construction schedule.

The next phase will soon begin and it probably will follow two tracks.

One will roll out at the state Legislature in January, in an expected effort to shift the date of the sales tax referendums in metro Atlanta and the rest of Georgia from July 31 to Nov. 6.

The other track will be a political campaign aimed at drumming up support for a 10-year sales tax and getting those voters to the polls on election day.

The project list that was all but finalized Tuesday is nothing to sniff at.

This list represents the collaborative effort by 21 local elected officials who served on the roundtable. Their task has been to divvy up a pot of money that could never be big enough to meet transportation demands of a region whose growth rate has led the nation – adding more than a million residents in the past decade alone, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission.

The roundtable was comprised of the chairman or CEO of each of the 10 counties, and a mayor from each county. Atlanta was represented by its mayor after a political scuffle that initially had left the state capital with no vote on the state’s historic first attempt at regional planning.

The project list names road improvements that are intended to relieve bottlenecks at major intersections and along major roadways all around the region. One major effort will be to reconstruct the interchange of Ga. 400 and I-285, and install adjacent lanes to handle local traffic.

The transit projects are intended to provide rail service to the job center that is Emory University and its environs; bus service from the northern reaches of Cobb County to Midtown; and to begin planning for rail service along the I-85 corridor into Gwinnett County, and along the I-20 corridor into DeKalb County.

Even the oft-maligned commuter rail project from Atlanta toward Macon survived. It is to receive $20 million in planning funds in the hope that – one day – some source of construction funds can be won. The state, meanwhile, continues with its plans to build a train and bus station in Downtown Atlanta that would serve the proposed commuter line.

The roundtable made quick work of its agenda. Here are some highlights:

  • GRTA and MARTA were winners, in the sense that MARTA earmarks were not cannibalized to pay for GRTA bus service. GRTA is to maintain existing service levels for a decade with the use of sales tax money and $33 million in federal money expected after 2017. MARTA’s earmark to maintain its state of good repair was not cut in order to shift money to GRTA bus service.
  • DeKalb County did not get an additional fund to help pay for a MARTA rail line along I-20, from Atlanta toward the Mall at Stonecrest. The money was proposed to come from cuts to earmarks for upgrading the Ga. 400/I-285 interchange and collector/distributor lanes, and from the new rail line from MARTA’S Lindbergh Station toward Emory University.
  • Two other proposals failed – a $350 million earmark to build commuter rail with money obtained by cutting a host of other projcts; and an $80 million earmark for GRTA to be covered by reducing earmarks for Atlanta’s BeltLine and two transit lines – rail lines to Cumberland Mall and Emory University.

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

7 replies
  1. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    “Atlanta was represented by its mayor after a political scuffle that initially had left the state capital with no vote on the state’s historic first attempt at regional planning.”

    Amazing that after seeing close to FOUR MILLION newcomers move into the Atlanta Region and watching its population grow at a rate that is close to 200 PERCENT over the last 30 years (The Atlanta Region grew from two million inhabitants in 1980 to nearly six million inhabitants in 2010) that the state is just now attempting to engage in region planning after years of crushing growth….Anyone see anything WRONG with this picture?Report

    Reply
  2. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    As it stands now, there is no real credible transportation plan to help people get through these corridors without the use of a personal vehicle during the time when these construction projects may make traveling by vehicle very slow, inconvenient and impractical in order to achieve better and safer movement through these areas after completion.Report

    Reply
  3. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    “The project list names road improvements that are intended to relieve bottlenecks at major intersections and along major roadways all around the region. One major effort will be to reconstruct the interchange of Ga. 400 and I-285, and install adjacent lanes to handle local traffic.”

    I’m very glad to see action on rebuilding I-285 on GA 400 on the Top End as that is a project that should have been completed almost 20 years ago back around the time that the GA 400 Toll Extension opened through Buckhead and North Atlanta back in the early 1990’s at a time when the ramps connecting GA 400 and I-85 from the north should have been completed also.

    The only problem with undertaking such major reconstruction and construction projects in such crucial corridors is that a really strong regional alternative transportation option in the form of rail-centered mass transit (commuter rail) does NOT exist to help give the region’s legions of commuters another viable option for getting around while these long-awaited and critically-needed, yet gridlock-inducing projects are in progress.Report

    Reply
  4. Burroughston Broch says:

    GDOT killed the Top End I-285 rebuild years ago by their underhanded methods being exposed. They went to most of the merchants in the area and asked, “If all road congestion were eliminated, how much would your customer traffic increase?” Based on the wishful results received, they forecast massive I-285 traffic increases and proposed a widening of I-285 plus a system of collector roads alongside, The neighbors were up in arms and the ugly plan died.

    I attended one of the hearings in which GDOT was asked whether they had included space for MARTA in the plans, ala GA 400. They replied no because GDOT didn’t do transit. They were deer in the headlights when questioned whether they had forgotten everything they learned in building GA 400.

    Some things never change.Report

    Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      @Burroughston Broch

      “I attended one of the hearings in which GDOT was asked whether they had included space for MARTA in the plans, ala GA 400. They replied no because GDOT didn’t do transit.”

      Looking at their “management” of the freeway system, GDOT apparently doesn’t do roads, either…Report

      Reply
    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      @Burroughston Broch

      “They were deer in the headlights when questioned whether they had forgotten everything they learned in building GA 400.”

      They (GDOT) couldn’t have possibly forgotten anything because they seem to have never learned anything in the first place.

      As they continue to repeatedly demonstrate with their stellar performances, being deer in the headlights seems to come naturally for them. Report

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

What are your thoughts?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.