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.