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MARTA, developers may start projects at three stations by early fall

Proposed developments at three MARTA stations are so hot that they could start in a matter of months, according to MARTA records.

The proposals involve the stations of Avondale, Chamblee and King Memorial. Each proposal has “advanced to the point of the board’s decision/action and could be put into action this summer or early fall,” records show.

MARTA can’t wait for a consultant to be hired in May to handle the proposals. Instead, MARTA seeks to hire a consultant to work on these projects over the next 60 to 90 days. Bids for the consulting position close March 25.

A relation between stadium deal and stalled MARTA bill? Who’s to say

There may be no relation whatsoever, but the plan to build a new Falcons stadium is moving forward and the proposed legislation to restructure MARTA and privatize some of its operations appears to be fading for the 2013 session.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration delivered a final deal within two months after receiving a troubled proposal from Gov. Nathan Deal. Reed’s team provided the $200 million in construction financing, plus somewhere around $100 million in public/private funds to fix up the area around the future stadium.

Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Brookhaven) indicated Tuesday that he’s done about all he can to sweeten his team’s proposal to reorganize MARTA. Jacobs has offered to eliminate the privatization provision in House Bill 264 and to resolve in MARTA’s favor all but one concern MARTA has raised. Still, the bill is stalled in the Senate.

Metro Atlanta’s transportation funding clobbered by recession, dip in federal support, ARC study shows

Some truly jaw-dropping numbers that reveal the harrowing impact of the recession on transportation funding in metro Atlanta were presented Wednesday to the board that oversees GRTA.

All the numbers relate to the amount of money that will be available to build and maintain roads and bridges, and transit. The revenue figures are down – across the board – from federal to state to local dollars.

Here’s a wry observation of Georgia’s expected share of the federal transportation bill that President Obama signed in 2012: “We were excited to see it, until we began to look at the money in it,” said John Orr, a senior planner with ARC who made the presentation to GRTA’s board.

Reed supports Obama’s national infrastructure repair plan, although it’s been drowned out by sequester

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed on Wednesday strongly endorsed one of President Obama’s domestic proposals, even as it has been swept from the stage by debate over budget cuts known as the sequester.

During Obama’s State of the Union message, the president reintroduced the idea of repairing the nation’s transportation infrastructure. The plan he discussed is to fix worn roads, bridges, ports, water and sewerage, and transit – and to pay for the upgrades with measures including a national infrastructure bank.

Chattanooga: Eating our lunch in liveability

When Atlantans look around for other cities to compare theirs with, they think major league all the way. They measure their growth against Houston and Dallas. They travel to Denver and Seattle to find civic inspiration and worry that Charlotte and Nashville are gaining on them.

But as we contemplate the hotter, wetter future we discussed last week, we might be better off taking a look at Chattanooga.

Yes, Chattanooga. Seldom do we think of our neighbor across the Tennessee line as much of a competitor. When they built an aquarium, we just built a bigger one. But for nearly three decades, since a group of civic leaders got together in 1984 and committed themselves to doing something about Chattanooga’s image as the dirtiest city in America, and in the view of some the dullest, they have been eating our lunch on the playing field of liveability.

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.