Traffic relief, transit upgrades funded in ARC’s five-year spending plan

By David Pendered

A new plan due for initial adoption Wednesday by the ARC board shows the extent to which $7-plus billion can go toward improving metro Atlanta’s transportation network.

Afternoon rush-hour traffic that backs up on I-285 beneath the Ga. 400 overpass could be eased through the construction of new lanes to serve locally destined vehicles. File/Credit: David Pendered

Afternoon rush-hour traffic that backs up on I-285 beneath the Ga. 400 overpass could be eased through the construction of new lanes to serve locally destined vehicles. File/Credit: David Pendered

Planners talk up the will-do projects contained in this five-year spending proposal, rather than lofty visions in the Atlanta Regional Commission’s long-range transportation plan. The ARC’s 2040 plan update is up for adoption, as well.

This strategy of focusing on the five-year plan addresses some realpolitiks: Regional traffic is building after the recession, while transportation funding remains scarce; A vote to adopt a regional transportation plan will show ARC’s board is not immobilized by disagreement over who should be elected as a citizen board member.

The list of projects to be started in 18 counties within a few years includes:

  • Congestion-easing lanes that will take local traffic off I-285 and Ga. 400 near that choked interchange;
  • Diverging diamond interchanges that are to hasten traffic through two clogged areas: Camp Creek Parkway at I-285; and Windy Hill Road at I-75;
  • Operational funding for MARTA to increase the frequency of trains;
  • “Complete street” retrofits that promote safe cycling and walking in a number of busy road corridors.

The ARC’s plan is significant because federal highway spending provisions give the ARC, as the region’s metropolitan planning organization, authority over certain categories of funding. ARC planners work more closely than they have, in previous decades, with their counterparts in the state transportation arena.

The ARC is slated to approve a spending plan to improve transportation in the 18 counties shaded green and their incorporated cities. Credit: ARC

The ARC is slated to approve a spending plan to improve transportation in the 18 counties shaded green and their incorporated cities. Credit: ARC

“This is a good plan,” said Toby Carr, the state’s transportation planning director. “We’re getting the most out of our limited dollars. Our interstate expansion is really significant over the next few years.”

Carr highlighted the plan’s macro purpose of achieving the statewide transportation strategy that Gov. Nathan Deal is pursuing. The statewide plan has three stated objectives: Access by employers to “talent pools;” home-to-work commutes that are reliably less than 45 minutes each way; efficient and affordable freight movement.

David Haynes, an ARC senior principal planner, highlighted the $1.3 billion that will fund transit operations and maintenance. The sum represents 16 percent of the $7 billion-plus spending plan, which is almost as much as the 17 percent set aside for building managed lanes.

The earmark for alternative modes of transportation could well mark the start of a network of pathways that could enable people to bicycle or walk to work, rather than serve mainly for recreational uses, Haynes said.

Examples of spending for alternative transportation are peppered throughout the document. A few examples include:

  • $4.6 million for multimodal improvements in the Georgetown area of Dunwoody;
  • $53.8 million for the train/bus station in downtown Atlanta that goes by the name, Georgia Multimodal Passenger Terminal (details were not provided);
  • $1.4 million for the “complete streets” retrofit of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, in Atlanta;
  • $4.8 million for multimodal improvements at the MARTA rail station in East Point;
  • $5 million for Ponce de Leon to get a “complete streets” retrofit with connectivity to the Atlanta BeltLine;
  • $3.7 million for improvements to the Peachtree Road corridor in Buckhead, from Shadowlawn Avenue to Maple Drive.
Click on the image to see a larger view of the funding levels included in ARC's proposed spending plan. File/Credit: ARC

Click on the image to see a larger view of the funding levels included in ARC’s proposed spending plan. File/Credit: ARC

After the ARC board adopts the two plans, which it is expected to do, the plans advance to the board that oversees the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority. GRTA staffers have advised on the plans and GRTA’s board has been briefed on progress.

“We are really seeing a new day in the way this has happened,” GRTA board Chairman Sonny Deriso, Jr. said of the plans. “It’s been a long time coming and it’s refreshing to see.”

At the ARC meeting, the TIP and Plan 2040 are the two major items on the agenda.

The board agreed in February to put off until after the May board meeting another vote on electing a citizen member. For three consecutive meetings, in December, January and February, the board could not muster the votes to select either Tad Leithead, a former ARC chairman from east Cobb County, or Mickey McGuire, an urban planner from Dunwoody nominated by interim DeKalb County CEO Lee May.

The imbroglio prompted ARC Executive Director Doug Hooker to observe after the February stalemate:

  • “There are some folks who have called into question our ability to govern ourselves. I might suggest that you table this for a few months and let this percolate. The seat will not be vacant. Tad will still be serving in that seat.”

 

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.

4 replies
  1. Wishing for Milton County says:

    I read this article and I am still amazed that the ARC is so determined to put the “MULTIMODAL TRANSPORTATION HUB” in the absolute worse place.  
    Why is it that ARC is so focused on downtown Atlanta.  WHO OWNS THE PROPERTY that this waste of taxpayer money is going pay for.
    You cannot get to the “gulch” during the day.  There is no direct route.  MARTA is so poorly run that they can’t even sync the trains when a basketball game is at Phillips Arena.  
    I believe I read where the railroads are not keen to letting commuter traffic on “their” tracks.
    We have the largest airport in the world.  Train tracks run right across from it.  Focus on getting folks to & from the airport.
    Especially local citizens who can’t use rapid transportation (MARTA) to get to the INTERNATIONAL TERMINAL.  That planning was so bad.  What makes anyone at ARC think we trust them to plan the MULTIMODAL TRANSPORTATION HUB to NOWHERE!!!!!!Report

    Reply
  2. Crispin Glover says:

    Wishing for Milton County  You do realize those big buildings you see downtown house major corporations and hundreds of businesses that form the economic nucleus of this city, don’t you?  Not to mention most of our tourist attractions are located there.  Passenger wise, the downtown area is Atlanta’s busiest and, due to current and future developments, will remain so.  
    The trains run on frequent time intervals, not sure how you envision syncing them to sporting events.  I’ve been riding them for 4 years and while they don’t have a perfect track record, they do just fine.
    Atlanta has the busiest airport, yes, but not because it’s the final destination for travelers.  I’d bet a majority of those passengers the “busiest” statistic relies on are just switching planes.  Transportation to/from the airport is seamless and does not need major attention.  So what if you have to go through one extra security checkpoint? Plan accordingly.Report

    Reply
  3. atlman says:

    @Wishing for Milton County:
    Two things.
    In the comments in the AJC, Kyle Wingfield, the conservative columnist (although he is not really that conservative) stated that Milton County isn’t going to happen. The issue is the rural Georgia legislators. The precondition for creating Milton County is changing the portion of the Georgia Constitution that caps the maximum number of counties at 157. The rural legislators fear that meeting this precondition would lead to the rural counties’ being forced to consolidate. Which is a bad deal for them, because the result would be very large but sparsely populated and mostly poor areas that would be thrown together. If you change the constitution, then forcing the rural counties to consolidate could be done with a majority vote. But without that, it would take a 2/3rds vote in each chamber, and the rural GOPers plus the Democrats keep them well short of that. This rural/suburban divide in the GOP is getting to be a real issue. It was the rural GOPers that blocked the “T-SPLOST Plan B” agenda items the last two sessions. The rural counties need more money from the state, not the ability to join together to fund their own initiatives (because they could join together and still not raise enough money to do anything). The fractional SPLOST idea would make it impossible to get anything done on a local level politically (the Marietta Daily-Journal had an article on that one). And dedicating all of the gas tax revenue towards transportation would mean less money in the general fund, which the rural counties benefit from. That plus the rural hospital closure issue means that there are some real divides between the metro Atlanta GOP and the GOP in the rest of the state that needs to be tended to before a moderate rural Democrat can come along to exploit it. The guy most capable of doing so is John Barrow incidentally.

    Now to answer your “Why
    is it that ARC is so focused on downtown Atlanta” here is your answer: http://ireader.olivesoftware.com/Olive/iReader/AtlantaJournal/SharedArticle.ashx?document=AJC2014324&article=Ar00102 and that makes it clear. “Downtown is in the midst of its greatest swing of new investment since
    the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, Gellerstedt said, ticking off high-dollar
    projects including the Atlanta Streetcar, Center for Civil and Human
    Rights, College Football Hall of Fame and the new Falcons stadium.” Who is Gellerstedt?  Larry Gellerstedt, president and CEO of real estate investment trust Cousins Properties. You see, Atlanta is in the middle of a construction/development/investment boom. IT and healthcare companies are locating there, lots of mixed used developments are happening all over the place, etc.

    Take a look at this: “http://www.bizjournals.com/atlanta/real_talk/2014/03/design-revealed-for-650-million-trio-of-towers.html.
    More good stuff from that article: “The project comes as Atlanta goes
    through a high-rise rental boom. At least a half dozen apartment towers
    are either in planning or under way in the city. Capital is pouring into
    the city. Atlanta now ranks ninth in the most active markets globally
    for apartment investment, according to the latest data from Real Capital
    Analytics, a New York firm that tracks real estate deals. Last year
    alone, the city’s intown properties, including trophy buildings,
    mixed-use developments and apartment towers, attracted almost $1.4
    billion in new investment.”
    Folks who live downtown know this already, because half of downtown is torn up right now with construction projects. Milton County advocates who never actually go inside the city limits … I suppose word hasn’t reached yet. So the idea that the only things about Atlanta worth investing in is the airport and Buckhead doesn’t reflect reality. Governor Deal is fully aware of this, incidentally. It explains his mutually beneficial working relationship with Atlanta’s mayor. He just can’t talk about it too much because he knows that any deviating from the “Atlanta will become the next Detroit” fantasy would lose him the votes of, well, people like you. But after he gets safely re-elected, he will be a lot more open about what actually is going on, and also start taking credit for it.Report

    Reply
  4. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    Wishing for Milton County {{{“Why is it that ARC is so focused on downtown Atlanta[?]”}}}
    It’s not necessarily just the ARC that is so focused on Downtown Atlanta, but most importantly it is also the State of Georgia (by way of the Georgia Department of Transportation) that is focused on building a major MMPT in Downtown Atlanta. 
    GDOT is so focused on Downtown Atlanta because Five Points is the current hub and an important intersecting point for the 2 existing north-south and 2 existing east-west MARTA lines. 
    Downtown Atlanta is also a focal point of Georgia’s sports, entertainment, hotel and convention business as the Georgia World Congress Center is the 4th-largest convention facility on the North American continent.  Downtown Atlanta is also home to one of the largest clusters of hotel space on the continent. 
    The Gulch area, Five Points and Downtown Atlanta was also a historical focal point for regional, interurban and interstate passenger trains in the pre-World War II heyday of passenger rail travel in the U.S.

    {{{“WHO OWNS THE PROPERTY that this waste of taxpayer money is going pay for [?]”}}}
    From what I understand, the State of Georgia (by way of the Georgia Department of Transportation) owns the land that the MMPT is slated to be constructed on in the future.
    Also, from all indications, the plans seem to be quickly evolving to where the project will be paid mostly with money from the high-density, high-rise mixed-use commercial development that is planned to go up on and around the site of the future MMPT.
    There will most likely be no choice but to fund the construction of the MMPT with private funds from real estate development at and around the site because the money to fund the project any other way just simply does not exist within state coffers and likely is never going to exist within state coffers from existing sources.

    {{{“You cannot get to the “gulch” during the day.  There is no direct route.  MARTA is so poorly run that they can’t even sync the trains when a basketball game is at Phillips Arena……I believe I read where the railroads are not keen to letting commuter traffic on “their” tracks.”}}}
    These are good points and these are also reasons why the state will have no choice but to build new rail capacity throughout metro Atlanta and North Georgia (in the form of new passenger rail-only tracks) if the new MMPT at the Gulch is to be able to be served by new passenger trains.
    …Because there is not enough existing rail capacity to operate high volumes of both passenger rail and freight rail traffic at the same time as will be needed.

    {{{“We have the largest airport in the world.  Train tracks run right across from it.  Focus on getting folks to & from the airport…….Especially local citizens who can’t use rapid transportation (MARTA) to get to the INTERNATIONAL TERMINAL.  That planning was so bad.  What makes anyone at ARC think we trust them to plan the MULTIMODAL TRANSPORTATION HUB to NOWHERE!!!!!!”}}}
    These are also really good points and some really good reasons why a second MMPT should and most likely will be constructed at or near the airport at some point in this evolving process as it continues to unfold.
    It should also be noted that there are also very-early plans just beginning to emerge to extend some type of heavy rail transit service to the International Terminal side of the Atlanta Airport (especially with Clayton County expected to vote to join MARTA in November).
    Though we should all keep-in-mind that these plans to implement passenger rail transit service on a much-larger scale throughout the Atlanta region and North Georgia are still in the very-early, infantile stages of development.
    At this point, it will be many, many, many years before any of these passenger rail expansion plans come to existence.
    By the time any of these plans actually come into being, this city, this metro area and this society will be very-different places. 
    We’re talking about a metro Atlanta where 8-10 million or more people will possibly be living, the state government will likely be very-different (urban and minority interests will be likely be dominant), MARTA will have evolved into something else much different and the freeways will have likely become impassable during much of the day by the time this thing is built.
    …It will most-assuredly be very-different place and a very-different time by the time this thing becomes fully-operational.Report

    Reply

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