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.
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.
“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.
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.”