Fix ‘fatally flawed’ transit proposal

By Ron Sifen

The Cobb Legislative Delegation should continue working to find a way to fix the T-SPLOST projects list.

A couple of weeks ago, Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee and several state legislators announced efforts to try to change the T-SPLOST projects list to take out the fatally flawed transit proposal and to replace it with the I-75 / I-575 reversible lanes project.

Gov. Nathan Deal had stopped the reversible lanes project because the proposed contract with the private partners could have prevented Georgia from implementing other needed traffic congestion improvements in those corridors for 60 years. Deal wisely sought other means of funding.

The governor and the legislature have worked out other funding, so now we are still stuck with the fatally flawed transit proposal.

The reversible lanes project is a great project that many people do not understand. It is safe. There are no “suicide lanes.” They are not taking away any existing lanes, so it is totally different than the I-85 fiasco.

The reversible lanes project will do a great job of alleviating rush hour traffic congestion for everybody in all lanes. More information about this excellent project is available at nwcproject.com.

Here are some of the Cobb transit proposal’s major flaws.

  • The Legislature’s reason for approving the TIA legislation was to fund projects that will alleviate traffic congestion. As several Cobb legislators have said, this project will not help to alleviate traffic congestion. And in fact, it may obstruct traffic flow on Cobb Parkway and many cross streets.
  • Allegedly, the Atlanta region wants an affordable regional transit network that provides efficient, seamless connectivity throughout the region. This project that will cannibalize transit dollars from other needed transit projects. South Cobb, have you thought about this?
  • Light rail typically costs $2 million per mile per year to operate and maintain. If we wind up with light rail all the way to Acworth, this one transit line will choke Cobb and the region with $50 million per year in future operating and maintenance costs. There is no way to pay for these costs without huge future permanent tax increases.
  • Over the last 30 years, those cities that have implemented light rail by buying existing inactive track have tended to come in reasonably close to budget. The vast majority of cities that have built light rail from scratch have consistently had massive cost overruns and massive construction delays. Cobb and the Atlanta region are choosing the path of proven failure.
  • Studies show that light rail typically results in trip times that are 70 percent longer for suburban commuters. The Northwest Connectivity Study projected that light rail in this corridor would more than double trip times for suburban commuters. Suburban commuters are not going to get out of their cars and use transit that doubles their trip times.
  • Cobb County is assuming that its proposed route will run in the I-75 corridor from Cumberland to Northside Drive. The NWCS evaluated this route for light rail, and concluded that it was not feasible “at grade” because the right-of-way was maxed out and there was no place to put it. There were four possible solutions, but all would add billions of dollars to the cost, and some would likely result in years of court challenges.
  • Previous studies have identified that slopes exceeding 6 percent are a problem for light rail in this corridor, and that it would be expensive to overcome this challenge. Likewise, crossing I-285 and the Chattahoochee River are likely to involve some unique challenges.
  • The TIA projects list does not fully fund Phase 1 of this project just from Arts Center MARTA station to Cumberland. U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson and U.S. Rep. Tom Price have warned the region that it is unlikely that these funds will be available from Washington. Despite the fact that Cobb has not completed its study yet, Cobb is basing its cost estimates on assumptions that it can build in the Fulton portion of the I-75 corridor without implementing any of the ultra-expensive solutions identified in the NWCS. So we have Cobb’s fantasy based on no study, vs. the conclusions of a completed, objective, impartial study. The cost of this project might ultimately be many times higher than Cobb’s demonstrably dubious estimates.

There are several problems with the TIA projects list. The biggest problem is the fatally flawed Cobb transit proposal. Cobb’s legislators should continue their efforts to fix this.

Legislators could consider that the I-75 / I-285 interchange is ranked as the 20th worst bottleneck in the country. Fixing this interchange would significantly alleviate traffic congestion. This is a project that needs funding.

Article Printed in the Marietta Daily Journal on February 8, 2012

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