Commission candidates for District 1 disagree on BRT project
by Jon Gillooly
April 08, 2014 04:00 AM | 4817 views | 9 9 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MARIETTA — The five Republican candidates vying for the west Cobb seat held by retiring Commissioner Helen Goreham disagree on the county’s proposed bus-rapid-transit project, which would connect Kennesaw with Atlanta.

The winner of the May 20 Republican primary faces Democrat Derrick Crump, an IT consultant, in the general election, although given the Republican stronghold in west Cobb, pundits predict a GOP victory.

This month, the Board of Commissioners is expected to learn the findings of a multi-million dollar study to determine the feasibility of using a bus rapid-transit system, also known as BRT.

The county recently announced a scaled-down version of the $1.1 billion transit plan that eliminates most of the grade separations for bridges and tunnels along Cobb Parkway, thereby lowering the cost to $494 million. If commissioners were to approve BRT and funding fell into place, the system could be operational by 2018, according to county transportation officials.

BRT was a hot-button issue at a debate Saturday at the Cobb Republican Party headquarters.

Byrne says ‘Not only no, but hell no’

As the first candidate to answer the question, former county Chairman Bill Byrne wasn’t shy about his thoughts on BRT.

“Not only no, but hell no,” Byrne said. “BRT does not work from an engineering perspective, let alone an economic development perspective.”

Byrne said there aren’t enough people who would use the bus system from where it’s proposed.

Byrne said the project was for economic development, not transportation relief. He also questioned where the money would come from.

“We spend a million dollars studying a proposal that didn’t work to begin with,” Byrne said. “What did we not learn from the 10 years experience in dealing with issues of this nature?”

County Chairman Tim Lee said in February a new tax will most likely be recommended for paying for the system, although Lee said that’s not necessarily what the county will approve. U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson has predicted the availability of federal grants.

Byrne showed his dismay for taking out the grade separations in the proposal, a concern Commissioner Bob Ott has also raised. By removing the grade separations, Ott is worried the new bus line will simply create new points of congestion.

“Downsizing the BRT proposal to what’s being proposed now eliminates the concept of the BRT,” Byrne said. “Why don’t you just run a damn bus up and down the road and pick up people wherever you can find them? That’s about the logic that’s being dealt with this issue. If I had any say in it, and I hope one day I sure do, that BRT proposal is dead in the water. Did I make myself clear?” Byrne said, prompting laughter from the crowd.

Melson wants more facts

Candidate Glenn Melson of Powder Springs, a partner with Marietta-based Corporate Risk Advisors, said transportation would be an issue as the new Braves stadium comes online in 2017.

“You know, in this thing, as I told you from the start, my job and what I’ve been trying to do for the last 29 years is gather the facts,” Melson said. “Cobb Department of Transportation and the state Department of Transportation, we’ve got to have a look at things, because it’s going to have to be addressed. Now we need to address it without dressing down the taxpayers, so we’re going to have to get creative, and it’s going to be an interesting battle in this thing, but we’ve got to do this without continuing to spend other people’s money.”

Barner not a fan of BRT

Like Byrne, Angela Barner of Acworth left no doubt what she thinks about the BRT proposal.

“Short answer on BRT would be personally no, but we should let the voters decide,” Barner said. “The voters resoundingly in Cobb County, 69 percent was against the TSPLOST, but still we should let the voters decide. With almost $1 billion rollout in transportation funding, that’s going to resolve some of our problems that we have now.”

The Georgia Department of Transportation is building a $951 million “reversible lanes” toll-road project along Interstates 75 and 575 through Cobb and Cherokee counties expected to open in 2018.

“But I’m not in favor of a $1.1 billion program, and I think with the new transit technology we should consider and with that going up it’s going to resolve a lot of problems, but ‘no’ to the BRT,” Barner said.

Tucker appears to be on board

Joking that Byrne was on the fence about the BRT question, retired Marietta Assistant Fire Chief Scott Tucker observed the BRT program was designed to help with traffic problems.

“It hasn’t been proven that that really will help or really happen. However, something needs to be done and the BRT is the next step — please not rail at this point,” Tucker said.

The estimated cost of light rail line along the same route would be $3.7 billion, according to Cobb DOT Director Faye DiMassimo.

Tucker complained about the rate at which taxpayers subsidize Cobb Community Transit.

“So the problem, if you think about it, is CCT is only 25 percent or less that’s actually paying for itself,” Tucker said. “So we’ve still got some problems that we’ve got to work out to try to make this thing a little bit more efficient. I understand everybody saying ‘no.’ I would say ‘no’ too except for we’ve got a transportation need in Cobb County that we’re going to have to look at, and BRT is one of those things that has been presented that may work, but it can’t work without a significant amount of adjustments because there’s too high a bill on it for what our return is.”

Weatherford says ‘leave it to experts’

Former Acworth City Alderman Bob Weatherford, the candidate being supported by Cobb Chamber of Commerce leaders, took a swipe at Byrne in answering the question.

“Well, unlike Mr. Byrne, I’m not a traffic engineer or a traffic expert. I don’t know,” Weatherford said. “That’s why we pay people millions of dollars to do studies, studies of which you should follow.”

Weatherford said he believes the task of an elected official is to set the direction, allowing staff and others to advise the best course of action.

“Then you make a decision based upon the results of those studies,” Weatherford said. “If those studies point to BRT, then I have to defer to those that have expertise in that area. I am not one of those. I will support whatever is best for the county.”

One of the studies Weatherford referenced is the $1.8 million “Northwest Corridor Alternatives Analysis” led by Marietta-based Croy Engineering, which recommended building the original $1.1 billion bus system connecting Kennesaw State with Midtown. After receiving the findings of this study in September 2012, the county chose to pay Cary, N.C.-based Kimley-Horn and Associates $3 million for an environmental study of that proposed route, a study that is expected to be unveiled this month.

“There needs to be something done,” Weatherford said. “I know the cost per mile on the BRT is one of the lesser ones that there are on any other types of transportation, and we desperately need something, especially with the Braves coming, and we want some type of corridor and some type of transportation to go from one end of the county to the other. Again, I wasn’t privy to that, I haven’t read the complete study, I know the results of the study, and I defer to the experts.”

Comments-icon Post a Comment
Leaders needed
April 09, 2014
What is wrong with Weatherford? Listen to the experts, it is the experts who got us into this traffic nightmare to begin with, not leadership? We need leadership with ideas that just don't follow the goofy experts who continually drain our tax dollars for another goofy plan. We need leadership, clearly Weatherford is not it.
ole man
April 08, 2014
Public transportation is at least 80% funded from the tax digest. Increasing public transportation will require new money pay the tab. The options are not complicated; cut other services or raise taxes.

I believe bus service currently exist from K to A. It's probably to easy to calculate the current ridership, maybe ask the drivers. If the buses are packed with standing room only, maybe more buses are needed. I have never seen a crowded bus, have you?

A half billion dollars to start a 4 year project, hat will surely finish on time and on budget, on existing roads, where can I get want they are smoking?
Dave Z
April 08, 2014
I cannot stand Bill Byrne and his bombastic, self-serving agenda. But he's right about BRT.
Pete Tax
April 08, 2014

"Former Acworth City Alderman Bob Weatherford, the candidate being supported by Cobb Chamber of Commerce leaders, took a swipe at Byrne in answering the question. 'Well, unlike Mr. Byrne, I’m not a traffic engineer or a traffic expert. I don’t know,” Weatherford said. “That’s why we pay people millions of dollars to do studies, studies of which you should follow.'”

President Truman said an expert is someone who doesn't want to learn anything new because then he wouldn't be an expert anymore.

Where we are now is because of experts. And if the politicians and special interests don't like what the experts say, they get an "alternative analysis" until the study special interests want comes up. The game is rigged. Why give these clowns anymore of our money?

Tired of politicians
April 09, 2014
Weatherford says let's be led by staff experts, that is leadership????? Where is his leadership, just another rubber stamper for what staff wants not what the People want, sounds like his buddy Mark Mathews has trained him well!!!
Just Wait
April 08, 2014
Bill Byrne's comments are perfect examples of why he would be totally ineffective if elected. His "my way or no way" attitude sounds great but would not serve the citizens of the district with real leadership. He is positioning himself to be the polar opposite of Weatherford and the Chamber. Not a bad position, but what would be the point of 4-1 and 3-2 votes on the commission for 4 years?
April 08, 2014
Byrne's right. BRT would be big bucks for little to no positive effect. An innovative (new) solution is needed to resolve traffic issues. Byrne recognizes that and isn't afraid to say it.

Weatherford's revealed himself to be a shill for the Chamber, Faye and the TSPLOST advocates!

The others appear to have not done their homework on this major issue, or abdicate their potential role as leader before even earning the office!

Developers may not like him, but Bill Byrne's got my vote!
W. Cobb Voter
April 08, 2014
It is difficult to believe that Tim Lee's small group of cronies really believe that their money can buy/steal this election from the citizens of West Cobb. Shame on you Tim and John.

Bob Weatherford opening statement that he was a 'career politician" simply stated the obvious. As a career politician, Bob appears willing to make any concession in order to win public office.

For example, Mr. Weatherford, It now makes perfect sense why you supported the TSPLOST in the last election.... some "experts" thought it would be best and the cronies from the Chamber wanted it.

Weatherford has also said that he would support the BRT tax, another SPLOST tax for public safety, and continue the parks and recreational tax after it is set to expire - to support the Braves deal.

Bottom line: Why the heck are you running if you believe you should defer to Mr. Lee's 'experts' and willingness to increase taxes on homeowners in West Cobb.

You just can't make this stuff up.
Weatherford voter
April 08, 2014
How do you not understand that in order to solve our traffic problems, we are going to have to raise taxes. Get out of the woods and join the rest of our county
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