But others are asking why the study — which aims to recommend the best mode and route for mass transit in Cobb — is even continuing, given that there’s now no money to implement its suggestions. And, just a week before the referendum, the county awarded a $3 million contract for an environmental study connected to whatever the AA recommends.
“We’ve got to wait until we get the results in, and see what it says,” Lee said. “See how it fits in with our other planning, and go forward from there.”
The AA is due to be released this month or next, though no firm date has been set.
Southeast Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott opposed the AA even before Tuesday’s TSPLOST referendum, preferring to see how planned toll lanes on Interstates 75 and 575 would impact Cobb’s congestion.
But with the failure of the Transportation SPLOST, which would have used a 1 percent sales tax collected for a decade to pay for $6.1 billion in transportation projects across metro Atlanta area, Ott said the AA needs to be stopped.
“The question is, is there a way to stop spending more money on this?” he said. “What is the intent and purpose at this point, because there will be no more money for what is proposed?”
On July 24, county commissioners awarded a $3 million contract to study the environmental impacts of the AA’s preferred mode and location. As with the AA, 80 percent of the environmental study will be paid for with federal dollars, and the county will pay up to $600,600 for the study, using money raised through the county’s 2011 special purpose local option sales tax.
The environmental-study contract was awarded to Kimley-Horn and Associates of Raleigh, N.C., and the commission vote was 4-1, with Ott opposed.
“Why in the world would you want to spend the money for that?” Ott said of the environmental study. “I thought it was premature then. Now (with the TSPLOST failing) it’s definitely premature.”
Chairman Lee, who sat on the Regional Roundtable committee that drafted the list of projects to be paid for if the TSPLOST were approved, said the AA will also offer suggestions for less expensive mass-transit options, in addition to a primary recommendation. The TSPLOST list included a $689 million earmark for mass transit, either bus rapid transit or presumably light rail, connecting Cobb to Midtown Atlanta.
“It deals with providing options for us as we move forward,” Lee said of the AA, adding that the study was planned before the state legislature passed the Transportation Investment Act legislation in 2010.
The AA will recommend the best mode — light rail, bus rapid transit or express bus — and the best route, either U.S. Highway 41 or Interstate 75, between Acworth or Kennesaw and the MARTA Arts Center Station, for mass transit.
Even northwest Cobb Commissioner Helen Goreham, who has supported the AA, admits it will be difficult to do anything with the study’s results.
“Until we have funding, there’s not much we can do,” she said. “We’ll have to wait and see what the study says and look to the future to see if there is funding for a mode to provide transportation for the people of this area.”
Faye DiMassimo, director of the county’s transportation agency, said the AA is useful for long-range planning.
“Any large infrastructure project requires such a step in order for it to be accomplished. The Northwest Corridor managed lanes is a great example of a similar effort, where studies began over a decade ago and it is now coming to fruition,” she said. “As with other such studies, the value of the AA lies in the identification of those needs and solutions.”
Though a firm release date isn’t scheduled, DiMassimo said the AA results are to be presented to the Board of Commissioners by September.
DiMassimo said that after the study is complete, the county will determine what money is available from the federal government and other sources, though she acknowledged that the TSPLOST failure will delay implementation of any recommended project. The environmental study, she said, is the next step in the AA process and ensures the county remains eligible for federal dollars.
“As with any project at this stage … without an identified funding commitment, construction is unknown,” she said.
Bill Byrne, who will face Lee in an Aug. 21 runoff to be the county’s next chairman, said that if he is elected, any AA recommendations are dead on arrival. He believes Cobb’s suburban neighbors, not downtown Atlanta, are where the growth is.
“I would say, ‘Thank you very much. I applaud all your work. I’ll find a good place on the shelf to put it on,’” Byrne said of the AA.
Byrne said he expects the AA will recommend bus rapid transit, though transportation activist Ron Sifen, of Vinings, said he suspects it will be light rail.
But with Cobb voters rejecting the TSPLOST by an overwhelming 69 percent — not to mention its overall failure metro-wide, where 62 percent of voters said no — Byrne hopes Croy Engineering of Marietta, which is leading a team of firms performing various aspects of the AA, will revise the study.
Sifen has maintained that express bus service, operated in the planned I-75 managed lanes, is the best transit option.
“Maybe the TSPLOST vote will deliver a strong message that light rail isn’t the answer,” Sifen said. “Maybe the study will look at what’s the best, most affordable transportation project that meets the needs of Cobb County.”
The federal transit administration contributed $1.5 million toward the AA, and the county contributed $205,864. Kennesaw State University and the Town Center and Cumberland community improvement districts each kicked in $40,000, while the cities of Marietta, Acworth, Kennesaw and Smyrna each gave $10,000 toward the study.
Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin, for one, doesn’t think his city’s money was wasted.
“You hear people talk about Plan B. This might be a source for Plan B,” Tumlin said. “It’s going to be probably more local in nature (than the TSPLOST). … The world has got to go on and we still have to be educated, prepared and constantly looking for a source of money. Obviously, a 1 percent sales tax wasn’t it.”
Larry Savage of east Cobb said that those who insistent on getting a light rail line will keep searching for money to fund it.
“I could almost say the study was worthless even if they had the money (to fund it),” Savage said. “The people in charge know what they want.”