Legislators critical of proposed rail line
by Jon Gillooly
jgillooly@mdjonline.com
August 23, 2011 12:00 AM | 3998 views | 15 15 comments | 21 21 recommendations | email to a friend | print
ATLANTA - Cobb lawmakers on Monday criticized the proposed light rail line from Midtown Atlanta to Cumberland Mall which constitutes the majority of Cobb's take in next year's vote on a regional TSPLOST.

During a meeting in the Coverdell Legislative Building in Atlanta between the Cobb Legislative Delegation and Cobb Board of Commissioners, state Sens. Lindsey Tippins (R-west Cobb), Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) and state Reps. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs), Sharon Cooper (R-east Cobb) and Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) expressed doubts about the $856.48 million, 12.8-mile rail line project, which would only have about one mile of track inside Cobb.

The $856.5 million number is the conservative estimate. The maximum cost is targeted at $1.234 billion, according to the county.

"In speaking for the people of west Cobb, in commuting to Atlanta the biggest problem we have is getting to the Galleria," Tippins said. "Once you get to the Galleria on I-75 you get downtown. The biggest problem is getting there."

Tippins proposed funding projects in the tax that relieved traffic congestion in the county.

"Driving to Atlanta and coming down here as a legislator, if you get south of 285 you're home free," Tippins said. "But it's a nightmare getting to 285, and the bulk of this project is not going to get us any closer to that."

Commission Chairman Tim Lee, who favors the project, said there are other projects in the T-SPLOST project list and in the county SPLOST that will relieve traffic congestion.

As for the rail line, Midtown MARTA Arts Center Station to Cumberland Mall is just the first leg. The long-term goal is to build a second leg from Cumberland to Acworth, and that second leg would benefit west Cobb, Lee said.

"I understand," Tippins said. "But I'm living in the here and now, and that's what I have to drive every day."

Lee said it does no good to build the Cumberland to Acworth leg first. And the 10-year tax doesn't bring in enough money to do both.

"I do not want to go forward with a Cumberland-to-Town Center line and have it never connect to anything," Lee said. "That would be more of an atrocity than it would to have Cumberland-to-the-Arts Center and have some connectivity."

Lee also said he has made it clear to Gov. Nathan Deal's office and to the legislators in the General Assembly that for Lee to sign off on the project, they must commit before Oct. 15 to transit for more than just the 10-year life of the tax.

"The reason this is so important, if we move forward with a 10-year tax and transit is a part of it, and we don't continue that on, it will fail, and it will end up being another ' MARTA system' where it's a rail to nowhere," Lee said.

Tippins asked if one administration could bind another, to which Lee responded no.

Tippins said Lee may get some kind of commitment from the Governor's Office or General Assembly, "but in actuality probably a lot of us are not going to be here in 10 years."

Said Lee: "I know I won't be, sir."

Tippins said that was his point.

"I think to rely on a long term commitment from the state for 30 or 40 years, especially with such economic uncertainties, as a legislator, I think we need to look a whole lot more to the 'here and now' in effective traffic relief," Tippins said.

Then why, Lee asked, was mass transportation a component of the legislation.

State Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) said the Transportation Investment Act simply states that transit should be considered while developing a project list. And as it turns out, 55 percent of the $6.14 billion metro Atlanta project list is transit.

Lee also referenced the "Northwest Atlanta Corridor Alternatives Analysis Study for Cobb Community Transit," funded mostly by a federal grant. The study will examine what kind of mass transportation will work on the I-75 and U.S. 41 corridors. That study should be complete in Feb. 2013, he said.

Why do the study if the election will already be over? Tippins asked.

"We're just now embarking on a study that's not even going to come in until after the vote?" Tippins said. "To me, I don't know why you need the study. You're already committed to it. I don't know why you spend the money for it."

Lee said some of the data from the study will be in before the election, but not all of it.

Ehrhart said he hopes the project list will be revised before it is finalized on Oct. 15.

"What I think we need to do is go clearly to Sen. Tippins' projects in the 'here and now,' " Ehrhart said. "We've got huge infrastructure needs in far west Cobb County, and to ask those people that I represent to support a mile's worth of rail that's finished in 2026 when they have to drive to work every morning would be something that doesn't fix the here and now, and I doubt they'd be very happy with me for supporting something like that."

Cooper said the rail line would clearly benefit one area of the county, the Cumberland Community Improvement District.

"The Galleria and the Arts Centre, and maybe for conventions and so forth, that might be a very viable thing for that line, but as far as a means of increasing other riders on a regular basis ... aren't we closing down the bus lines now because there's not enough riders and so forth?" Cooper asked.

Cooper said if the project is meant to benefit the Cumberland area, why not say so.

"I just wish if we're building it so we can get convention people to come to Cobb County, if they think that's why we can't get big conventions, because they can't get to Cobb County easily, or to help the Arts Centre, I just wish we would call it like I think it is, which is that is the whole purpose of that rail project being included," Cooper said.

Cooper also said people in the South "have a love affair with their cars." They like the independence of coming and going whenever they want. This aspect of Southern culture gives her doubts about the success of a rail line here.

Lee said no one has told him the primary reason for the line is to benefit those groups. The plan it to ultimately connect with Acworth and benefit the entire county, he said.

Setzler reiterated what he told the Journal on Friday, which is the rail line would only benefit five percent of the county while at the same time costing each household in Cobb $4,000.

"Is that a reasonable price tag for something that I would argue 95 percent of people in Cobb can't ride?" Setzler asked.

Lee said any project that's built, whether it's a ballpark or a rail line, isn't going to benefit everyone.

Rogers said he's leaning against the T-SPLOST as well.

"When you have a plan with 55 percent of it is going to rail at a time when we have very few dollars and very great traffic mitigation needs, I think it's going to have a very difficult time passing," Rogers said. "I mean, people are going to look at that and say, 'that's not good for Cobb County.' The rail only comes one mile into Cobb County."

Rogers said rail is good in some instances for economic development.

"We know that rail offers some things that you can't get from just building roads," Rogers said. "But we also know that rail doesn't do a great job in lessening traffic, and at a time when we need traffic to be lessened significantly, I don't know that we would put 55 percent of all our resources into that alone. At this time I'm certainly leaning against it."

Next year, voters in Cobb and other metro Atlanta counties will decide whether to pay an additional 1 percent sales tax for 10 years to finance road and transit projects. The tax is estimated to bring in more than $7 billion region wide over the decade. Last week, the Executive Committee of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable approved a draft list of $6.14 billion worth of projects the regional tax would pay for. Cobb would get about $1.1 billion worth of projects, with the costliest being $857 million toward the light-rail line from Midtown to Cumberland.

Comments
(15)
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To roads first
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August 25, 2011
You are dead on! We need our roads renovated first. You are wasting our tax dollars. Thank you Mr.Tipps for standing up and saying NO! That is what we want to hear! NO MORE WASTEFUL SPENDING!
NO WAY
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August 25, 2011
The answer is NO! They are spending way too many tax dollars on a bunch of 'studies" while cutting services and jobs. This rail will not help the majority of people. They dropped the ball on conjestion on Whitlock and Dallas Hwy, which is mostly Paulding county traffic, and left us high and dry. Lee needs to go! VOTE NO! As a matter of fact, don't waste our money to vote on the issue! In 20 years, this area will be all low income the way it is headed. Most of us won't even be here!
how about this?
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August 24, 2011
Jobs in Cobb not ways to Atlanta.
Michael O. Bedenbaug
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August 24, 2011
The rail line from Cumberland to mid-town Atlanta won't solve any problems of commuter traffic as there are NOT enough riders between the points to even fill a bus; just look at the CCT buses crossing the river now for proof!!!!! and The rail has to go to Acworth and Kennesaw to attract riders. THE ATTRACTION WILL BE A LIGHT RAIL SPEEDING BY CARS,TRUCKS, and other vechiles setting in long lines from North of Acworth south on I-75 not on U.S. 41 Highway. then take the buses to get people from the Rail Stations out into the WORKAREAS AND HOMES AND SHOPPING.
Cobb Taxpayer
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August 24, 2011
VOTE :::: NO :::: ON ANY TAX NOT ADMINISTERED 100% BY COBB COUNTY....WE NEED ACCOUNTABILITY!
Maatf
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August 23, 2011
We don't know enough to make a decision on light rail from Cumberland to Mid-Town Atlanta. That sets us on a path to be committed to a future of light rail from Cumberland to Town Center or farther north. Add those together and it is a 20 year decision - and the study that should give information needed to make a decision won't be completed until 2013. I would rather vote this down now and wait for the study.

JUST/SAY/NO
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August 23, 2011
Did anyone notice Lee stating for the rail to go forward he would have to sign off that we would be committed past the 10year life of the tax.Once we are connected to MARTA we are screwed!It has been about Cobb helping to pay for MARTA from the start.We all need to let LEE & FAYE know we are not paying for Atlanta's MARTA!We also need to get in touch with our state senators & reps.
Just asking
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August 23, 2011
So if the quote is correct, did I hear Mr. Lee does admit the Cumberland-Atlanta line is an "atrocity" on some level?
roadsfirst
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August 23, 2011
We need to change the project list. Do our legislators have the power to get Tim and Mark to move most of the money from MARTA rail back to Cobb roads? Hopefully it's not too late.

Remember, the legislators are the ones that got us in this mess by passing the Regional TSPLOST bill in the first place. Let's hope they can fix the unintended consequences.
Dustoff
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August 23, 2011
If Tim want this project so bad, then let Fulton County pay for the line to the river, after all its in their county, its on their land, and it will benefit them just as much.

I have recommended allowing Marta to extend to Cumberland the Cobb build the light rail up to Town Center, both projects could be built at the same time. But it fell on deaf ears.

And I still question the 90,000 per day ridership. If CCT had today 1/10 of that kind of ridership, we would not be forking out $13 million a year in tax dollars to keep it running.

And my biggest unanswered question is where does Tim think the money will come from to maintain the system let alone keep it running. According to everything I have read the best system in the US still needs between 25 and 30% of its funding to be subsidized by tax money.

We are not being shown the whole picture here!!!
Fantasy World
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August 23, 2011
We definitely need to construct a transit line deep into Cobb County to address the congestion in the I-75/I-575/Cobb Parkway corridor.

Consider this:

Use our portion ($857M) of the TSPLOST transit funds to build the line from the Chattahoochee River to North Cobb.

Let Atlanta and Fulton County take a portion of their TSPLOST transit money and build the segment from the Arts Center to the River. It is, after all, in their jurisdiction.

Right now they are using their funding to build the Beltline which does absolutely nothing for regional connectivity. I thought regional connectivity is what the proponents of TSPLOST were preaching?

Or if they really want to address the actual congestion problem (on I-285 east) build a line from Cumberland to Perimeter where it ties nicely into the existing MARTA stations at the Medical Ctr. and Dunwoody which in turn goes south to Buckhead and Midtown.

That's where most of the people in Cobb County want to go for jobs, shopping and entertainment. Not Downtown Atlanta!!!

It may also address the issue, for some extremely paranoid people, of undesireables using transit to come to Cobb County and rape, rob, murder and pillage.

Personally, I think that is a bogus concern.

And if you are honest about it, we already have our share of violent criminals and gangs in Cobb. i.e. MS13/Mexican Mafia etc.
Misspent
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August 23, 2011
Right now, most of us are not interested in paying any more taxes than we have too. Why not wait at least another year and see if the economy is any better. There are many of us who are struggling just to keep the home going.
Paula Reem
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August 23, 2011
Lee is a democrat - spend spend spend spend. Without even thinking about it!! If there is a tax, he likes it - GET HIM OUT OF THERE NOW!

I stand with the representatives - VOTE NO!!!!
mk -no mo studies!
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August 23, 2011
Thank God, all these men speaking out!

No one getting rich in Cobb, but Croy Engineering!!

Tim Lee listento the masses! Tim Lee,.. try driving from Sandy Springs to Cobb County any time after 5 p.m.,... next to impossible! And if there's a wreck around the 120 Loop, like yesterday-- forget about it! Backed up to 400!!

Conventions aren't coming to the Galleria,... because there's NOTHING TO DO! !

I might lean towards rail,... IF you people , including the DOT , had been working on necessary infrastucture for the past 20 years!

WINDY HILL / 285 / 75 IS BROKEN!!

And Cobb Parkway,.. attracting riders??

Not one nice live/work/play development has even been proposed for that corridor! And Smyrna - the only thing to come to Smyrna in 10 years is hot dog & taco stands & mega Race Trac gas station!

There should be a park & greenspace right there along Cobb Parkway. Maybe woo an art museum , botanical garden OR something worthy of tourists!

Too late to suddenly start doing what the rest of Atlanta's been working on for 20 years! Too damn late!!

FROM TEXAS
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August 23, 2011
The rail will only benefit a hand full of riders but the real benefit is all the money the chamber cronies and contractors will make. That’s why Tim Bob is willing to pimp out the Cobb taxpayer to the Fed’s for matching funds. Don’t fix the huge mess on the interstates that would solve too many problems; a bypass is what needed traffic that’s going to other destinations’ they don’t want to drive through Atlanta. They want to go around Atlanta do you really think trucks want to pass through Atlanta unless delivering something. Will the rail line have the Cobb police department riding it? We don’t want to see the gang members take over like Marta rail line so police cost need to be factored in as well.
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