Maglev, short for “magnetic levitation,” is a transportation system that uses magnets to propel a shuttle down a track.
Ott said American Maglev Technology is preparing to submit a proposal to the Cobb Board of Commissioners that may entail building a 22-mile track along Interstate 75 from Kennesaw State University to Perimeter Mall that can carry 110 passengers per shuttle at a speed of 60 to 65 mph for an individual ticket price of $4.
Since the company is in the process of identifying station locations, Ott encouraged the CID board members to visit and offer suggestions.
The line would be built with private funds but require public right-of-way to install the track.
The proposal may ask the various political subdivisions that the track passes through to guarantee a daily ridership of 35,000 to make it work, Ott said.
That means, for example, if only 20,000 passengers showed up, the various governments would make up the shortfall. But Ott believes this is achievable by channeling Cobb County Transit routes to the line.
Malaika Rivers, the CID’s executive director, seemed troubled during Ott’s comments, asking where else the company operates such a system.
They don’t, Ott said.
Cobb’s transportation director, Faye DiMassimo, further rained on Ott’s presentation by noting that Maglev is ineligible for federal funding because it’s considered an experimental technology.
Ott reiterated that federal funding was unnecessary as the company would build the line itself.
“Is it the mode that you appear to like or think is worth exploring, or is it (the company’s) business model?” Rivers asked.
Both, Ott said. If the Transportation Investment Act fails next July, there’s no back up plan to solve metro Atlanta’s traffic congestion. Moreover, for the $7 billion the proposed tax is expected to collect, Maglev could build 350 miles of track, he said.
“So why am I considering looking at it?” Ott asked. “Because based on (the company’s) numbers and everything I’ve seen so far, we would be foolish not to consider at least looking at it for that reason, and No. 2, what (they’re) proposing is private dollars.”
Leithead, who also chairs the Atlanta Regional Commission, said the only commercially operational maglev line he was familiar with was located in China.
Rivers, meantime, accused Ott of contradicting himself.
“If you could just help clarify for me, I’ve heard you indicate over the past year through what you’ve said, and what various articles have written is that you’ve been very clear to say that with the (county’s) ‘alternatives analysis’ and our desire to have light rail — we’ve made no bones about that and the other modes that are out there, BRT or whatever happens — you’ve been pretty clear in your message that nobody should rest their eggs in any one basket before the process takes place and the alternatives analysis indicates what the transportation mode should be light rail, BRT, commuter rail or otherwise and what that corridor should be,” Rivers said. “The way you presented the information with this opportunity with this company, you seemed pretty specific on the alignment, and you seemed very specific on the modes, so I’m just trying to reconcile how you presented that information with what you’ve been saying over the past year.”
Simple, Ott said. The county’s alternatives analysis currently being prepared will only consider three or four transportation options. So Ott is reviewing others so as not to duplicate what the study is already doing.
“One of issues I’ve had with the Transportation Investment Act is the fact that it’s public money,” Ott said. “It doesn’t really address completely the (operational and maintenance) cost, and it doesn’t really go where everybody has identified the congestion is.”
So what’s the harm in reviewing other options, he asked.
“I wouldn’t classify it as discarding what I said,” Ott said. “If you look at the definition of brainstorming, you don’t discard anything that comes forward. We’ve had a lot of studies that have come forward, but none of them have brought anything to fruition to deal with our congestion problem.”
Rivers did not offer to contact American Maglev Technology, but she informed Ott that they could contact her.
“You can certainly give them my contact information,” she said.
Rivers then turned to face her board.
“The county needs to hear from the CID where it stands when it comes to transit,” Rivers said. “I just made the statement that we have been looking at and studying light rail specifically for the past 10 years, and we helped launch the county’s process, which has gotten it to this point through our original document, which was a feasibility study, which then has now grown into an alternatives analysis. You frequently hear me talk about it in our meetings, but I would like the board to make a statement in terms of where the board stands when it comes to transit and its impact on this community.”
Leithead said the board would support whatever the AA recommended.
“I think if we’ve learned anything, if the CID has a position today, it’s that at this moment we intend to be bound by the results of the AA,” Leithead said. “We hung our hat on the $1.3 million process. If it comes out and says light rail, so be it. If it comes out and says BRT, so be it. If it comes out and says no build, so be it.”
After the meeting, Leithead denied that the proposed $695 million Acworth-Midtown bus line on the TSPLOST project list is a ‘backdoor’ approach to get MARTA into Cobb as former county Chairman Bill Byrne has alleged.
“There’s nothing backdoor about it,” Leithead said. “It’s been in all the newspapers. It’s an intent to provide a transit alternative to those Cobb County residents who would prefer to use transit.”
And besides, Leithead said, MARTA is a useful system.
“It’s a good system,” Leithead said. “It’s the ninth largest system in the world. It provides 500,000 people a day with an alternative to the single occupancy vehicle, so yeah, I like MARTA.”
And if MARTA turns out to be the operator of whatever transit line is built in Cobb, Leithead said that would be fine with him.
“What we’re advocating is a region-wide transit system that provides a much higher percentage of our population with a transit option,” Leithead said. “Under transit governance a very key issue in the upcoming Legislature is going to be legislation with regard to some sort of regional transit governance system. I think there’s a very high likelihood that under transit governance legislation we might see a new name. In terms of heavy rail, MARTA is pretty much the only game in town. But it would be nonsense to try to develop a regional transit system that doesn’t connect with the existing transit system. We’ve got to connect to the existing spine.”
Leithead also said he is optimistic the 10-year transportation tax will be approved next year.
“I think there’s a lot of consternation, there’s a lot of discussion, but our polling shows that 58 percent of the voters right now who are knowledgeable about it, 58 percent of the people who are likely to vote say they’ll vote for it,” Leithead said. “I think as we go through the education process and people learn more about the project list and more about the impact that it will have on the region and on their quality of life that that educational process will nudge people in the direction of being in favor of it. So yes, I believe it will pass, but that doesn’t mean it’s a slam dunk.”