While not deciding between bus rapid transit, light rail and express bus, the first part of Cobb’s Alternatives Analysis study did show an inclination toward a route along Cobb Parkway, also known as U.S. Highway 41.
Nearly 80 people attended a two-hour open house on Tier I of the Northwest Transit Corridor Alternatives Analysis on Tuesday evening at the county administration building in Marietta. The first part of the study, which is expected to wrap up in August, eliminated street car; monorail; commuter rail along the CSX tracks; heavy rail, like a traditional MARTA train; “urban” maglev, like what is proposed by Powder Springs-based American Maglev Technology; and higher speed “regional” maglev, like what is used in Asia.
Of the seven remaining alternatives, four would be routed along U.S. 41. The alternatives include light rail from Acworth to MARTA’s Arts Center Station in Midtown Atlanta along Interstate 75, as well a light rail line between the same destinations along U.S. 41; bus rapid transit from Acworth to Arts Center along U.S. 41; light rail from Kennesaw State University to Arts Center on U.S. 41; bus rapid transit from KSU to Arts Center along U.S. 41 and express bus, similar to what the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority runs now, possibly on planned managed toll lanes on I-75. The final option is doing nothing.
Cobb Department of Transportation Director Faye DiMassimo said the U.S. 41 corridor came out favorably because of its access to three major “activity centers” in Cobb — the Town Center Community Improvement District-KSU area; the Greentech district in Marietta, which includes the Franklin and Delk road areas, as well as WellStar Kennestone Hospital; and the Cumberland CID.
DiMassimo said that how much ridership the study determines along a route will help decide whether the transit goes to KSU or all the way to Acworth.
Though the study, 80 percent of which is being paid for with federal funds, is designed to find a “locally preferred alternative” for transit, DiMassimo said that a $695 million bus rapid transit line from Acworth to Arts Center would be built should voters in a 10-county region approved the July 31 Transportation Investment Act referendum.
“What this project does is helps to further what the transit possibilities are, in this corridor, that may be able to compete for federal support,” she said of the Alternatives Analysis.
While officials have said the TIA funding would be enough to build the bus rapid transit line, they say a light rail project, even a shorter one between Cumberland and Arts Center, would require additional federal funding.
DiMassimo said that if the Alternatives Analysis determines Cobb should have light rail, the county would use the results of the study to help see how competitive a light rail project could be for funding at the federal level.
“And then we would look at the existing transit and planned transit in that corridor and determine the best options for moving forward,” she said.
State Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) criticized the study’s elimination of rail along the state-owned rail lines that run through the middle of Smyrna, Marietta, Kennesaw and Acworth, which are currently leased to CSX.
“I don’t think a credible analysis was done of commuter rail,” Setzler said. “When you say that the state-owned (railroad) alignment doesn’t support existing activity centers, that’s just factually not true. Doesn’t support current and future land use, that’s factually not true. Existing number of freight trains — 70 trains a day don’t run that alignment, that’s factually not true. So I’m disappointed.”
Setzler also disputed the study’s conclusion that commuter trail would cost between $3 million and $125 million per mile, saying that using the existing line would cost a fraction of building a new light rail line.
“I’m saddened that it seems as if taxpayer funded studies are being done with a very noticeable thumb on the scale,” Setzler said.
Others were pleased with what is left in the running. Ron Sifen of Vinings was happy that express bus was among the options, though he disputed the study’s findings that it would only run between 20 and 40 mph, which is below the 45 mph minimum speed that the toll lanes are to be designed for.
“I believe this is the most cost-effective option, and it will do more to alleviate traffic than any of the more expensive options,” he said.
Jim Croy of Croy Engineering of Marietta, which is managing the study for the county, said the express bus service being considered in the study could also add additional buses and park and ride lots to the current GRTA service, which could soon be cut due to an end to federal funding.
Carol Brown chairwoman of Canton Road Neighbors, who is also a member of an advisory roundtable for the Alternatives Analysis, said the recommended options were in line with what has been discussed for months.
“It seems like all the alternative make sense,” she said. “My personal preference is for express bus and BRT. I look forward to when the decision is made later this year.”
Jim Stokes, executive director of the Atlanta-based Livable Communities Coalition, said he favors a light rail line up U.S. 41 because it would help develop the corridor as a “mixed use” residential and commercial area.
“To me what it does is maximizes the value of the selected alternatives,” he said.
Tier 2 of the study will look at the benefits and impacts of the alternatives, while refining station locations. It will also include coordination with the Federal Transit Administration.
DiMassimo defended the timing of the study, which started with submission of grant applications in July 2010 and had a formal kickoff in August 2011.
“It’s taken about a year-and-a-half. That’s normal for an alternatives analysis,” she said.