Cobb’s AA Study: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly
by Ron Sifen
September 26, 2012 12:54 AM | 1638 views | 7 7 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cobb County has released the results of its $1.7 million Northwest Corridor Transit Alternatives Analysis (AA) study. It recommends a combination of:

* Express buses operating in the managed lanes that will be built adjacent to I-75, and

* Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) from Kennesaw to the Arts Center MARTA station, which would have its own dedicated “fixed guideway” on Cobb Parkway, and

* 12 intersections between the Town Center area and Cumberland would be “grade separated” to eliminate the need for traffic lights and keep traffic moving at those intersections.

All of this would cost a little more than $1 billion.

Obviously Cobb County doesn’t have $1 billion. Cobb says we need to have a plan available in case $1 billion materializes. However, even if Washington pays half, without the TSPLOST Cobb doesn’t have the other half.

THE GOOD

* Express bus is the form of transit that is best suited to meeting the needs of a region with very low population density and widely dispersed employment centers. Express bus is the form of transit that can provide cost-effective, seamless transit service connecting many different communities throughout the region with many scattered employment centers.

* Grade-separating intersections means that the intersection would be rebuilt so that one road crosses over the other, eliminating the need for traffic lights, and keeping traffic moving in all directions. Turn movements might utilize exit and entrance ramps.

If the grade separations can be accomplished at the cost suggested, it would improve traffic flow on Cobb Parkway, and on the 12 cross streets.

THE BAD

* BRT is expensive to build, and to operate and maintain (although according to the AA, not nearly as expensive as light rail). According to the AA, it would cost $5 million to $6 million per year just to operate this one BRT transit line. Even if money from Washington materializes to build BRT, Cobb taxpayers would be obligated to pay for the operating and maintenance costs annually forever.

* The BRT would run in the Cobb Parkway median. Therefore all transit riders getting on and off the transit on all trips would have to cross Cobb Parkway.

Cobb Parkway is a high-traffic, high-speed, major highway. It is not a downtown city street where traffic is slower speed and controlled to accommodate pedestrians. Pedestrian safety and convenience crossing Cobb Parkway might be incompatible with maintaining safe traffic flow on Cobb Parkway.

* The BRT would be built in such a way that it can be converted to light rail, if billions of dollars from Washington become available in the future. That would be a disastrous financial trap for Cobb taxpayers. Cobb DOT Director Faye DiMassimo already told the MDJ that light rail would ultimately cost closer to $4 billion to build. The AA also projects that this one light rail line would cost a staggering $27-30 million annually to operate and maintain!

Commissioners should make the definite decision now to act in the best interests of taxpayers and eliminate any future conversion to light rail.

* The AA calls for BRT to have its own dedicated “fixed guideway” running in the median of Cobb Parkway. One southbound and one northbound fixed-guideway lane, including barriers, is wider than the existing median. So the roadway will have to have some widening. This will result in some encroachment on some businesses for 10 miles along Cobb Parkway. It will also eliminate left turns into many businesses, which may harm those businesses.

THE UGLY

* The TSPLOST project list had allocated $689 million to enhance bus service along Cobb Parkway by adding “queue jumper lanes” and “traffic signal pre-emption” (buses could control the traffic lights). It also had one intersection grade separation which would have cost more than $100 million. More than $800 million was allocated to these two projects.

The AA claims that for only $240 million more, we could grade separate 12 intersections, plus widen and rebuild 10 miles of Cobb Parkway to accommodate the BRT fixed guideway. Obviously that is not plausible.

This is overwhelming evidence that the $689 million was really a placeholder to be reallocated as a down payment on the light rail that would presumably be recommended by the AA.

Before we obligate Cobb taxpayers to $6 million in future annual operating and maintenance costs for BRT, perhaps Cobb should go back and figure out how much it would cost to grade-separate the 12 intersections with no BRT, and continue to operate the existing bus service at increased frequency. That might save Cobb taxpayers hundreds of millions in capital costs, reduce future operating and maintenance costs by $4 million annually forever (compared to BRT), improve commute times for everybody, and still wind up with improved transit service.

Ron Sifen of Vinings is president of the Cobb County Civic Coalition. His views do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCCC.
Comments
(7)
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otter357
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September 26, 2012
Another really worthwhile and helpful lesson from Mr. Sifen, thanks.
4 light rail
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September 26, 2012
Stop talking about all these numbers. The only number I care about is that I am 4 light rail.
TCW(TheCobbWay)
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September 27, 2012
@ 4 light rail aka Faye Dimassimo

You are right, the numbers should not be considered!!

We should just forge blindly ahead and hope for the best regardless of what the history of public transit tells us.

Who cares if millions of tax dollars are wasted on tainted studies and bogus analyses?

Who cares if billions are wasted on expensive, unsustainable transportation systems?

Who cares if the perpetual tax subsidies required to maintain and operate publicly financed and operated transit systems will burden Cobb taxpayers forever?

That's all just so much extraneous information and fact that shouldn't even enter into the conversation.

Ron fan
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September 26, 2012
Great column. And now for the UGLIER: the fact that some people who vote in our county don't have a clue to what they are voting for.
SG68
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September 26, 2012
As usual a good common sense analysis.

The thing that jumped out at me was the 12 grade seperated crossings. Tremendously expensive!!

That's only $20 million an intersection and if you are tunneling or bridging that is not nearly enough.

The simple fact that Dimassimo was involved in this calls into question the veracity and accuracy of the AA.

I think the Feds will just laugh when Cobb approaches them for funding.

We just need to hope they don't ask for their money back when they see what has been produced by this AA.
David Brown
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September 26, 2012
Ron,

Your erudition and horse sense continue to impress. You provide the voice of reason in a wilderness of baloney and hidden agendas. If we ever free ourselves of self-service politics and idiotic voters your efforts will have helped greatly.

Thanks,

David Brown
misterbill
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September 26, 2012
@David Brown,

I second that!
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