Cobb taxpayers in financial danger if rail stays in study
by Ron Sifen
October 21, 2012 01:44 AM | 2011 views | 8 8 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cobb’s $1.7 million transit study, the Cobb Connect Alternatives Analysis resulted in a recommendation called “the Locally Preferred Alternative.” It recommends:

n Express buses operating in the soon-to-be-built managed lanes adjacent to I-75, and

n Bus Rapid Transit from Kennesaw to the Arts Center MARTA station, and

n 12 intersection “grade separations”

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

Cobb does not have a billion dollars. And even if Washington were to pay half the cost, Cobb doesn’t have a half billion either.

The only way this could get funded is if there is some sort of “Plan B” that would fund the other half billion dollars. That could mean a new TSPLOST projects list in two years, or some alternative action by the state Legislature in 2013. Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee has also floated the idea of an additional Cobb SPLOST.

I am a longtime proponent that our transportation dollars should be spent on transportation projects that are cost-effective and address our real transportation needs.

n Express buses operating in the soon-to-be-built managed lanes would be cost-effective and contribute directly to fewer cars on I-75 and therefore reduced traffic congestion.

— The 12 intersection grade separations would be expensive, but would dramatically improve north-south traffic flow on Cobb Parkway and east-west traffic flow on all 12 cross streets. In some cases, these improvements would also have beneficial impacts on traffic throughout the surrounding area.

— The AA shows that Bus Rapid Transit would be dramatically more cost-effective than light rail. BRT would still be expensive. However, even if a combination of Washington and Plan B paid for the cost to build it, Cobb taxpayers would still have to pay $6 million annually to operate and maintain it forever.

The Locally Preferred Alternative would “only” cost a little over $1 billion to build everything including the BRT, whereas light rail would ultimately cost up to $4 billion. And the difference in operating and maintenance costs is staggering. The AA exposes that paying operating and maintenance expenses for light rail would cost Cobb taxpayers $27 million to $30 million annually.

Paying $6 million annually for one BRT route would likely consume all future transit dollars for many years. Does Cobb need to spend this additional money to “enhance” transit along Cobb Parkway?

Would Cobb taxpayers be better served by pursuing everything in the LPA except BRT, and increasing the frequency of the existing transit service on Cobb Parkway? That would save Cobb taxpayers a few million dollars annually.

Is there a greater need for more transit in south Cobb, and will BRT consume all transit funding that might have otherwise gone for needed transit service in south Cobb?

Cobb openly admits that part of the purpose of this project is to spend $1 billion of our tax dollars to incentivize the redevelopment of Cobb Parkway into an ultra-high-density mixed use urban corridor. Cobb Parkway is not a downtown city street with controlled traffic flow to accommodate pedestrians. Even putting aside the challenge of enabling thousands of transit riders to safely and conveniently cross Cobb Parkway daily, I am unconvinced that Cobb Parkway is a suitable place for pedestrian-oriented development. And even if pedestrians can be both safely and conveniently accommodated, would this impair the transportation performance of a very high traffic major highway?

“Build BRT and development will come” is a huge gamble, and if the gamble fails, the cost for Cobb taxpayers forever will be painful.

Despite the fact that the AA exposes how insanely expensive light rail would be, the LPA does not prevent this project from turning into light rail. The special interests who want light rail don’t care how much it costs Cobb taxpayers. Any Plan B will be an opportunity for special interests to again try to morph this project into light rail at taxpayer expense.

This is no longer an issue of Ron Sifen complaining about the staggering permanent annual O&M costs for light rail. The AA exposes the devastating, permanent annual $27 million to $30 million O&M costs for light rail.

Cobb needs to focus its transportation dollars on providing the most cost-effective transportation service that meets the transportation needs of Cobb County. Yes, the AA proves that BRT would be far more cost-effective than rail in Cobb County, but it is less cost-effective in addressing our transportation needs than other alternatives.

With that said, other components of the LPA have merit.

If Cobb is committed to moving forward with this plan, Cobb commissioners should acknowledge that this study clearly demonstrates that light rail is not a cost-effective option and eliminate the potential for light rail to be implemented in connection with this study. Cobb taxpayers are in financial danger until light rail is removed from consideration in relation to this study.

Ron Sifen is president of the Cobb County Civic Coalition.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
October 31, 2012
Give it a rest Ron. None of this is ever going to happen.
lotta moolah
October 21, 2012
$30 million per year to operate and maintain one transit route is crazy. The commissioners have already decided to move forward with the new $3 million environmental impact study.
4 light rail
October 21, 2012
It doesn't matter how much it costs as long as the government pays for it.
one eye
October 22, 2012
And just where is government going to get the money? China, Japan, the muslem world bank. With borrowed money there is interest added to the payments and tax payers always get stuck with the check. Public anything is taxpayer funded. Cut welfare in half and buy the train.
October 22, 2012
@4 light rail

I hope you are just being facetious in order to point out the idiocy of the light rail concept for Cobb County.

$30 million a year!!

And that is the governments estimated cost so we know it will be MUCH higher in reality.
Smaller is Better
October 21, 2012
Cobb should break up these Alternatives into smaller pieces. The "all or nothing" approach is too risky and too hard to sell. Do the best segments first and see how it goes.

Why do all the I-75 Express Bus routes and stations together? Do the most promising routes, and operate some temporary stations until we see what the ridership and resulting trip times really are. And obviously we should limit Express Bus until the new reversible lanes are operational.

Why build all of the US41 Bus Rapid Transit at once? Put in the sections and stations that do the most good and see how that helps the CCT routes already running on 41. If the ridership is there it will be easy to justify more.

Why fund all of the US41 grade separated intersections together? Do one or two and see if the promised benefits really come.

And we need a "partial penny" option in the local sales tax option. Demanding a fully penny results in second class projects being included to take up the "extra" money raised by the tax. Our representatives need to get this done.

Let's do what we can afford, build confidence, and then expand as it is justified. "All or Nothing" will kill the initiative.
mary kirkendoll
October 21, 2012
Look, Cobb County HAS no economic plan, no transportation plan,.. no plan at all 'cept to help their cronies profit from tax monies, while contributing to the good ole boys on top, reelection.

Cobb is truely becoming a vast wasteland.

(sans the East Cobb Johnson Ferry Corridor where said cronies all live!)-but step outside of their fair haven,...and poverty is the prominent lifestyle!

I spent Saturday enjoying the newly opened Beltline on bicycle- what an excellent addition to the inner cities quality of life- from Piedmont Park to Inman Park- life is definately good, in town. Just go there- multitudes of families, w/ strollers, teenagers at the 4th ward skate park, resturants serving up lunch and good times, w/ all their patios full, bikers, walkers, and many , many new apartments, lofts, condo's & neighborhoods all surrounded by glorious parks and greenspace. Oh, yeah,.. and of course, the buildings, businesses and highrises that all these fine folks WORK in are close proximity to where the people actually live!

Then spent the evening in vibrant Roswell- a laid back destination w/ wonderful , walkable, bikeable trails connecting to excellent resturants and downtown shops. Roswell leaders and mayor are visionaries. Cobb has no area that even comes close to the diverse quality of life that Roswell offers!

Cobb,... you just ain't got a clue!!
GS 69
October 28, 2012
Mary, you are such a pitiful and negative person. And apparently clueless just like Ron to boot. All of the things you wright about can be achieve and that IS the vision of Cobb. Ron just sends in articles that private Ott sends him. And you bash anyone who tries to do something better for the community. Why don't you move to the Beltline. All of us would be happier including you.
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