For perspective, that $606 million savings is not far from the cost of building the new Cobb County Atlanta Braves stadium.
Faye DiMassimo, the county’s transportation director, said if the Board of Commissioners were to approve the bus plan and the funding fell into place, the system could be operational as early as 2018, the same year the Interstate 75 reversible toll lanes are expected to open.
From a conceptual standpoint, county Chairman Tim Lee said he is a fan.
“I’ve always been supportive of looking at alternatives for the Northwest Corridor that introduces an alternative transportation mode, and it seems as we get further down into the details with this project that it might be more doable than initially anticipated, so I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll be able to have a positive program,” Lee said.
The Croy plan
In September 2012, DiMassimo unveiled the results of the county’s $1.8 million “Northwest Corridor Alternatives Analysis” study led by Marietta-based Croy Engineering. That report recommended building a $1.1 billion bus system connecting Kennesaw State University with Midtown. The proposal would use two kinds of bus systems: express bus service, which are the buses the county uses for its Cobb Community Transit system, and bus rapid transit, which are buses that are capable of carrying more passengers. The express bus would be used on the managed lanes on I-75. The bus rapid transit route would come down Cobb Parkway from Kennesaw, connecting to the HOV lanes on I-75 after passing through the Cumberland district.
DiMassimo said at the time it would take 10 to 12 years before such a system was operational.
A plus is that it would be far less expensive than a light-rail line, which she pegged at $3.7 billion.
The Kimley-Horn plan
The county then embarked on paying Cary, N.C.-based Kimley-Horn and Associates $3 million for an environmental study of that proposed route, a study that is expected to be unveiled this spring. DiMassimo and Lee told the MDJ on Thursday the study had lowered the $1.1 billion cost to $494 million.
The chief cost savings comes from eliminating the dozen grade separations — bridge and tunnels — planned along Cobb Parkway that would allow the buses to pass through traffic without stopping. The Kimley-Horn study calls for eliminating those grade separations except for one at Windy Hill Road. An additional lane would be built along Cobb Parkway and reserved for the bus rapid transit system. Traffic lights would be adjusted to allow the buses to pass through intersections unimpeded.
“What we did was by eliminating those grade separations, one of the things is there was a large amount of contingency built into that original cost estimate, because anytime you do structure, structure is more expensive, but there’s also unknowns associated with structure in terms of soil and all that kind of thing that you might impact it with it, and by eliminating that, it dropped the cost to $493.7 million,” DiMassimo said.
Once the study is presented to commissioners this spring, they will then decide whether to pay for the program.
“If we were to find out later this year that FTA had funded the project, the locals had made their local commitment, the feds had decided to commit to the project, and it was funded later this year, the project could be operational in 2018,” DiMassimo said.
Lee said once the new plan was explained to him, he understood why such a significant drop in cost occurred.
“Let me put it this way,” Lee said, “if we had come out and said to you three years ago, ‘it’s going to be a half billion,’ and then we couldn’t figure out how to do it, and we had to do grade separations, and now told you it was $1.1 billion, you guys would have been, ‘yet another example of us not knowing what we’re doing,’ so we had to throw the concept out there with what would probably be the most expensive alternative, and then as we fine tune it, bring it down, so I think it’s positive that A) we’re headed in the right direction, and B) we should be able to deliver a very positive project, a very reasonable investment.”
A help to the Braves and KSU
Lee believes the proposal will help students trying to get back and forth between the campuses of Kennesaw State and Southern Polytechnic State University now that those two institutions are merging. And it will also be a help to traffic around the new Braves stadium and mixed-use development scheduled to open in 2017.
“It will provide an alternative transportation mode for folks that would normally drive, thereby creating potentially less congestion in the area,” Lee said. “The more alternatives for the fan base and/or folks that just want to visit the development itself on non-baseball days, the better it’s going to be overall for everyone.”
Lee said Braves executives have welcomed the plan.
“We currently have more buses that serve that area now than the current Braves stadium, so they feel like they’re getting an advantage already on an alternative transportation plan, and if this comes through it’s going to be more beneficial to their fan base,” Lee said.
Exactly how the $494 million bus system would be paid for remains to be determined, and that’s why Lee left it out of the memorandum of understanding between the Braves and county when commissioners voted to approve the MOU in November.
“It’s going to have to be a partnership program as all of ours are where we look at the CIDs, the feds, the state and local opportunities, but that will come out in April as what’s the best way to deal with that, and the more partners we bring in the better our chances are in making it happen,” Lee said.