In recent years Cobb government has embraced the dream of the CIDs, working tirelessly to justify a big-time transit system on Highway 41. There have been more studies since Bechtel regarding the prospect of some kind of transit line along Cobb Parkway. Most recently, there was the Alternatives Analysis that examined four prospective projects that considered different types of transit as well as different alignments. Currently there is a study underway at great cost to assess the environmental impact of such a project.
The latest iteration is for the project to be scaled down to Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) at a much lower cost than rail transit. Even the BRT has been scaled down further to eliminate “separated grade” intersections for the bus routes. The separated grade intersections may have been the most attractive part of the plan, but that’s been removed.
The one thing that never gets studied is the market demand for a transit system. None of the advocates for transit systems seem to be concerned about whether there is a need for transit along Highway 41, or along any other route in Cobb County. They have faith that transit is the solution even if there is no identified problem.
It seems that the real driving force for transit on Highway 41 is the desire on the part of the Planners for the two CIDs to connect their commercial centers. There is talk of a visionary urban corridor along 41 that will be the center of future development in Cobb County. It will feature office towers, retail shops and high-rise condos for the masses who lust for “live-work-play” communities that have everything a modern Urbanista could want within walking distance of the home condo. They could enjoy the good life with home, work, shopping, and all leisure activities within a block or two. Imagine the perfection of spending one’s entire life inside one square mile.
All that’s needed to get this Utopia underway is for the taxpayers in Cobb County to cough up a few hundred million dollars for the transit system that will launch all the magnificence.
And there you have it, the true story of why transit is needed along Highway 41. It is “needed” because commercial real estate investors want it. They want it as a means of marking the territory for intense development. If it happens, it will create a sort of monopoly for commercial development in Cobb County. No developer would risk trying to build a project any place other than the “designated corridor” of Highway 41.
It should be abundantly clear that the various proposals for transit systems are not targeted toward transportation needs. Note that the proposals have always focused on the different types of transit. Has anyone ever noticed that there is never a choice of spending a billion dollars on transit vs. a billion dollars on actual roads? It’s always a choice between competing types of transit.
The value of a transit system of any kind along Highway 41 can only be measured by the instincts of commercial property developers and their planners. There is no metric in actual transportation that supports the transit investment. It isn’t even certain that a transit line will spur new development.
The only transportation investment that is consistently proven to deliver real results is road building. Will there ever be a serious study that considers roads as an alternative to transit?
Larry Savage is a retired business executive in east Cobb.