If the BRT is on the SPLOST projects list, many voters — perhaps most voters — would be forced to choose to vote against projects they would otherwise support — or would be forced to approve a BRT project they oppose — because they didn’t want to vote against other projects on the list.
If commissioners are afraid to take a direct stand against the BRT, I have no objection to giving voters a direct yes or no referendum on BRT. But burying the ultra-expensive BRT into a SPLOST projects list is just flat-out unfair to voters. Of course, BRT might be hated enough to sink the whole SPLOST.
BRT is different than other individual projects, because BRT obligates future non-SPLOST dollars to pay for BRT’s huge operating and maintenance costs.
There are other potential transit projects that could cost-effectively meet the needs of people who would use transit or would otherwise cost-effectively improve overall transportation in Cobb. But any funds allocated for transit in the SPLOST projects list should include language prohibiting any of the money to be used for any type of fixed-guideway transit.
BRT will consume huge amounts of money that will therefore not be available to meet many other transit needs and other transportation needs that are more important than enhancing already existing transit service in one corridor.
Ultimately, BRT will have a net negative impact on transportation in Cobb because BRT will financially obstruct Cobb County from meeting other transportation needs elsewhere throughout Cobb.
Cobb is a mostly suburban county with low population density. The Atlanta region has the lowest population density of any major city in the world. The Atlanta region also has numerous widely scattered employment centers.
“Fixed guideway transit” works in centralized cities with high population density and few centralized employment centers.
Transit that meets the needs of a city with low population density and widely scattered employment centers must efficiently and cost-effectively provide transportation connecting many different communities to many different destinations, and provide service in many different directions. If Cobb commits massive amounts of money to just one corridor, it will consume money that is needed for other transit needs in other corridors and many other transportation needs throughout Cobb.
Ten years ago, the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority did a comprehensive study of the Atlanta region’s transit needs. The study was called the Regional Transit Action Plan. The RTAP would have implemented no new fixed guideway transit. Instead, the RTAP would have implemented an entire transit network providing better transit throughout the entire region, for little more than Cobb is proposing to spend to enhance existing transit in one corridor.
I’m not saying the RTAP is the perfect answer. I’m just saying it is the right model for cost effectively meeting the transit needs of a metropolis with very low population density and numerous widely scattered employment centers.
There are other problems with Cobb’s BRT plans:
• The BRT vehicles in Cobb would operate in their own dedicated BRT lanes, which would be the “fixed guideway”;
• Even other regular buses would not use the BRT lanes. BRT would be constructed to only stop at a little more than a dozen “stations.” Regular buses stopping at all current bus stops would have to continue to operate in the regular traffic lanes; and
• The BRT project proposes to put BRT in the middle of Cobb Parkway. The current middle left turn lane would be eliminated and replaced with two dedicated BRT lanes, one northbound and one southbound.
Since 2 BRT lanes are wider than the existing middle turn lane, the entire road will have to be widened. Businesses will lose land that they currently use.
In addition, the “fixed guideway” will block left turns into and out of all of these businesses. This will adversely impact these businesses and inconvenience Cobb citizens.
BRT on Cobb Parkway is a huge gamble — at taxpayers’ expense — that BRT would incentivize the redevelopment of private property near the transit stations. BRT would hypothetically benefit a few property owners near transit stations, but it would clearly be to the detriment of all the other businesses whose business will suffer by having a “fixed guideway” blocking left turns into and out of all businesses along Cobb Parkway.
BRT is the wrong answer for Cobb. Commissioners should make the responsible decision to keep BRT off the SPLOST projects list, and not allow a SPLOST to move forward if it includes funding for BRT.
Ron Sifen of Vinings is president of the Cobb County Civic Coalition.