All of this brings numerous questions to mind, not the least of which is, "Why are we talking about this now?"
Seriously. Other than the fact that we should have been talking about this 30 years ago, why does it make any sense to even consider a concept that A) Is highly unlikely to be funded anytime soon given federal debt levels, B) Connects two shopping malls and a bunch of bus stops, but other than the Kennestone campus and Lockheed at Dobbins has no major concentrated employment areas, C) Has no initial planning to connect with MARTA Rail, and D) Has a preliminary route essentially straight down Cobb Parkway along an already poorly developed, extended low density commercial strip with five intermediate stops where land costs are very high and engineering would be very difficult.
Without doubt, transit leadership has been severely lacking in Atlanta, and more acutely in Cobb, for decades. As the Atlanta area began to boom, transit was never considered a worthwhile option by area governments because the three conditions required for successful transit systems were not present - those being limited space for geographic expansion, expensive automobile fuel, and high-cost parking at centers of concentrated employment. The more simple solution government embraced was to keep building houses and strip centers - catching up with the infrastructure (sort of) later. (After all ... the votes are now, not when the rail line is built.)
That shortsighted approach directly led to the mess we have today - where transit systems are desperately needed, but the money and the proper routes on which to build them are not available or entirely uneconomic. More importantly, our poorly managed growth has left us with a density and destination distribution which does not fit will with transit.
Given this situation - and that alternatives to our already maxed-out major-artery road system are essential - why do we want to even think about spending $2 billion on a system design that won't solve congestion problems?
While rail transit in Cobb in proper form is necessary, there are far too many ways to do transit wrong, resulting in nothing but an underutilized, financial black hole. Conventional light rail - on this corridor, at this cost - is precisely one of the ways to do transit wrong.
As I have written in previous commentaries, transit systems need to go where potential riders want to go, not where government wants riders to go. Transit needs to be a superior option to private transportation, not a commuting method of last resort built for political reasons. And most importantly, transit systems need to be catalysts for new growth, not attempts to repair old growth.
As a more productive use of $2 billion, consider this: Create substantial tax and purchase incentives for high density office and event facilities to locate where a transit trunk line (ideally circular) with feeder spokes can be efficiently built. Several locations in the county come to mind. In coordination with development of these businesses and venues, initiate construction of a limited stop, off-the-ground "High Road" or similar system designed for high frequency service connecting high-volume residential arteries to new or rebuilt commercial centers in a manner such that the transit system is actually preferred in route and quality over private vehicles.
In short, Cobb should work toward building a transit system that is designed for future commercial success, not as a reaction to congestion in existing corridors caused by poor transportation planning. The latter is doomed to financial failure, while the former can be the seed of massive new opportunity and economic growth for the county and its residents.
Tom LaBarge is a Realtor in Marietta.