Community Input Sought at Clifton Corridor MARTA Workshop

By Margarita Delapaz for the North Druid Hills/Briarcliff Patch

The Clifton Corridor Transit Initiative Project continues to be worked out in partnership with MARTA. As part of a requirement to receive federal funding, an analysis was presented to the community for input.
Residents gathered at the Torah Day School of Atlanta Wednesday night to express concerns and get clarification on the proposed Clifton Corridor Transit Initiative project.
The project is a partnership with MARTA and the Clifton Corridor Transit Management Association which would bring new transportation options linking the Centers for Disease Control, Emory University and DeKalb Medical to Atlanta’s regional mass transit system.
After a brief introduction, participants were asked to go around the displays asking questions, examining their options and voicing their opinions about the project.
Jeremy Freeman said he lives off Lenox Circle where he fears a light rail may be the choice for the area behind his house.
“First and foremost they should be talking to residents because they’re concerned and don’t know what’s happening in their neighborhood,” he said.
There are three proposed options with different track locations. Heavy rail operates underground like current MARTA trains. Bus rapid transit would operate similar to the design of express buses in New York City. Designated lanes, high speeds and pre-paid fare speed up the process. Finally, the option Freeman fears, a light rail, would operate similar to a streetcar, above ground.
“They’re not telling you that this has to be 100 feet from CSX lines,” Freeman said.
Because CSX owns and operates freight trains along the existing tracks in the neighborhood, the proposed rail transit option may not use those same lines. In addition, new rail lines may not even be in close proximity to existing lines per federal regulations. This distance may mean the difference between having a train in your backyard or not.
Business owner John Cyphers said the proposal would have a train on top of his business which he feels would affect traffic flow.
“They’re going to take over my property,” he said.
After clarification and further examination of the proposal, it was shown that plans actually hope to utilize heavy rail in the option. This would mean an underground alternative that would not cut through Cyphers’ lot.
This discussion was the ultimate goal of the meeting, said Jason Morgan, a regional planner for MARTA.
“Those that live next to CSX are worried about their property and those a couple of blocks away are worried about access,” Morgan said.
Although the project would not break ground for at least six years, the ultimate goal of the analysis is to get comment and feedback for route options.
“This is Stage 1,” he said. “We don’t know the kind of technology yet or how to position the stations.”
If all goes as planned, Morgan said the lines may be available to commuters as early as eight years from now.

When it comes to transit funding, the State of Georgia is missing in action

Posted in Maria’s Metro for the SaportaReport

Through all the chatter over what should be included on the Atlanta region’s transportation projects list, a loud vacuum can’t be ignored.
The vacuum? The State of Georgia.
Just what role, if any, will the State of Georgia play in contributing to metro Atlanta’s transit systems? And what role will the State of Georgia play in controlling the future of our region’s transit governance?
Consider this. The one-penny regional transportation sales that will go before voters next year will be raised (and invested) in the 10-county Atlanta region. If passed, this is money that metro Atlantans will contribute and invest in their own region’s future.
But exactly how much will the State of Georgia contribute to building and maintaining the Atlanta region’s transit systems — from MARTA, the Xpress buses, Cobb County Transit, Gwinnett transit, Clayton County’s buses to commuter rail between Atlanta and Griffin?
Unfortunately, the answer so far appears to be more of the status quo — virtually nothing.
The State of Georgia does not appear willing to step up to the plate to sustain and expand metro Atlanta’s transit infrastructure — despite the fact that the Atlanta region is the engine that drives the state’s economy.
For those who ask why should the state contribute to metro Atlanta transit systems, the answer is simple. Metro Atlanta contributes billions of dollars to the state’s coffers through the 4-cent sales tax and the 7.5-cent motor fuel tax.
The state has a vested interest in helping metro Atlanta thrive,  and that means having a healthy regional transit system.
Unfortunately, the agonizing process of developing a $6.1 billion list of transit and road projects has made it painfully obvious that there’s just not enough money to pay for metro Atlanta’s near-term transportation needs.
One key way to bridge the gap between metro Atlanta’s needs and ability to pay for them is for the State of Georgia to become a full partner in supporting the region’s transit systems.
But at the meeting of the executive committee of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable on Aug. 4 when it was prioritizing the possible transit projects, financial participation on the part of the state seemed doubtful at best.
Todd Long, director of planning for the Georgia Department of Transportation (who has been orchestrating much of the formulation of the project lists across the state), told Roundtable members not to expect any support from the state.
Here was the context. Members of the Roundtable had not included $180 million to provide funding to maintain the Xpress buses over the next 10 years as part of its top priorities.
Now remember, the Xpress buses are under the control of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority — a state entity that is completely governed by members appointed by the governor.
“As state planning director, you need to include the Xpress buses,” Long told the Roundtable members. “The state is not going to pick up the cost of Xpress. They will shut down Xpress. They don’t have the money in their budget to keep going.”
An interesting aside, Long — a DOT guy — was standing up for a GRTA expense, but was totally silent on whether money should be included to finance a commuter train between Atlanta and Griffin, as well as its sister project — a Multimodal Passenger Terminal in downtown Atlanta — a DOT project.
In fact, the overwhelming number of public comments at the end of the meeting was in support of the commuter rail project. And the Roundtable already had decided to include the commuter rail line as part of its second tier of transit projects.
Now consider a well-known fact. The largest transit agency in the state — MARTA — receives no regular operating support from the State of Georgia. In fact, MARTA is the largest transit agency in the country (the ninth largest) to receive no operating support from its state government.
As a result, MARTA (the backbone for all the region’s transit systems) has been operating on a starvation budget. It has had to cut back its rail and bus services, and it has had to approve a fare increase that will go into effect later this year.
To add insult to injury, the any money raised with regional transportation sales tax can not go towards supporting existing MARTA operations. Without a doubt, the most cost-effective use of transit dollars would go towards MARTA operations — to increase the frequency of its trains as well as its buses.
Now how egregious is this situation?
According to the most recent statistics (see Table 1-9) on the American Public Transportation Association website, the State of New York invests more than $3 billion a year in its transit systems — an average of $155 per person annually.
Massachusetts invests $1.2 billion in transit, or $181 per capita. California: $2.3 billion or $63 per person.  Pennsylvania: $1.1 billion or $91 per capita. New Jersey: $1 billion or $120 per capita. Maryland: $844 million or $149 per capita.
By comparison, Georgia invests $6 million a year in transit — 63 cents per person. Only three other states invest less per capita than Georgia — Idaho (20 cents); Montana (43 cents); and Wyoming (54 cents). Not one of those three states could be considered urban, transit-oriented places.
And then we hear from Long that the state will not even contribute to the state-run Xpress bus system. With that kind of stance, what are the chances that the state will support commuter rail or MARTA or any other transit agency in the state?
As an aside to our dear state leaders, let this serve as a warning. Regional transit governance is the next big issue on the horizon. If the state wants to take control of our regional transit systems (be it through GRTA or another state authority), it must be prepared to pay a proportional amount of funding to whatever power it will have.
Meanwhile, the vacuum must be filled.
The State of Georgia needs to become a full partner in metro Atlanta’s plans to develop and maintain a first-class regional transit system.

Local residents discuss transit plans with GDOT, GRTA, MARTA officials during community meeting

More than 200 people turned out July 12 for a community meeting, coordinated by Rep. Pat Gardner, the Lindbergh LaVista Corridor Coalition and the Morningside Lenox Park Neighborhood Association to discuss the Clifton Corridor Connector designed to parallel the CSX line from Emory to the Lindbergh Station.
State Transportation Planner Todd Long outlined the process for selecting the final projects for the Transportation Investment tax to be voted on in either July or November of 2012.
Georgia Regional Transportation Authority Executive Director Jannine Miller and her deputy outlined their roles in coordinating all of the transit in the Metro area.
MARTA planner Jason Morgan provided a comprehensive description of their decision making process and assured those gathered that all three options (HRT, LRT, and BRT) are still under consideration. Suggestions from the residential neighborhoods were welcomed and more open meetings are planned for August.
The planning process for the Clifton Corridor MARTA project is likely to be high on the transportation tax priority list. Transportation expert and neighbor Tom Weyant spoke on behalf of Mayor Kasim Reed and reported that the mayor believes this project to be an important piece in addressing our congestion problems.
Please make your recommendations known to MARTA or Mayor Reed’s office.
Click here for a list of upcoming meetings related to the Transportation Investment Act, the Regional Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (T-SPLOST) vote scheduled for next year and the Atlanta Roundtable for the
10-county metro region.
For additional information as to the proposals visit:
http://www.itsmarta.com/clifton-corr-maps.aspx
LLCC has taken an official position on the current proposals. To see the LLCC Position Paper, click HERE.

DeKalb’s transportation wish lists cut to 33 projects

The list has been narrowed and DeKalb County won’t be getting $91 million to resurface its streets. And there won’t be $41 million for a proposed Sidewalk Transit Connectivity Program.
In all, 28 projects were deleted from the wish lists of county and city officials in DeKalb County.
But there’s still a chance for $76.6 million in road improvements— sidewalks, bike lanes, traffic signal upgrades and resurfacing—for Covington Highway from I-285 East to Turner Hill Road.
The Covington Highway improvement survived a cut by the state Department of Transportation. If it survives the final vote by the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable in October, the project will be on a list that will go to voters next year.
The regional roundtable consists of a city and county representative for 10 counties: Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale. Representing DeKalb County are CEO Burrell Ellis and Decatur Mayor Bill Floyd. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is also a member of the group.
Last year, Georgia’s legislature enacted the Transportation Investment Act (HB 277), which provides for regional referendums in 2012. As a result of this referendum, voters in the Atlanta metropolitan area will be able to vote on a penny sales tax to fund various transportation projects, including transit, roadway, safety, bicycle and pedestrian improvements.
The sales tax is expected to generate approximately $8 billion in revenue.
Commissioner Jeff Rader, a member of the Joint Fulton-DeKalb Transportation Committee, said the current list is still three times too long and will be reduced significantly.
Convincing voters in Fulton and DeKalb counties, which already have a penny sales tax that supports MARTA, will be a tough sell. Rader said he believes that if Fulton and DeKalb do not vote in favor of the referendum, it will not pass.
“We’ll be paying two cents for transportation,” Rader said. “There’s been nothing done to address that inequity.”
In addition to the possible transportation tax, DeKalb voters are facing tax increases by DeKalb County and the school district.
“There are other competing demands for the taxpayers’ money,” Rader said.
So far there are 33 projects on the unconstrained list for DeKalb County and its municipalities. Some of the projects include:
• Panola Road from Snapfinger Road to Covington Highway—widening and corridor improvements, $70.4 million.
• North Druid Hills Road connector from Buford Highway to Lawrenceville Highway—corridor improvements, $57.9 million.
• Buford Hwy/Peachtree Industrial Boulevard connector—new alignment, $48.5 million.
• Bouldercrest Road from I-285 South to Linecrest Road—widening, $34.1 million.
• Mt. Vernon Road from Fulton County line to Dunwoody Club Drive—corridor improvements, $20 million.
• Mountain View Road from Memorial Drive to Sheppard Road—sidewalks, $1.3 million.