“The goal was to do this as professionally, completely, as transparently as possible, so there was just no question that it was done correctly,” said CID vice chairman John Shern, who led the meeting in chairman Tad Leithead’s absence. “This is where we’ve been trying to get for years and years and years. We’re done studying this stuff. This is it. Now let’s just go find the money and hopefully the (Cobb Board of Commissioners) is prepared to embrace it as well. I mean, this just gives me chills.”
However, it isn’t accurate to say the county is done studying the project because a $3 million environmental study of the project by Kimley — Horn & Associates won’t be complete for one to two years.
And the results of that study could alter the proposal, said Faye DiMassimo, the county’s transportation director.
The bus proposal is expected to cost $41 million per mile with a daily ridership forecast of 24,000, said Jim Croy, who spearheaded the $1.8 million Northwest Corridor Alternatives Analysis study that recommended the bus program.
The proposal is a two-part system.
One part, which would use express bus service, would begin with a bus station in Acworth on SR 92 near Interstate 75 and Cowan Road and head down I-75 utilizing Gov. Deal’s forthcoming managed lane project. Once inside the perimeter, it would utilize HOV lanes before exiting onto Northside Drive and then onto 17th street into Midtown. That route is only expected to have three stops, Croy said.
The other part of the program would use bus rapid transit, beginning at Kennesaw State University and head down U.S. 41. The plan is to build a dedicated bus lane down the center of 41, with 10 to 12 “grade separations” at key intersections, meaning the bus lane would be elevated over the key intersections so as not to affect traffic. Signal pre-emption, where specialized traffic signals recognize the oncoming bus and allow it to pass through, would be used at other intersections on down to Akers Mill Road, where the bus would access the HOV system by the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre and head down the HOV lane on I-75, Croy said.
The 41 route would have about 20 stations over its 25 miles, connecting with cities to universities along the way, he said.
“If you have stations, say, in the center of U.S. 41, you would either have protected crosswalks at signalized intersections or you would have elevated crossings — bridges — over to these center areas,” Croy said.
CID board member Mason Zimmerman, a senior vice president with Pope and Land Enterprises, asked what the bulk of the $1.1 billion cost would be.
“The infrastructure is the bulk of the cost,” DiMassimo said. “Those grade separations that you mentioned, the actual fixed guideway components, the vehicles themselves are about 6 percent of the cost. But it’s all the stations, maintenance depot, all those kinds of things that make it all work that are the bulk of the cost.”
Croy said the dedicated lane on U.S. 41 is the primary bulk of the infrastructure cost.
An alternative light rail line, by comparison, would be $3.7 billion, DiMassimo said.
CID board member Connie Engel, a partner with Childress Klein Properties, asked if the funding could be secured.
“If it’s $1.1 billion, that surely sounds better than $3.7 (billion),” Engel said. “So are we good about that, about our different ways of getting that?”
“We do. But there’s still work to be done,” DiMassimo said.
The Journal asked DiMassimo after the meeting why she felt confident about the funding becoming available, since others, such as Commissioner Bob Ott, don’t believe it will. Her answer was that she believed federal officials like the project.
Malaika Rivers, the CID’s executive director, asked DiMassimo to design a pamphlet about the project because “somebody like Connie does get asked these questions all the time.”
Earlier this week, DiMassimo said the earliest the bus program could be operational, should everything fall into place and the county be able to secure the necessary funding, is 10 to 12 years.
Zimmerman said after the meeting he would need more information before deciding whether to support the project.
“I’m encouraged that the study appears to be thorough,” he said. “I’m encouraged they’re focusing on the locally preferred alterative, which appears to be the most cost-effective … I’m encouraged that the analysis is under way on capital and operations and efficiency, those are all encouraging, but I don’t know enough to be able to say this is my deal, because it’s not yet. I’m not a supporter and I’m not a detractor.”