Cobb Board of Commissioners Chairman Tim Lee says he wants to see a $1.1 billion bus line come to fruition, but he needs to hear public input before proceeding.
The proposed 25.3-mile bus rapid-transit route, which would extend from Kennesaw State University to Midtown Atlanta, has already cost the county $4.8 million for an analysis and an environmental impact study.
As the county looks to update its transportation plan through 2040, as mandated every five years to be eligible for federal and state grant dollars, it’s looking for public opinion on the bus route.
“A lot of the things we do are shaped by who was the loudest at the last possible moment before the decision was made,” Lee said.
Though Lee admits he is personally behind the project, he maintains he won’t take action if the majority of Cobb residents aren’t on board.
But measuring public opinion won’t be easy in a county with more than 707,000 residents.
Cobb County Department of Transportation has planned a series of polls, public meetings and committee meetings to gauge interest.
“When we deliver a plan, it will be the plan of the people that live here,” Lee said.
Faye DiMassimo, director of the Cobb transportation department, is optimistic that residents will make their voices heard.
The last time counties across the state attempted to gain support for funding a far-reaching transportation project, it failed overwhelmingly. The penny sales tax, known as Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax or T-SPLOST, was shot down by voters in July of last year.
Though T-SPLOST failed in a landslide, turnout for public meetings exceeded expectations, DiMassimo said, and a town hall meeting style that allowed constituents to telephone their concerns into elected officials was popular. She’ll follow that format, and establish focus groups and committees, for the transportation plan update.
The defeated T-SPLOST combined with an expected 27 percent population growth in Cobb County by 2040 has left officials looking for ways to determine how residents, commuters, business cargo and visitors can best travel and how to pay for improvements.
But Lee says this time is different.
One of the reasons T-SPLOST failed, he said, is because the commission went to voters with an already established funding source and a limited list of projects. This time, he says he wants the public to speak before the commission decides anything.
When the commission presents a plan in the fall of 2014, he doesn’t want the commission to be seeking support. Lee wants the support to already be there.
The bus route isn’t expected to be completed for at least 10 years because it will involve extensive infrastructure modification allowing buses to travel under highway intersections avoiding traffic.
Other transportation projects are in the works. A $951 million reversible toll lane project along Interstates 75 and 575 through Cobb and Cherokee counties is expected to open in 2018 and aims to take relief off the congested thoroughfare. Cobb Community Transit buses will use those lanes to transport commuters more quickly.