Lee: Proposed BRT system might be funded by SPLOST
by Nikki Wiley
April 23, 2014 04:00 AM | 5742 views | 20 20 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
This rendering shows what a proposed bus-rapid transit system connecting Kennesaw State University to Midtown Atlanta could look like. About $100 million of the $494 million BRT system could be paid for with sales tax, county officials said Tuesday. Originally estimated to cost $1.1 billion, the price fell to $494 million in January when a dozen grade separations — bridges and tunnels — were eliminated from the project that is proposed to run alongside Cobb Parkway. <br> Special to the MDJ
This rendering shows what a proposed bus-rapid transit system connecting Kennesaw State University to Midtown Atlanta could look like. About $100 million of the $494 million BRT system could be paid for with sales tax, county officials said Tuesday. Originally estimated to cost $1.1 billion, the price fell to $494 million in January when a dozen grade separations — bridges and tunnels — were eliminated from the project that is proposed to run alongside Cobb Parkway.
Special to the MDJ
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MARIETTA — About $100 million of the $494 million proposed bus-rapid transit system connecting Kennesaw State University to Midtown Atlanta could be paid for with sales tax, county officials said Tuesday.

Originally estimated to cost $1.1 billion, the price fell to $494 million in January when a dozen grade separations — bridges and tunnels — were eliminated from the project that is proposed to run alongside Cobb Parkway.

The Cobb Board of Commissioners heard for the first time Tuesday exactly how the funding for the project could break down during a presentation by Ed Ellis, project manager for Kimley-Horn and Associates, which was paid $3 million by the county to complete an environmental assessment on the transit system.

The largest part of the $494 million cost could be paid by the New Starts grant administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration. Ellis estimated as much as 49 percent of the project — $242 million — could be paid for by that federal program.

Another $152 million, 31 percent, could come from other sources, Ellis said, such as additional federal grants, Cobb’s cities and universities, community improvement district funds, naming rights revenue, potential public-private partnerships and private organizations.

The remaining cost would be paid for by the county government.

“The current proposal is that Cobb County would contribute $100 million to the project, which is 20 percent,” Ellis said.

SPLOST possible funding source

It’s not clear exactly where that $100 million would come from, and Cobb Chairman Tim Lee, who is behind the transit system proposal, said conversations are ongoing regarding that funding.

Before commissioners heard the funding breakdown Tuesday, Lee said discussions are taking place about the possibility for a special purpose local option sales tax referendum to appear on November’s ballot. Lee said projects to be funded under that SPLOST have not yet been finalized, but the county is considering another round of the tax because it’s the “prudent” thing to do.

A SPLOST is being collected now in Cobb and is set to expire at the end of next year.

Lee said it’s possible another round of SPLOST could help pay for the county’s share of the bus system, but that’s something a majority on the county commission would have to authorize.

“I think the SPLOST is a good mechanism for funding DOT expansion projects,” Lee said, adding it’s worth “taking a serious look at.”

Commissioner JoAnn Birrell, who is up for re-election in the May 20 primary, said she is planning to meet with the county’s transportation director and residents about the transit system.

Birrell expects it will appear on a list of potential SPLOST projects and doesn’t take issue with funding a public transportation system along Cobb Parkway with sales taxes — whether it’s the proposed bus-rapid-transit system, light rail or an express bus — because public hearings will be held on the project and voters will have their say.

“I have no problem with it going on the SPLOST list because, as you know, that will be voted on by the public,” said Birrell, who represents northeast Cobb.

Lee has said he’d like to see a six-year SPLOST voted on this fall. The referendum could be called as late as August.

Using dedicated lanes for Cobb, HOV in Atlanta

Ellis said his study found the transit system would have no significant impacts on Cobb’s environment.

Though the system is called bus-rapid transit, Ellis said the vehicle would not be like Cobb Community Transit’s large blue buses that transport residents now.

“The vehicle that was chosen is a rubber-tired vehicle, but it’s not a bus,” Ellis said.

The ride experience would be similar to the quality of light rail, Ellis said, with vehicles leaving every 8 to 12 minutes from level platform stations.

Customers would pay using a pre-loaded fare card.

“There would be some kind of Breeze card-like system so that you can tap it and get onto the vehicle and ride,” Ellis said, referring to the system used by Atlanta’s MARTA trains that allow customers to pay fare in advance.

Riders would board on both sides of the vehicles and would travel in a dedicated lane on Cobb Parkway with a special traffic signal allowing the system to bypass traffic.

Phase one of the project would connect Kennesaw to the Cumberland area through the proposed dedicated Cobb Parkway lanes. Travel would then continue, Ellis said, using Interstate 75’s HOV lanes.

“We’ll have no money spent in the city of the Atlanta except for some minor station renovations,” Ellis said.

System could be running in 2018

The transit system is not finalized and has not been approved by the Board of Commissioners. Lee said a vote could take place as early as June.

Ellis said the next step in the planning process is to receive a statement confirming no significant environmental impacts will be caused by the transit system from the Federal Transit Administration, which he said should be received in the coming months.

Preliminary engineering reports could be completed by early 2015, Ellis said, with right-of-way acquisition taking place in summer 2016.

Final engineering is proposed to take place in spring 2016, Ellis said, with construction beginning in summer 2017. The transit system could be open to the public by late 2018 or early 2019.

Cobb Community Transit already has 18 bus routes with a fiscal 2014 budget of $18 million. Of that, 33 percent is paid by passenger fares. The rest comes from federal grants and the county’s general fund budget.

The county outsources CCT operations to Lombard, Ill.-based Veolia Transportation, paying the firm $13 million annually. The county also employs seven people to run CCT operations.

By the numbers:

$494 million: The total cost of the proposed bus-rapid transit system connecting Kennesaw to Midtown

$242 million would come from U.S. DOT Federal Transit Administration

$152 million would come from ‘other sources,’ such as additional federal grants, Cobb’s cities and universities, community improvement district funds, naming rights revenue, potential public-private partnerships, and private organizations.

$100 million would come from Cobb County



Comments
(20)
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whaaat
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April 25, 2014
Instead of adding another layer of transit that covers a small area and requires a whole different administrative system...why not just extend Marta out there? If we had one integrated system that worked it would be a win for the community.
ole man
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April 23, 2014
"The remaining cost would be paid for by the county government."

And just where do you think "the county government' will get the money? It's only a few hundred million. If they run out of money taxes will increase to make up the difference.

It's not THEIR money, it's TAXPAYER money, it's always taxpayer money. but so few taxpayers vote, and lots that do vote expect the next time will be better.

If you really endless tyuirswant change, get informed and vote these big spenders out of office.
Cliff in Mableton
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April 23, 2014
ABSOLUTELY NOT!!!! MARTA was designed and created to be the "Metro Region's" transit authority. For the low cost of 1% in sale's tax with no annual county funding - Cobb citizens could enjoy MARTA rapid rail service..

Instead, our Commissioners are focused like a laser on Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) which is inferior: has less capacity: takes much more time: gets stuck in the same car traffic: and requires annual county funding...

Why would you choose to spend the more money on a single wide 50 year old trailer; than a brand new mansion?
Brian S.
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April 24, 2014
From the article:

"Riders would board on both sides of the vehicles and would travel in a Dedicated Lane on Cobb Parkway with a special traffic signal allowing the system to bypass traffic."

You:

"Instead, our Commissioners are focused like a laser on Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) which is inferior........ takes much more time: gets stuck in the same car traffic"

The dedicated bus lane as mentioned in the article prevents the mixing of the bus with car traffic. The "special traffic signal," more commonly known as Transit Signal Priority (TSP), would hold greens longer for approaching buses, and speed up changes from red to green when a bus waits at a red.

The reduction in cost is likely the result of TSP replacing the construction of BRT overpasses.
netdragon
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May 13, 2014
It has to do with cost in a tax-averse environment. LRT and BRT both came out of the Cobb 2040 CTP as options to serve the need. BRT on dedicated lanes masquerading as rail that can later be upgraded to true LRT when the ridership is high enough is much more inexpensive and a much easier sell. Of course the commissioners don't decide the SPLOST list. It comes out of a scientific needs-based analysis from a large committee of groups from tea party to businesses to citizen groups based on goals that are agreed upon. It's the commissioners' job to sell it.
netdragon
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May 13, 2014
Brian S. Exactly. It has dedicated lanes so it will be fast and not limited by traffic and is upgradeable in the future if necessary.
Just Wait
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April 23, 2014
I was not going to vote for it anyway, but now I have a reason!
netdragon
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May 13, 2014
Your property taxes will increase then. A little dirty secret is that property taxes were decreased by diverting maintenance from the general fund to SPLOST. 30%, actually.
moliere
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April 23, 2014
This is dumb. The grade separations are what allows the BRT to actually move faster than normal traffic. Without them, the BRT will just sit in traffic like everyone else.

I guess Lee sees this as a "down payment." Spend $400 million to get the BRT in place, and then when everyone sees that it does not work, spend the other $600 million on the grade separations so that it will actually alleviate traffic.
anonymous
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April 23, 2014
NO. It makes perfect sense once you realize the real goal is STILL lite rail.

They will take(spend money on) the BRT as far as they can go until a study suggests that the lack of grade separation is going to present a bigger problem than had been realized.

Then, with money already spent on it, and the BRT line almost there...they will flip it over to Lite Rail...because that will be the ONLY way non-separated grades can work (never mind that traffic problems will still be there).

And then, don't be surprise when they bring grade separation back in...for the Lite Rail.

This is a lite rail sham that is heading to Cobb County. Trust me.
netdragon
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May 13, 2014
What in the world are you two talking about? It is dedicated lanes with transit signal priorty, so there is little difference between light rail trams and BRT other than the number of people they can carry. Especially when the BRT can lower itself for easy entrance. The only point an upgrade will be needed is when ridership exceeds what BRT can handle. That's probably decades from now and only then will track need to be laid.

See how DART operates in Dallas. It is fast even without grade separation. A system like this is also better for augmenting pedestrian traffic than something like an EL, which separates the pedestrian from stores at grade.
HotinAtlanta
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April 23, 2014
I don't see anything in here about Fulton County or City of Atlanta pitching in some $$ to fund this. If it's going to go all the way into the City of Atlanta, why aren't they putting some of their tax $$ into it? Why do we Cobb County tax payers have to foot the bill? Tim Lee and the other commissioners are way too eager to give away our tax money.
mark89011
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April 23, 2014
They're not pitching is b/c cobb has never pitched in for their transit system and they also couldn't care less if cobb continues to be mired in traffic forever. This doesn't help Fulton or Atlanta. Atlanta residents don't have a need to be able to take a bus to Cobb from Midtown, but Cobb residents do.
netdragon
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May 13, 2014
This is not commuter rail. This is transit for Cobb, for Cobb economic development only, and not for Atlanta.

There are concepts for connections, though that is more of a Revive-285/ARC thing and would probably have to involve state funds due to the historical inability of Cobb and Fulton to work together.

There are ideas of how the BRT could connect as-is, but it kind of stinks because the bus would go from having dedicated lanes in Cobb County to being in commuter lanes on I-75 inside Atlanta. Something better would need to be devised long-term for the connection to Atlanta or Perimeter Center.
Way too expensive
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April 23, 2014
$494 million to have a BRT to connect KSU to midtown Atlanta??? Why??? Are there really that many students/faculty/staff that live in midtown Atlanta that need an alternate way to KSU for work or study. I find it hard to believe the numbers coming from midtown justify this huge cost! Not to mention the other elements that would then have a direct line onto KSU campus.
ClarkonCampus
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April 23, 2014
Yes, there are. But this won't do anything for them! This BRT as proposed is nothing but an extension of route 10 with a slightly different boarding scheme. These buses (THEY ARE STILL BUSES!) will still get stuck in the same traffic.
netdragon
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May 13, 2014
ClarkOnCampus: Wrong. These aren't flex busses in general purpose lanes. The concept, and what has been studied and is considered for Cobb 2040 CTP (along with LRT) is for dedicated lanes with transit signal priority with the kind of bus stock that can lower to let passengers on at ground level. So it's essentially the same thing as LRT, just with smaller stock that carries less passengers, and probably a bit slower at acceleration and a bit noisier but hardly noticeable. As far as stock, we don't need to carry large amounts of passengers initially. Some day in the future, when the demand was high enough, it'd probably be upgraded to LRT in the same lanes. So the only thing that would change is the stock.
WestCobber2
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April 23, 2014
Half of the articles in the paper today were about spending OUR money! Let's look at the possibility of this line going down Johnson's Ferry Road to Piedmont Road and see all the uproar and opposition. This bus line is a waste of money and I personally don't want to see it come to West Cobb. Stop this spending frenzy!
netdragon
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May 13, 2014
Spending frenzy? This is Cobb County. Y'all have been afraid to invest in anything but road lanes and re-alignments for the last 40 years, and 30% of the SPLOST has gone to maintenance, and now Cobb is being left in the dust by the rest of the North metro. Jobs are moving to the Perimeter Center area and Alpharetta more than to Cobb. That's the problem with lack of investment. And who's tax dollars is it? If it weren't for Cumberland CID, and Town Center CID, SELF-TAXING areas that funded their OWN improvements, we'd be another Douglas County, hardly a blip. Over 40% of the tax digest comes from businesses, and over 30% from Cumberland CID and Town Center CID. That saves YOU taxes. It's time to support the growth of these areas that save you taxes.
netdragon
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May 13, 2014
Also, be rest-assured that this BRT dedicated lane is NOT for West Cobb. It is for Cobb Parkway, which is CENTRAL Cobb. We're quite aware that West Cobb is a back-country rural area that really doesn't need much investment since nothing really is going on there other than building of houses to a density that happened 40 years ago throughout the rest of Cobb.
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