An estimated $857 million would go to construct a commuter rail line connecting Cumberland Mall in Cobb with Midtown Atlanta. The catch — or at least one of them — is that only about a mile of that $1.2 billion, 12-mile line, and only one station, would be in Cobb.
So what else would Cobb get from the TSPLOST, based on the project list hashed out last week at a pow-wow of regional leaders?
* South Cobb Drive would be widened from I-285 to Oakdale Road. Cost: $60 million.
* A short stretch of Macland Road from Lost Mountain Road to the Paulding County line would be four-laned. Cost: $31 million.
* S.R. 92 would be widened from Cobb Parkway across Lake Allatoona to Cherokee Street in Acworth. Cost of the 2.5-mile project: $29.1 million.
* A four-lane divided road would be built parallel to I-75 between Terrell Mill Road and Windy Hill Road to relieve traffic on I-75. Cost: $26 million.
* A road would be built to relieve congestion between the Busbee Frey Connector and Frey Road in Kennesaw, including a bridge over I-75 and new on/off-ramps. Cost: $19 million.
* Nine intersection improvements for Cobb Parkway. Cost: $9.8 million.
* A bridge would be built over the CSX Railroad tracks in downtown Kennesaw and the existing Cherokee Street track crossing would be closed. Cost: $4.5 million.
* And McCollum Airport would get a new traffic control tower and runway lighting. Cost: $3.2 million.
Among the urgently needed Cobb projects that didn’t make the cut were the $120 million upgrade of the I-285/Windy Hill Road interchange to lessen congestion northbound on I-75 and the $110 million makeover of the Windy Hill/Cobb Parkway intersection.
Indeed, one can only wonder why the TSPLOST committee felt like gaining a degree of traffic relief a decade or more in the future courtesy of a rail line that barely noses into Cobb was a higher priority than those two much cheaper and much simpler asphalt projects that likely could pay substantial congestion-relief dividends before this decade is out. One also wonders why many of these projects could not be handled via a Cobb TSPLOST rather than a regional TSPLOST.
IN LIGHT OF the “all or nothing” push for rail, a number of considerations come into play.
* Density: Does Cobb have the density to support such rail? No, if you’re comparing us to NYC or even to Washington, D.C., and its very popular Metro rail system. An argument can be made, though, that if Cobb is going to continue to grow, it makes sense to put the infrastructure in place now to handle it, rather than trying to backfit it later at even greater expense and aggravation.
* Who would pay the operating costs for such a rail system? Depending on Washington to do so looks like a crap shoot in light of the severe budget problems there and the expectation that deep cuts in spending are the wave of the immediate future.
* The MARTA factor: We suspect most Cobb residents want nothing to do with MARTA rail and will see this as bringing MARTA to Cobb under a different name. The proposed rail line would have to interface with MARTA rail at some point, most likely the Arts Center Station in Midtown. That means most travelers would be transferring onto MARTA trains or buses to complete their trips. Although it’s common for NYC subway riders to transfer trains several times per trip, such transfers would be a steep learning curve for local residents to become accustomed to. We strongly suspect most of them would decide to skip rail altogether and Drive to their destination.
* All Roads Lead to Rome: Or in this case, to Midtown. Cobb rail riders hoping to go to, say, the Perimeter Mall/Northside Hospital area would have to head south all the way to Midtown’s Arts Station, then catch a train back north to the mall area. Ditto for those heading up the I/85 corridor. In short, the proposal reflects MARTA’s hub-and-spoke design of 40 years ago, when Cobb and other suburbs were bedroom communities with huge numbers of workers making a daily commute downtown. The reality is that there’s much greater need for such a rail line in the northern arc of I-285 than there is for one to Midtown.
AS IT STANDS, the TSPLOST project list does not appear to be especially well thought-out. Maybe that’s no surprise, since there has been next to no leadership during the past decade on metro transportation issues from the Governor’s Mansion or the Legislature. And as far as Cobb’s share is concerned, the result is a project list drawn up in large part to satisfy the CID-area business interests and the Cobb Chamber. Once Cobb’s share of the rail project is subtracted from its $1 billion bounty, there’s not much left for anything else.
Cobb residents need to be asking themselves, and their leaders, whether putting nearly all of Cobb’s TSPLOST eggs in one basket (the rail proposal) is the most effective way of addressing local congestion issues, or whether the emphasis should be on adding road capacity, or some other approach, instead. As it is, the TSPLOST proposal leaves its proponents playing defense against the charge that Cobb does not stand to get much “bang” for its TSPLOST bucks.