The commission is going forward with the $1.6 million Northwest Atlanta Corridor Alternatives Study, even though — incredible as it may seem — it won’t be finished until long after the TSPLOST referendum next year.
Cobb residents with long memories will recall that local taxpayers paid for a similar study a decade ago. That $3.8 million exploration — “The Northwest Corridor Light Rail Transit Implementation Study” — was commissioned by the Cumberland and Town Center community improvement districts and performed by the Bechtel Infrastructure Corp., of San Francisco, along with local firm Mayes, Sudderth & Etheredge. And it would be instructive to compare the findings of the earlier study with those of the new study when it is complete.
But “good luck with that,” as the saying goes.
MDJ reporter Katy Ruth Camp was told by county Department of Transportation Chief Faye DiMassimo that copies of the earlier study were not available, but that she could come by and take a look at it. Any John Q. Citizens desiring a look are most likely out of luck.
The county clearly isn’t interested in making it easy for the public do to its own homework. Rather, it is saying, “Trust us.” Commission Chairman Tim Lee, the CIDs, MARTA and a handful of Cobb Chamber insiders know what’s best for you.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH, here’s what that earlier study found, according to stories from the MDJ archives:
n Cobb could have a rail line to the MARTA Arts Center station in Midtown Atlanta by 2011. Cost of the system would be around $3 billion, the study found.
n The initial trunk line phase would extend 24.7 miles from just north of Town Center, down I-575 and I-75, over the Canton Road Connector, down Cobb Parkway, back along I-75 and to the Arts Center, stopping at 16 stations and carrying 23,400 passengers.
n And 15 years later, that line could have a 14.3-mile rail “circulator” around Cumberland Mall, an 11.5 mile circulator at Town Center; and a 4.4 mile branch to downtown Marietta. There would also be an extra trunk line down Cobb Parkway from Canton Road to Barrett Parkway.
ONE STRIKING DIFFERENCE between the “then” and “now” is the construction timetable. The 2001 study called for the first rails to be laid southward from the Town Center area.
“We’re heading south,” said then-Cumberland CID Vice Chairman Tad Leithead at the time. “From Town Center to the Arts Center. We realize this is a regional effort, but the Cumberland and Town Center CIDs are funding this study, and we see the system serving the people in Cobb more efficiently by starting here.”
But that was then and this is now, as another saying goes.
Leithead now chairs the Cumberland CID and also chairs the Atlanta Regional Commission. Construction on the TSPLOST rail line he now espouses would start at the Arts Center Station and work northward from there. He and others have argued — very plausibly — that there is little chance of obtaining federal funding for a rail line that lacks connectivity.
THE RAIL LINE proposed in the 2001 study never left the station. A big reason was that then-Gov. Roy Barnes, who as a Cobb native was intensely interested in finding ways to relieve metro traffic congestion, was succeeded in 2003 by Gov. Sonny Perdue of rural Bonaire, who had little or no interest in such matters and pushed instead for a super-expensive Bus Rapid Transit concept that never was implemented. Without strong leadership from the Governor’s Mansion, the state DOT and the Legislature, the push for light rail soon ran out of steam and is only now being resurrected.
THE MDJ EDITORIALIZED on Friday that Cobb was wise not to put taxpayers on the hook last year for a proposed privately owned megasports complex then proposed for Powder Springs, and which now is the “Dream Parks” project slated for Emerson in neighboring Bartow County. But the promoters of that park say the MDJ didn’t tell the whole story.
A group led by state Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs) that included former Cobb Superior Court Administrator Skip Chesshire, lawyer Mark Johnson and former Atlanta Braves coach Ned Yoast had asked the Cobb Board of Commissioners to issue $72 million in bonds to help finance their project. Had their project not brought in enough revenue, local taxpayers would have had to pay off the bonds, which had a payment schedule of $5.1 million a year for 30 years.
Spokesmen for that group now say that all four then-commissioners had signed off on the concept in private pow-wows, but then ran and hid after the MDJ reported in spring 2010 that the obscure and virtually inactive Cobb Recreation Commission (the members of which are the county commissioners) was poised to issue the bonds, which would have the “full faith and credit” backing of the county.
“You gave the commissioners credit they didn’t deserve” one of the promoters complained to the MDJ last week.
There were only four sitting commissioners at the time, as Chairman Sam Olens had just resigned to run for state attorney general.
The commissioners unanimously agreed to allow the Cobb Development Authority to spend up to $450,000 on a feasibility study for the park. It would have been an unprecedented step for the CDA to carry out such a study, which obviously was intended as political cover to deflect potential criticism away from the Board of Commissioners.
But the commissioners quickly reversed their support for the study and the park complex amid a wave of caustic comments from the public after the MDJ began reporting about the project.
East Cobb Commissioner Tim Lee, who had been a vocal supporter of the project, stepped down from his position to run for chairman in the midst of the controversy, which robbed the group of arguably its strongest ally.
The group blames east Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott for turning the remaining commissioners against the project — although we suspect that’s a charge that Ott would gladly plead guilty to.
Group members admit that the economic climate had changed dramatically during the year and a half they had spent working on the project, but say it never would have gotten as far along as it did without solid — but secret — initial backing from the commissioners.
But the MDJ stands by its statement of last week that the Cobb Commission didn’t “drop the ball” by declining to back the project. As we noted in last week’s editorial, had the same backers offered Cobb the project without the request for bond funding (as they eventually did in Bartow), it would have been a win-win for the developers and the public.
ALTHOUGH he didn’t come away with the big prize of being named WellStar Health System’s new CEO, executive VP Jim Budzinski nevertheless came away a “winner,” according to several senior WellStar trustees. Those comments came as Reynold Jennings settled in last week as the new CEO and as Budzinski’s boss.
Readers will remember that Budzinski was tapped as interim CEO after the sudden late-night firing of CEO Dr. Greg Simone Sept 2. Budzinski received a lot of “attaboys” from WellStar trustees as interim for his steady stewardship of the big Marietta-based healthcare system.
During his stint at the helm profits hit a record $178 million on revenues of $1.6 billion for the fiscal year that ended June 30, patient satisfaction surveys showed marked improvement, and morale for the 12,000 employees was up. Budzinski gained a lot of respect from coworkers during the severe January snowstorm when he was spotted for several days helping out as a server — and sporting the required hair net — in the WellStar Kennestone cafeteria, which was short-staffed due to the weather.
Although Budzinski, the system’s CFO since 2008, early on applied for the top job that pays almost a million a year with plentiful perks, he lost out to retired Tenet Healthcare exec Jennings of Marietta. WellStar insiders say a happy Budzinski is 100 percent behind the new CEO and is a dedicated team player as he returns to his old job of CFO.
“Jim is a class act and you won’t see him fighting a rear guard action,” a senior trustee told AT. In fact, WellStar trustees were relieved when Budzinski said, “I’m not going anywhere” after Jennings was named.
The same trustee points out that Budzinski, a young 50, didn’t burn any bridges during the search that passed him over and will be a likely candidate for the top job when Jennings, now 62, retires. Jennings reportedly only agreed to a three-to-five year stay and is known as a good mentor to budding health care execs.
Although his million dollar salary prompted a lot of talk, Jennings’ selection met with widespread acclaim. Said a longtime friend in Reynolds’s Sunday school class at Marietta’s First United Methodist Church, “He doesn’t have anything to prove. This isn’t his first rodeo.”
NEW Cobb school Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa will be guest the speaker at the Smyrna Business Association meeting Thursday at 11:45 a.m. at the Smyrna Community Center.