Citizens blast light-rail proposal at town hall
by Jon Gillooly
September 01, 2011 12:43 AM | 8838 views | 43 43 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Rep. Ed 
Setzler talks with Dave Lyons of Kennesaw 
before the TSPLOST Town Hall to hear 
community comments at NorthStar Church in 
Kennesaw on Wednesday.<br>Staff/Jon-Michael Sullivan
view slideshow (2 images)
KENNESAW — The majority of citizens who spoke at a TSPLOST town hall meeting at NorthStar Church on Wednesday said the proposed light-rail line was not worth the projected cost.

More than 90 people turned out for the town hall on the proposed 10-year sales tax. Of the 21 speakers who sounded off, the majority focused on the $856.5 million line item that would go to build a 12.8-mile light-rail line from the MARTA Arts Center Station in Midtown to the Cumberland/Galleria area, which has a projected maximum cost of $1.2 billion.

The meeting, which was jointly hosted by state Reps. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth), Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs) and state Sen. Lindsey Tippins (R-west Cobb), began with Setzler and Cobb’s transportation director, Faye DiMassimo, giving an overview of how the tax would work, before questions and comments were accepted from the audience.

Dick Cottrill of Vinings came out against the rail proposal.

“If you look at the total funding commitment, the heavy emphasis is on transit, these archaic things that run on one or two rails,” Cottrill said. “It’s been tried in Seattle. It’s been tried in Miami, it’s been tried in Los Angeles. It does not work. It is funding transportation for the indigent at a very, very great expense for taxpayers. MARTA itself is inefficient. MARTA does not function as it was intended to function.”

Cottrill said there is not nearly enough emphasis on road improvements in the project list.

“I think it is only reasonable that we in Cobb County not only look at what’s going on in Cobb County . . . but also look at the balance at what’s going on in this 10-county area, because here we go back to this magic of two pieces of iron with fixed wheels on it, and it does not work.”

Darrell Galloway referenced an article he read by Sheriff Neil Warren about the implications for crime.

“What’s going to be the cost of extra law enforcement and public safety to be able to take care of the crime issues that automatically come in with mass transit?” Galloway asked.

DiMassimo said the national studies done on the topic state that crime does not rise when transit comes to an area.

“Did you read Sheriff Warren’s article? Galloway asked her.

Susan Stanton of north Cobb, a member of the Georgia Tea Party, said the line would not offer enough convenience to justify the price tag.

“The cost is ridiculous,” Stanton said. “I have to drive approximately 20 miles to get to Cumberland through the heavy traffic to ride for a few miles into Atlanta? Why?”

As for the proposal that the second leg of the line from Cumberland to Kennesaw would be funded with federal funds, Stanton said don’t count on it.

“That money is not necessary forthcoming,” she said. “It’s my understanding that the federal appropriations sub committee has recommended defunding smart-growth projects, which includes rail.”

Stanton said she is taxed enough.

“We already had a SPLOST in Cobb County,” she said. “We had a millage rate increase in Cobb County. And now they want us to pay for this? It’s just beyond belief.”

Local pipeline contractor Lamar Strickland also came out against the line.

“When I first saw this proposal for the light rail, I started to think how we’ve been challenged in the past, and I remember when DeKalb County made these screaming arguments about getting MARTA into their county and saving their county,” he said. “It was going to lift all boats, and if we compare Cobb County to DeKalb today, then we see it doesn’t look so successful to get that rail.”

Strickland also said the solid rock in the area of the proposed line is going to make the cost of the line soar.

“I think the people who are thinking about this light rail are not really considering the topography that they would have to get through,” Strickland said. “The other thing is I still don’t know why you would want to spend that much money to get rail a mile and a half inside the Chattahoochee River in Cobb County when you couldn’t get there from west Cobb to use the rail.”

There were some supporters of the line.

Kenneth Howell of Marietta, who represents the union that services MARTA, ATU Local 732, said Cobb has neglected transit for long enough.

“We need a transit system more than any other county that is surrounding us,” Howell said. “Because if we don’t start taking care of our people in Cobb, Gwinnett takes care of theirs, Fulton is going to take care of theirs, and we’re still going to have poor people sitting on the buses with no jobs.”

John Shern, vice chairman of the Cumberland Community Improvement District, also voiced his support.

Shern said he recalled Tom Cousins working with Cobb Commission Chairman Ernest Barrett some 50 years ago to get funding for water and sewer infrastructure.

“It turned out to be the economic engine that made Cobb County what it is today,” Shern said. “I think we have to look to the future.”

During the town hall, Setzler offered alternatives to the light-rail proposal. Setzler said 5 miles of Highway 41 in Clayton County is being proposed for conversion to a “super arterial” where stop lights are eliminated so it runs like an expressway.

“If we did that for Highway 41 in Cobb County from the river all the way up to Kennesaw that could be done for 25 to 30 percent of the cost of a light rail line,” Setzler said. “We could convert 36 miles of Cobb Parkway, the East-West Connector, Windy Mac Connector, to super arterial, 36 miles for the cost of just the light rail construction.”

Setzler also proposed using the Western Atlantic line, which runs through the county already.

“The state of Georgia owns that line, and there’s plenty of space to use that as passenger rail,” Setzler said. “It’s done all over the country in corridors very similar to this one. And for the cost of $1 million a mile to provide the platforms and the switch tracks to do that versus a $100 million a mile for light rail which services only a small part of our county, it’s an open shut case for me,” he said.

Setzler said the numbers for the proposed light rail line speak for themselves.

“When you look at the irrefutable cost, that a $1.1 billion project cost $4,000 per Cobb County household to build, and what we talked about tonight is that every single trip would be subsidized in the range of $10 a trip, and that the ridership numbers being forecasted it would be a $220,000 per day subsidy of the system, I mean voters need to understand that a $220,000 a day subsidy adds up to real money real quick,” he said.

Tippins found the audience “very hesitant” about the rail line proposal.

“I heard people question really what’s the true benefit going to be to Cobb County,” Tippins said. “It’s not my personal belief that it’s going to solve the major transportation needs of Cobb County.”

Ehrhart said the message was clear to him.

“I personally couldn’t support the percentages that are in there now — 85 percent of this for public transit, I’m completely philosophically opposed to that,” Ehrhart said. “It was the message from the people here. My constituents have completely verified that for me and I’m glad to hear that.”

The Journal asked all three lawmakers after the forum if they intended to campaign against the TSPLOST in the event the project list was not changed to their satisfaction. The three each answered that for the time being, they would work to revise the project list before the Oct. 15 deadline.

“I want to do everything I can do to convince the round table that this is a bad idea and they’re placing the entire TSPLOST at risk by losing probably 80 percent of Cobb County’s vote,” Ehrhart said. “We may be one of 10 (counties), but we’re a very populous one of 10.”

The $856.5 million for a rail line was included in a draft of the overall $6.14 billion TSPLOST project list released by the executive committee of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Roundtable last month.

Most of the 19 member Cobb Legislative Delegation voted in favor of the legislation in 2010 that puts the sales tax question before voters next year, with a few exceptions. Voting against it were state Sens. Doug Stoner (D-Smyrna), Steve Thompson (D-Powder Springs) and the late state Rep. Bobby Franklin (R-east Cobb). Since that time, the delegation has gained some new members who never voted on the legislation. Tippins is one of those new members.

Among those in the audience Wednesday were Commission Chairman Tim Lee, Commissioners JoAnn Birrell and Helen Goreham, Mayors Tommy Allegood and Mark Mathews, Cobb GOP Chairman Joe Dendy and his predecessor, Scott Johnson; Lobbyist Michael Paris and Demming Bass and Slade Gulledge from the Cobb Chamber; Lanie Shipp and Mary Lou Stephens from the Town Center Area Community Improvement District; J.D. Van Brink of the Georgia Tea Party; and Don Hill, who is running for the seat vacated by Franklin.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
Fred Buford
September 06, 2011
Its an embarrasment to this county that we even have to have meetings on tax hikes. We have elected Repblican leaders for a reason. Any Republican leader that backs this rail plan will be voted out of office in the next election so you better get as many kickbacks from Siemons and any other coorporation backing this project while you can because when we prove your getting kickbacks you will need that cash for bail money.
September 06, 2011
I'm surprised with all these childish comments. This is the reason nothing gets done here. Bicker, bicker, bicker until someone gets their way. Are these comments true expressions of how you all feel, or is it merely a stage act to attract onlookers? Shame on MOST of you!!!
September 05, 2011
To "Unbelievably Stupid"

Your comments certainly live up to your name.
September 05, 2011

Just put the transit connection in the right location!! Cumberland can still have a station and your "magical" boost in jobs can still occur.

You are off the track when you think a connection to the Arts Center is going to do anything for Cobb County.

Your myopic view that Cumberland is Cobb County is simply wrong. In order for the "typical suburbanites" to support the TSPLOST it needs to serve more than just the special interests of developers in Cumberland and the City of Atlanta.
September 05, 2011
"....poor people sitting on buses with no jobs!" And so, the "alternative" is people sitting on a LIGHT RAIL with no job? This guys' UNION INFLUENCE is supposed to impress us? It's NOT WORKING in DeKalb; It's NOT WORKING in Gwinnett. What? The THIRD TIME is suppose to be a Charm? The last I recall...STRIKE THREE (3)...IS AN OUT!
September 03, 2011
Ok, this is smart, let's take sales tax, much of which is generated in the Cumberland CID, and put it towards "traffic relief"? What, build more roads or widen them to increase the number of homes and people driving on them? And that's supposed to help, how?

People obviously are not very visionary. Light rail from Midtown would allow Cumberland to grow and increase property tax revenues. It would increase the number of jobs in Cobb County.

Unfortunately, people would rather spend it on sidewalks and extra lanes for their residential neighborhoods that just cost our county more money to educate more children.

Typical suburbanites. However, Cobb is now urban! Get with it!
U love traffic
September 02, 2011

"What is your specific need to want more people to come here? Please respond."

I don't have a specific need for people to come here...they're already coming here because the nice climate, moderate home prices comparatively speaking, and most importantly JOBS.

The companies who provide the JOBS, to those "enticed to move here", will cease to choose the Metro ATL Area(yes Cobb included) because of traffic and the work/life balance that business DO care about for their employees.

Ask yourself, "Why is ATL on the top of the list for everything BAD about traffic?"...let's see...Longest Commute(check), Worst Drivers(check), Road Rage(check), etc. Because there is no effective MASS TRANSIT options. MARTA doesn't count because of their limited service area.

All of you naysayers are living in the 1960. The one constant in life is change. I think that the light-rail project doesn't go far enough up 75 it should go up to Hwy 92. And the MARTA mismanagement scares me to death's a good start to get everything moving in the right direction.

"Most do not like a lot of changes they see over the years." Then why are they here, why are they staying here? Be specific.

Good Grief
September 02, 2011
@ mmmmmm

I would argue that the DC/Virginia/Maryland area has not had a collapse of housing prices because the majority population is made up of overpaid federal employees and businesses that that depend on the government for their taxpayer funded jobs, not because of the Metro system.

And the government just keeps on growing and growing. Like a malignant cancer.
No Rail Money!
September 02, 2011
the only two people in favor of the billion for the rail line---the cumberland mall representative and the union rep, who will get all the revenue to build this boondoggle. Quit wasting taxpayer money on these useless projects and cut taxes!
September 01, 2011
this wasn't a public hearing, it was a well planned, well orchestrated comedy, produced by a handful of politicians for their own agenda. Setzler, Tippens, et. al. want to make themselves look good to a vocal minority by making others look bad, rather than rationally examining the issues at hand.
Old Money Marietta
September 01, 2011
we need a train that runs right next to the square and north to Marietta country club then to Brookstone country club so these folks can ride the train downtown atlanta. Make is easy for everyone to share the wealth and be part of the 'hood
A Taxpayer
September 01, 2011
Ninety people at the town hall meeting? That's great! Let's try for 180 people next time one of their expensive harebrained ideas gets put out there for public debate. Then these career politicians who supposedly represent us will REALLY listen to us!!!
Tony Cain
September 01, 2011
At first we were told TSPLOST projects had to be completed in the 10 years of the TSPLOST. Now we are told it will be more like 15 years.

Then Chairman Lee and others, as reported in recent front page stories in MDJ, said it will take 30 or 40 years or more and several more TSPLOSTs to complete all this.

The state reps., as reported in MDJ, didn't like that much.

Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal - Atlanta not Cobb will make out like bandit from TSPLOST
E Cobb Driver
September 01, 2011
This exorbitant cost will only benefit building owners in the two destination points, one that is not even Cobb Co.! Transportation IS a problem but THIS IS NOT the solution. Bet Cousins, CBRE, etc. are big lobbyers for this one! And the PUBLIC funds it?
September 01, 2011
There are a couple of people who have posted that the CSX line for commuter rail is a better option. I agree. I love trains, but even I know that you need to put them where you'll get the best bang for the buck. Light rail from Cumberland to Atlanta won't do much at all to relieve traffic, and it would cost way too much. Commuter rail is a different animal. As some have mentioned, it would be way cheaper, even with all of the add-ons to make the existing rail line passenger rail-friendly. They could get passenger trains running on the CSX line in no time, and it would cost less to do it. Instead of another static, on-paper study, why not lease some diesel multiple units (DMUs), or maybe a couple of commuter trainsets (locos, cars, etc.), and try it for six months to a year. See if enough people like it to make it worthwhile to do it full-time. If not, then at least you tried, but if it does work, it would take that many cars off the road, there's that much less pollution, and you'll get the same kind of clientele that rides the Xpress buses, not the thugs who cause trouble. The light rail idea is probably too far ahead of its time, and would not effectively serve the county as well as heavy commuter rail.
Unbelievably Stupid
September 01, 2011
The increased cost of crime in Cobb County, the increased and endless burden of maintaining light rail once in place, the emphasis on connecting the wrong segments together, the uncertainty of future federal funding for smart projects ... it all adds up to one waste of money for Cobb County taxpayers.

Light rail has NEVER been shown to be cost effective in any of the metro areas in which it is currently functioning. Why do Cobb Commissioners and Faye DiMassimo is in love with keeping her job, so of course she will always tout light rail.

Instead, Faye needs to focus on building roadways. Five out of every six suburban commuters travel from one suburb to another for work. So, why are we so anxious to build a high-cost rail to Atlanta, where fewer and fewer companies are located?
September 01, 2011
U love traffic

"Keep saying NO and no one will want to come live here just because the traffic sucks so bad, it's already a reason some don't."

So, explain your need to entice more to to come live here. All of the folks I know came here because they liked the way it was. Most do not like a lot of changes they see over the years.

What is your specific need to want more people to come here? Please respond.

Personally, I have seen no loss of desirability to live in Cobb save the concern that there are some who want to urbanize it.

Gee, I wonder why Hyundai went to the suburbs??

September 01, 2011
These comments are so full of racism. I moved from DC in 1983, they had a better function rail system then. They have not had a collapse of Housing prices because of the METRO system that covers DC and suburban Va and Maryland.
Good Grief
September 01, 2011
@No Oil

First of all, I agree that our soldiers are being shot at, wounded, maimed and killed for no reason. The people of Iraq, Afghanistan and other like minded mideastern countries are not worth shedding one single drop of precious American blood. Never have been, never will be!!

They deserve what they had before we got there and will deserve what they will get when we finally bring our brave men and women home.

That being said,

Your analogy is the most ridiculous one I have ever heard!!

If it weren't so pitiful, it would be laughable!! The only thing it put in perspective is your convoluted reasoning ability!!
Kennesaw Voter
September 01, 2011
If the TSPLOST would have rail that used the existing CSX tracks then yes to rail from Cartersville to Midtown with stops in Acworth, Kennesaw, Marietta, Smyrna. Plus add all the needed road improvements that were cut...then you would get a YES vote from Cobb.

BTW, you can still build the Marta line from Perimeter to Cumberland but that would be somebody else's share of the T-SPLOST.


Mark Mathews just might not get re-elected if this is his best effort on transportation improvements....
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