n Express buses operating in the soon-to-be-built managed lanes adjacent to I-75, and
n Bus Rapid Transit from Kennesaw to the Arts Center MARTA station, and
n 12 intersection “grade separations”
All of the above would cost a little more than $1 billion.
Cobb does not have a billion dollars. And even if Washington were to pay half the cost, Cobb doesn’t have a half billion either.
The only way this could get funded is if there is some sort of “Plan B” that would fund the other half billion dollars. That could mean a new TSPLOST projects list in two years, or some alternative action by the state Legislature in 2013. Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee has also floated the idea of an additional Cobb SPLOST.
I am a longtime proponent that our transportation dollars should be spent on transportation projects that are cost-effective and address our real transportation needs.
n Express buses operating in the soon-to-be-built managed lanes would be cost-effective and contribute directly to fewer cars on I-75 and therefore reduced traffic congestion.
— The 12 intersection grade separations would be expensive, but would dramatically improve north-south traffic flow on Cobb Parkway and east-west traffic flow on all 12 cross streets. In some cases, these improvements would also have beneficial impacts on traffic throughout the surrounding area.
— The AA shows that Bus Rapid Transit would be dramatically more cost-effective than light rail. BRT would still be expensive. However, even if a combination of Washington and Plan B paid for the cost to build it, Cobb taxpayers would still have to pay $6 million annually to operate and maintain it forever.
The Locally Preferred Alternative would “only” cost a little over $1 billion to build everything including the BRT, whereas light rail would ultimately cost up to $4 billion. And the difference in operating and maintenance costs is staggering. The AA exposes that paying operating and maintenance expenses for light rail would cost Cobb taxpayers $27 million to $30 million annually.
Paying $6 million annually for one BRT route would likely consume all future transit dollars for many years. Does Cobb need to spend this additional money to “enhance” transit along Cobb Parkway?
Would Cobb taxpayers be better served by pursuing everything in the LPA except BRT, and increasing the frequency of the existing transit service on Cobb Parkway? That would save Cobb taxpayers a few million dollars annually.
Is there a greater need for more transit in south Cobb, and will BRT consume all transit funding that might have otherwise gone for needed transit service in south Cobb?
Cobb openly admits that part of the purpose of this project is to spend $1 billion of our tax dollars to incentivize the redevelopment of Cobb Parkway into an ultra-high-density mixed use urban corridor. Cobb Parkway is not a downtown city street with controlled traffic flow to accommodate pedestrians. Even putting aside the challenge of enabling thousands of transit riders to safely and conveniently cross Cobb Parkway daily, I am unconvinced that Cobb Parkway is a suitable place for pedestrian-oriented development. And even if pedestrians can be both safely and conveniently accommodated, would this impair the transportation performance of a very high traffic major highway?
“Build BRT and development will come” is a huge gamble, and if the gamble fails, the cost for Cobb taxpayers forever will be painful.
Despite the fact that the AA exposes how insanely expensive light rail would be, the LPA does not prevent this project from turning into light rail. The special interests who want light rail don’t care how much it costs Cobb taxpayers. Any Plan B will be an opportunity for special interests to again try to morph this project into light rail at taxpayer expense.
This is no longer an issue of Ron Sifen complaining about the staggering permanent annual O&M costs for light rail. The AA exposes the devastating, permanent annual $27 million to $30 million O&M costs for light rail.
Cobb needs to focus its transportation dollars on providing the most cost-effective transportation service that meets the transportation needs of Cobb County. Yes, the AA proves that BRT would be far more cost-effective than rail in Cobb County, but it is less cost-effective in addressing our transportation needs than other alternatives.
With that said, other components of the LPA have merit.
If Cobb is committed to moving forward with this plan, Cobb commissioners should acknowledge that this study clearly demonstrates that light rail is not a cost-effective option and eliminate the potential for light rail to be implemented in connection with this study. Cobb taxpayers are in financial danger until light rail is removed from consideration in relation to this study.
Ron Sifen is president of the Cobb County Civic Coalition.