County leaders are showing definite signs of interest in the rail line, which would run from the Cumberland Mall area north to the Town Center/Kennesaw State University area, with several stops along the way. But there are two big, interrelated problems with that proposal. The first is that at present, there are no plans for that rail line to interface, or connect with MARTA rail. That would make it less than desirable to many potential riders, who would have to either change trains or transfer to a bus, then to a MARTA train, to reach their destination. And it almost certainly makes it impossible for the project to attract the millions - or probably billions - in federal dollars that would be needed to build such a system.
In essence, the current plan is little different from the mall-to-mall rail line rejected by county voters in the late 1990s. There's just not much target ridership for a mall-to-mall rail line.
And even if there were to be a direct link to MARTA rail, that would only serve riders interested in going inside the Perimeter. As anyone who has ever spent much time on Atlanta area interstates knows, there are just as many or more drivers heading east and west on I-285 as there are heading toward downtown.
Moreover, any rail line built in the Cobb Parkway/I-75 corridor should not be designed with KSU/Town Center as its northern terminus. Rather, it should be designed to extend further north toward Cartersville and beyond in the 75 corridor, and to extend up the I-575 corridor toward Canton. That's because a huge part of Cobb's traffic problem originates with drivers from beyond our northern and western borders, who flood through the county each day on their way to and from work. And a mall-to-mall rail line won't be of much interest to many of them.
Yes, there are obvious drawbacks to interfacing a Cobb rail line with MARTA rail. MARTA has a history of being both costly and poorly run. And its hub-and-spoke rail lines all run toward downtown, which is no longer the destination of choice for many commuters. But a Cobb rail line that does not venture beyond the county line will be dead on arrival with both the feds and with local riders and taxpayers.
THOSE RUNNING for elective office in the coming primaries were asked a series of questions about transportation issues in the questionnaires the MDJ mailed out this month. Their answers were printed over the course of several editions of last week's newspaper, and above all, they show a lack of consensus about how to deal with our traffic congestion. Some prefer adding lanes, some preferred HOV or HOT lanes, some prefer light rail, some want to link with MARTA rail, some don't, and some suggested combinations of such approaches.
The bottom line, though, is that there is no consensus about what should be done. Yet until there is, you can be sure of one thing: Nothing will be done.
What Cobb needs is strong leadership that can coalesce behind a plan, rally public opinion behind it and then work to obtain the necessary state and federal funding to implement it.
We have spent too many years waiting for leadership from the governor's mansion, from the Legislature, from the state DOT, from the Atlanta Regional Commission and from just about everywhere but ourselves. We've seen study after study after study cranked out, while traffic gets worse and worse and the cost of addressing it goes up and up.
The tentative backing for the mall-to-mall rail line is a good first step, in terms of forming a consensus. But what's needed is honest talk from those leaders about the advantages, and the necessity, of a rail line that connects with lines serving the rest of the metro area, whether they are operated by MARTA or the state or whoever. Because until there is such talk, and such consensus, this train won't be leaving the station any time soon.