Downtown terminal on track

By Tom Sabulis

Skeptics may roll their eyes, but plans for a billion-dollar multimodal passenger terminal downtown – connecting commuter rail, MARTA, light-rail, streetcars and buses — are proceeding. The state department of transportation has allotted $12.2 million for a master design being produced by three firms — Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises, Cousins Properties Inc. and Integral Group, LLC of Atlanta. Officials hope it spurs enough development interest to finance it. Jim Richardson, project manager for FIC, said the terminal could cost roughly $1.2 billion.

I talked recently with two key figures on the project: John Schuyler is a principal with the New York firm FXFOWLE, which helped design new multimodal terminals being built in Denver and San Francisco. Janet Romanic, of the Atlanta firm Cooper Carry, is deputy project manager. FXFOWLE is designing the station in association with Cooper Carry, the lead architecture firm. Fluid plans estimate groundbreaking in 2014, with an opening in 2017.

Q: How is progress moving on the terminal?

Romanic: It’s moving along surprisingly quickly. All the stakeholders – including GRTA, Cobb County transit, Gwinnett County — have been instrumental in helping us understand the needs of their operations and what this station needs to be to work for them. It’s going tremendously well.

Q: Compared with other cities, how does Atlanta shape up as a potential site for a super passenger terminal?

Schuyler: It’s easy to look at these other stations happening around the country and think they have some great advantage that this site in Atlanta does not. But from our point of view, the site in Atlanta has some significant advantages in the way the infrastructure is set up today. The [existing] tracks and the streets are at two different levels, which makes it much easier to provide for connectivity for the streets and neighborhoods…. In Atlanta while there are certainly constraints, there’s actually significantly more flexibility to come up with ideal configurations for the elements and optimize the functional relationships and the urban relationships for the station, to really tune it correctly.

Romanic: This is the site of the original rail terminal in Atlanta, when the city was founded. The original city grew up around that terminal point.

Schuyler: In many ways this location and this opportunity are what transportation development is all about — locating a transit-rich facility in the middle of an underdeveloped urban area that has what we believe are great bones, and having the energy of a transportation center act as a catalyst for revitalization, for increased development and higher density than what is normally found in auto-dependent communities.

Q: The defeat of the transportation sales tax referendum last month supposedly set back public transit. Didn’t that affect this project?

Romanic: This station is completely separate from that effort. It was never on the list [of transportation sales tax projects]. It’s not funded by the list. There are other projects [on the list] we might have liked to have seen gone forward, because they are in proximity or would have made getting to the station a little easier. But that alone will not make or break this project.

Q: What will make or break this project?

Romanic: The continued cooperation is key. We don’t see that as slowing down at this point. We only see it increasing. I think we’re in good shape right now.

Q: What’s the next step?

Romanic: My next step is going to be continuing to present the design options, the three alternatives, to the individual stakeholders, the group. We’ve already had a bus operators meeting attended by close to 20 people representing all the different bus factions — GRTA, Greyhound, Georgia Motor Coach Association. Everyone was there. We’ve released drawings to them, a little more detailed, to get their feedback, so we can take that and start using with FXFowle to look at where can enhance the design to better meet their needs.

Q: You believe it will get done?

Romanic: I would say absolutely we believe. The lead developer on this, Forest City, has 29 TOD (transit-oriented design) developments nationally under its belt. It has three more in construction right now. It has the track record to prove it.

25 comments Add your comment


August 22nd, 2012
3:08 am

Well Well well…Didnt think Atlanta Had the ….. To FINALLY do this…But One can see why…It invloves someone else doing the majority of the work and putting up The finances to start it up…Not our own GDOT Who have had this on the drawing board for around 20 years And havent done Jack squat about it….So ill keep my eye on this…And lets hope GDOT has enough Sense to Have Some kind of Commuter trains up And running by completion ( Its had 80 million for it forever) so it dosent just become a “mulitmodal” Bus station…But Kudos to all those Involved….Its Long Long Overdue….


August 21st, 2012
9:15 pm

to RST ! in your opinion true. but, let face it, we must start somewhere. atlanta is lonnnnnnnnnnnnnnng over due for a transportation project of this kind and it may NOT, i do repeat may not need the tplost to get it done. it mean something if the community and business people who cares about the city and the region to see it grow. transportation is vital for any metro area who wants to bring goods and services to it area that mean jobs ! without transportation cities die including atlanta. i am a native of new york city metro area and you can see why it is such a world class international city because of it. NO atlanta is not new york city and it never ever will be. but, if atlanta wants to change the world and life style, it must upgrade the transportation part of it first !


August 21st, 2012
7:53 pm

This means nothing, unfortunately. The now defunct Georgia Rail Passenger Authority and GDOT spent millions to design and study an MMPT as well rail service in Metro Atlanta and across Georgia. And nothing came of any of those plans for the same reasons as they still won’t – the lack of funds and the lack of political will.

Jim S.

August 21st, 2012
3:11 pm

Here’s to hoping these plans move forward and the vision for the use of the project expanded.


August 21st, 2012
2:00 pm

Will Amtrak be connected to this terminal? That needs to happen in my opinion. Atlanta can become the crossroads for southern rail transportation again if this happens.


August 21st, 2012
11:40 am

Hey Don- Guess what? all those entities you’ve mentioned have been in attendance and plan on using the facilities.


August 21st, 2012
11:39 am

I find it odd that people who are not willing to pay for things are also the ones who will undoubtedly take advantage of it once it’s in place. I’m not sure who favored using hot words like “boondoggle” lately considering it was coined back in the 1930’s but if you’re criticizing the government on every project then I suppose we could blindly call the interstate system a boondoggle- I mean look at the mess it has put our entire country in within the first place!

Satire aside, our country needs to invest into transportation projects. It’s not going to happen solely from the government or solely from the private sector. There HAS to be a public-private partnership in order to successfully improve not only the city nor region but our entire country’s economy. That being said this project on a larger scale encompasses public-private partnerships. The city has a greater need to connect our multi-faceted transportation systems into a terminal station that better serves commuters, tourists, businesses, etc and currently the system fails to do that.

I am excited to see that this project will serve as a cog within the scheme of transportation projects in the city. Many people’s lack of vision is what has gotten us into this mess. Generations before realized that sacrifices were needed to improve the country’s infrastructure but the following generations blindly took advantage of those sacrifices and lost sight of a need for continued investments as technology has progressed.


August 21st, 2012
11:30 am

Zeke, I’m paying for your roads. Is that “criminal?” No. Paying for infrastructure, along with public safety and national defense is one of the core responsibilities of government.

Also, we’re trying to have an adult discussion here, so please turn down the hyperbole. Calling something criminal that clearly isn’t is not productive.


August 21st, 2012
11:28 am

This is the tail wagging the dog…..

There is no money to provide any additional service that would serve the new terminal.

The new downtown trolley loop doesn’t go here.
We have no commuter rail service and are not likely to have any for a decade.
Amtrak’s Crescent can’t stop here (although it should make an extra stop in Duluth).
Expanded intercity rail service isn’t happening for a decade or more, either.
Megabus won’t use it because it will cost them more than their Civic Center curbside stop.

So, what we’ll have is Greyhound/GRTA BUS TERMINAL with a Marta connection.

Maybe we should get those commuter rail lines going first. All they need are timber and asphalt platforms to get started.


August 21st, 2012
10:32 am

Point is, THESE TYPE PROJECTS SHOULD BE TOTALLY FUNDED BY PRIVATE BUSINESSES AND INVESTORS! The only thing that the public agencies or taxpayer money should do is to put in place the laws or policies to allow them to be built! Nothing more! If they are viable, then the private money will pay to build them! To think that the taxpayer is an unlimited source of money for these projects is criminal!