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

middleground

August 22nd, 2012
5:31 pm

Just admit it, developers developing office space in downtown atlanta. And you the taxpayer gets to pay for making this possible. Somethings never change.

Don

August 22nd, 2012
4:28 pm

Tyler-

Call me a skeptical advocate. If GA had made any progress on some commuter rail lines, I wouldn’t be skeptical at all. Even if the lion’s share of money to get it does is private, you know you’ll hear howls from that gold dome about it being a train station with no trains….

As for Amtrak….don’t even get me started… there are >500,000 people within a 10 min drive of Duluth GA yet the nearest stops are Atlanta-Peachtree and Gainesville, each >30 minute drive. So, why isn’t there a stop in Duluth? Those people weren’t there in 30 years ago! Amtrak’s mgt is largely asleep.

Tyler

August 22nd, 2012
11:08 am

Hey Don-

Amtrak has not confirmed not denied providing services to the MMPT. It’s all speculation and rumors as to what they will do but I do know their existing facility on Peachtree as it crosses I-85 is not slated to be the permanent station. They are long overdue to update ADA and other accessibility requirements and that location does not serve to benefit them in any way. The site near Ikea also serves as a temporary location if they do surpass their deadline to provide updates but is not planned to be the permanent station location either.

You mentioned the studies, entities, plans, etc that relate to “pipe dreams” – the city has confirmed to push forward and implementing the project beyond the phases that were ever conceived years ago. If you read the article the last 3 questions consistently addresses how the entities have successfully played a critical role in the schematics of the design process.

“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.”

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

You might be a skeptic but you cannot just build a rail line and expect a transit station to pop-up. Conversely- you cannot build a transit station without any infrastructure to support it. But there alreasy is a tranist system backbone- MARTA’s heavy rail, the streetcar project (which already has route extensions under study to work with whichever design option is chosen), the numerous private and public bus operators, and providing the infrastructure for commuter and regional rail is wise to facilitate those services once they are implemented. The MMPT serves as an impetus to the state and federal legislators that Atlanta is committed to developing its transportation infrastructure.

Don

August 22nd, 2012
9:11 am

Hey Tyler – Did those entities come with their money and plans or just pipe dreams?

After 20 years of study, do we have even one single commuter rail line? Even the Griffin line didn’t have complete funding in the 10 years T-SPLOST plan.

The downtown trolley loop current work only goes to the east side of Centennial Olympic Park. There aren’t even crayon lines on a map that show it going to the gulch.

Amtrak’s existing train can’t get to the gulch w/o backing out and wying – which they have no interest in pursuing with NS. New Amtrak routes from Atlanta are even a bigger pipe dream than the commuter rail lines.

I would love to see ALL of these things happen. But, we live in Georgia. We will see glaciers first.

dc

August 22nd, 2012
8:48 am

bet the taxi drivers are all for this….other than that, how the heck are riders supposed to actually get anywhere? Atlanta is not a set up for rail travel….too spread out. If you could actually walk somewhere once you got to the terminal, might work. but no chance of that.

Another multi-million $ project that will only line the pockets of developers and politicians…..and the ongoing ops cost to support will take huge amounts of money away from actual useful projects.