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

SAWB

August 20th, 2012
7:27 pm

I still fail to see why this has to cost so much. Just pave a big parking lot for Cobb and Gwinnett Transit to drop off passengers and provide an escalator to move them to the MARTA station. Install a cover to keep them out of the rain and a restroom. I can only imagine where all the money is going to go, but I guess we can look at the illustrious Beltline project for a clue!

Angus

August 20th, 2012
8:43 pm

“Multimodal passenger terminal” sure is a fancy name for a bus station.

Bernie

August 20th, 2012
9:30 pm

its ABOUT TIME…….:) As anyone can see, T-SPLOST approval was not a prohibitive
factor as MAYOR REED and others, would have had the citizens believe through his many cheer leading activities.

J. Howard Harding

August 21st, 2012
12:03 am

Why is intercity rail passenger service not included in this transportation terminal?

Dumb and Dumber

August 21st, 2012
12:08 am

Connecting to commuter rail? What are they smoking?

I think the old $80 million earmark was for the station AND the first leg of commuter rail to Lovejoy (on the way to Macon) – not sure how a glorified bus station meets that criteria. I cannot believe the feds will fund even a part of this Turkey now. Hopefully that $80 million can be rescinded (its been over 12 years) and used to pay down an itsy-bitsy part of the debt, not even a rounding error — but that would be better than this project now.

PATSy

August 21st, 2012
6:14 am

Pandoras box of terriorism has been opened. This “terminal” may be just that. One nutcase gets off a bus with a suitcase bomb and can kill hundreds and completely shut down all transportation in the city. Transportation has become a prime target around the world. Build it and they will come. Rather a gulch than a crater.

Chip

August 21st, 2012
7:54 am

More pie-in-the-sky boondoggle nonsense. The only people who will benefit from this are (1) the usual well-connected politicians, cronies, and crooks who will put millions of dolllars of other people’s money in their off-shore accounts, and (2) deranged narcissistic urban liberal activists who will dance and preen in public over their social/environmental/moral superiority.

In the mean time, nothing significant will actually be accomplished in the silly provincial Third World joke of a city called Atlanta… except normal working people will once again watch piles of their tax dollars go up in smoke.

Out by the Pond

August 21st, 2012
8:44 am

Bus service to Atlanta? Are we stepping back in time? I rode the bus from Marietta to Atlanta in the 60’s. It was $0.45 round trip and went straight down highway 41. Somebody better start talking about getting on a train and being able to go to Macon, Savannah, Augusta or Valdosta or this is just another dead horse.

GaNative

August 21st, 2012
9:25 am

Chip, I hope being narrowminded and prejudging pretty much everyone takes some of the stress out of your life and that you sleep better at night. Prejudging people is certainly easier than actually thinking.

The State needs passenger rail. I would love to hop on a train at 5:00 pm on a Friday, grab a beer or three and get off in Savannah a few hours later for a weekend out of town. What does that make me Chip? Narcisstic? Go on, attach a bunch of labels to me.

As far as others discussing the price tag of this development, this project will include substantial office space, which increseas the price tag, but defrays a lot of the costs (as private developers will incur much of this expense).

Cutty

August 21st, 2012
9:33 am

So Chip, if Atlanta is a Third World country does the despair and poverty stop at 285? Take a ride down Buford Highway, S. Cobb Drive, or any neighborhood with a meth house in Cherokee then get back at me.

zeke

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!

Don

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.

GaNative

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.

Tyler

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.

Tyler

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.

YellowJ

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.

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.

RST

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.

ricardo

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 !

Juelz2012

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….

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.

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.

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
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.

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.