Moderated by Tom Sabulis
Think tanks, politicians, community leaders and regular commuters all have their opinions on what the next step should be for a regional transportation plan. Today, Brandon Beach, a GDOT board member from North Fulton, discusses specifics on the Ga. 400 corridor, and a former Atlanta mayor talks about the leadership required to fix our metro-wide gridlock in the post T-SPLOST environment.
Commenting is open below Sam Massell’s column.
By Tom Sabulis
When it comes this summer’s failed transportation tax referendum, Brandon Beach won’t even go there. “It’s over. The people have spoken loud and clear,” said Beach, president and CEO of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce. He prefers to look forward, at the ways GDOT is stretching lower fuel tax revenues to improve traffic, and about long-term challenges facing north Fulton County:
New roads: “We need new capacity on Georgia 400. We’ve done a lot of the smaller fixes that we can do. We opened those southbound flex lanes where you can drive on the shoulders in the morning rush hour. We need to do things like diverging diamonds, roundabouts and regional traffic signalization. You can do that through innovation and technology, and do it fairly inexpensively.
“We also have to look at major improvements on 400 north from I-285. That’s going to have to be done, in my opinion, through managed lanes. The existing tolls will come down next December, but for us to build new capacity, it’s going to have to be part of a managed-lane system.”
How that works: “We’re doing it right now on 575 and 75; it’s a 29-mile stretch of reversible lanes. But that’s just one step of the managed lane system; you need to look at 285, and then 400.”
Daytime population surges: “This whole North Fulton area imports quite a bit of labor. The city of Alpharetta has a regular population of 52,000 to 55,000 people. But the daytime population is really about 235,000, counting all the people that come to work here. You look at the companies up here that employ large amounts of folks — Verizon has 5,000 employees up here — and we have to make sure they options from a mobility standpoint.”
Helping east-west commutes: “One of the things we really need to work on is east-west connectivity. You try to go from here to Gwinnett during peak hours, it’s 12 miles and it can take you an hour and 45 minutes to get there. One of the things we’re working on is McGinnis Ferry Road, continuing its four-laning to Georgia 400 and putting an interchange at McGinnis Ferry and 400.”
Public transportation: “I firmly believe that if transit is reliable, clean and, most of all, safe, then people will take transit. Not everyone is going to get on a bus or train, but I can tell you when I served on the GRTA [Georgia Regional Transportation Authority] board and gasoline went to $4 a gallon the first time, those GRTA express buses were standing room only. The good thing about those buses is you got on them at point ‘A’ and you went all the way into downtown. You didn’t make 22 stops. I think we need to look at express service.
“We’re doing a study up here right now looking at transit options all the way up 400, whether that’s bus rapid transit, light rail or heavy rail. In the short term, I think we need to look at bus rapid transit from the North Springs MARTA station up through the 400 corridor.
“We could implement that quickly and relatively inexpensively. Building rail is going to take a lot of money, and it’s going to have to come from a federal funding.”
By Sam Massell
Prior to and following failure of the Atlanta regional transportation referendum, there has been much talk about a “Plan B.” If this stands for “Buckhead,” be advised this community voted in favor of the July 31st proposal. The city of Atlanta passed it as well.
I’d be uncomfortable considering a separate vote just in Buckhead or even just in the city of Atlanta. This is so far from the regionalism we espouse, it sounds like secession. Having been part of a transportation-related referendum that failed, in 1968, and being an integral part in a changed version passing in 1971, I have some definite thoughts to share.
It would stretch the point to consider the MARTA vote, to which I refer, as a “regional” success. It ended up being approved in just three jurisdictions: Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb. It is still a sad commentary that abutting counties didn’t give it the support needed, particularly due to the reasons rumored.
The bottom line, however, has been some — albeit very limited — mobility was provided for many thousands of riders. I know that a necessary factor in its passing was the change in what was being offered. I know too, that the Chamber of Commerce actively supported the failed version in 1968, and that it endorsed the 1971 version as well, but a major difference is that in the latter case, the Domestic Workers Union also endorsed the campaign!
For those who were not here then, let me mention that there were many disagreements over different plans: Should it be rubber-tired or fixed-rail? Should it be built where it could attract the maximum patronage or should it go to undeveloped areas to generate development? As mayor, I took the position these were ideas that should be left to professionals: engineers, planners, etc., rather than politicians or business entities.
It will take political muscle, however, to get whatever plan is proposed through the legislative process for authority, and it will take money from the business community to run the campaign. And, in my opinion, it will take local experience in handling a popularity contest — carpenters who know what “walking around money” means.
Not to worry. We have the leadership and the know-how. We also now know what won’t work. Let us be very sensitive to the neighborhoods — where the votes come from — and form a new alliance. In Buckhead alone, there are 40 forty neighborhood civic associations, each with a set of officers who are local leaders who can get us through this program with flying colors (a few hundred votes, like in the MARTA result)!
We can learn from each other. Remember that in this failure, the opponents to Plan “A” even disagreed within their own ranks. Those of us who lost must be willing to drastically change our wish list so we can move forward with something … rather than nothing.
Sam Massell is president of the Buckhead Coalition and former Mayor of Atlanta.