Moderated by Tom Sabulis
One of our guest opinion columnists has an out-of-the-box idea for a transportation experiment in the city – a maglev line running from MARTA’s Arts Center station to the Atlantic Station area. What do you think?
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By Dave Henson
After the failure of the metro Atlanta transportation referendum last year, Gov. Nathan Deal said it “slams the door on further expansion of our rail network any time soon.” Despite this understandable sentiment, I think commuter rail can get back on track.
It’s important to remember that the governor supported the referendum to the end, nobly going down with the rickety ship he inherited. The business community was grateful for his support, but other pro-transit groups undercut him by loudly opposing the plan. I believe a business-backed rail initiative could still pique Deal’s interest.
In addition to benefiting the business community, new rail would have to serve a large number of potential riders and come with a low price tag. All of the above can be had with a demonstration line from the MARTA Arts Center Station to the state-owned property at 17th Street and Northside Drive, which is being eyed for future Amtrak and Greyhound stations.
The rail line — state-operated, by the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority — could form the spine of a “transportation innovation zone” in the progressive, up-and-coming West Midtown/“Westoma” (west of Midtown Atlanta) area. Many cutting-edge startup companies are based here, and AT&T is scouting the vicinity for one of its acclaimed Foundry innovation centers. Ridership would not be a problem.
As for low cost, the answer might lie with American Maglev Technologies, a Marietta company that builds magnetic levitation (maglev) transit propulsion systems. Maglev vehicles travel on a magnetic field, about a centimeter above elevated guideway rails, and are propelled by small onboard, electronic, emission-free engines. Unlike those found in conventional maglev systems, American Maglev’s guideways have no moving parts and require only a 5-foot-wide footprint.
Based on American Maglev’s per-mile projections, building the 1.2-mile demonstration line would cost $30 million to $35 million, a relatively low amount compared to other rail options. Currently, the company is bidding for commuter projects in Colorado and Florida. Seeing futuristic maglev trains streaking across the Downtown Connector could make a grand impression here as well.
Although maglev transit systems aren’t eligible for federal construction funding, they are covered under the recently passed “America Fast Forward Financing Innovation Act,” which offers a federally backed, low-interest loan program and a unique bond program that provides annual tax credits to bond investors in lieu of transportation agency interest payments.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed seems to have a fairly amicable relationship with President Barack Obama and might just have a shooter’s chance at landing one of those America Fast Forward loans or bonds for the maglev project.
It would be a win for the business community, and a win for Gov. Deal.
Dave Henson is a digital marketing executive and founder of Georgia Policy Solutions.