Moderated by Tom Sabulis
Cobb County government is listening, and preparing to listen some more. As part of their new comprehensive transportation plan, county officials are seeking resident feedback regarding the best options for their tax dollars. In our second column, one county leader speaks out in favor of express bus service, urging Cobb to build on a system that’s already in place and working well.
Commenting is open below.
By Tim Lee
If you want a first-hand perspective concerning a roadway, you don’t have to search. Just ask the person who drives on it every day.
Anyone with a commute — a businessperson, a technician on a service call, or simply a person taking an elderly parent to a doctor’s appointment — can tell you which lights take longer than others. They can tell which roads have more traffic, and they know when to avoid bumper-to-bumper congestion. And if you asked them to pinpoint a problem or a solution, I’ll bet they can do that as well.
This is why we are seeking the public’s input as part of our Comprehensive Transportation Plan update. The program, which will establish strategies and make recommendations to serve us through the year 2040, is also essential to our eligibility for the state and federal funding that helps pay for transportation projects.
How important is this? State and federal governments have authorized more than $43.5 million for Cobb County projects in 2013. The previous year, it was $16.4 million. The year before that, it was $47.7 million. If we didn’t meet the required public input standards, this money would have had to be raised from other sources in order to continue the work.
We also want to hear from residents about the improvements they are willing to support. Not only are we interested in specific suggestions, we also want to know how the public wants us to pay for them. Are you willing to support aggressive transportation solutions that make huge impacts, or are you willing to make do with the status quo?
It’s like going out to eat. If you don’t want to spend much, you will probably seek out fast food. If you want a high-quality dinner, you have to be prepared to pay more for it. We need to know what residents prefer, and how much they’re willing to pay for it.
Obviously, government has to be responsive to its populace. We work for you. Our decisions should be based on the best results for everyone who lives, works and travels here. Prior to our most recent special purpose local option sales tax vote, we held 24 separate public meetings in two months to get input.
Feedback consistently helps us improve transportation projects throughout the community. For instance, on Six Flags Drive, improvements called for a fence and lengthy median. Comments by those who live and work there helped point out their concerns, leading us to arrange for cut-throughs that balance safety with traffic flow.
We need residents to check our website , www.cobbcounty.org/dot, and contact us with their ideas. This is, after all, not just for them. It is crucial to shaping our community to face the future in decades to come. We are planning what our community will be like for our children. And their children.
I cannot think of a more important mission. And I cannot think of a better way to accomplish it than asking those who live here for the best way to make it happen.
Tim Lee is chairman of the Cobb County Commission.
By Ron Sifen
In post-T-SPLOST Atlanta, Cobb County might lead the region to a workable, cost-effective “Plan B” that could actually reduce traffic congestion in Cobb and throughout the region.
Or, Cobb could lead the region into committing future transportation dollars to unfortunate obligations that will permanently financially obstruct us from ever solving our transportation problems.
Cobb is working on its Comprehensive Transportation Plan update. The county also is studying a $1.1 billion, Kennesaw-to-Atlanta, bus rapid transit or BRT proposal. The BRT plan would allocate a huge percentage of Cobb’s financial resources to a “fixed guideway” project whose primary purpose is to incentivize development of private property, but would do little to improve commute times in Cobb.
Sixty-three percent of the region, and 69 percent of Cobb County, voted “no” on the T-SPLOST. Ultimately, a majority of voters recognized that T-SPLOST misallocated billions of dollars to projects that would benefit special interests but do little to reduce traffic congestion.
The rejection of T-SPLOST does not mean voters want to do nothing. Most taxpayers would support a package of transportation projects that would effectively reduce commute times on our roads and use our tax dollars cost-effectively.
This criteria does not exclude transit. But it should exclude the billion-dollar BRT plan.
Cost-effective transit that meets our mobility needs should be part of a comprehensive transportation plan for Cobb and the region.
Express bus is transit best suited to meet the transportation needs of commuters in a region with very low population density and widely dispersed employment centers. Expansion of our already-successful express bus service would do more to reduce traffic congestion than the far-more-expensive BRT proposal.
When the I-75 /575 managed lanes are completed, express buses will provide commuters a time-competitive alternative to driving, which will further increase ridership.
New, local bus routes could be implemented for a few million dollars. Regular local and express buses are also less expensive to operate and maintain than BRT. BRT would consume millions of future transportation dollars annually for one transit route. Those funds would be better allocated to real mobility needs elsewhere in Cobb.
Cobb should prioritize improving bottlenecks at intersections and interchanges; making low-cost, high-impact investments in technology, and shortening response times for clearing traffic accidents.
Transit will always necessitate a taxpayer subsidy. That does not mean taxpayers should be bludgeoned with outrageous costs. We need good transit service that addresses real mobility needs at a reasonable cost to taxpayers.
Ultra-expensive BRT will financially obstruct Cobb from comprehensively addressing its transportation needs countywide.
Ron Sifen is president of the Cobb County Civic Coalition.