Clayton MARTA, Northern Arc fixes

C-Tran riders line up at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to board one of the last Clayton County buses to Riverdale in March 2010. Johnny Crawford/jcrawford@ajc.com

C-Tran riders line up at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to board one of the last Clayton County buses to Riverdale in March 2010. Johnny Crawford/jcrawford@ajc.com

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

Enough time has passed: A Clayton County transit advocate today says county commissioners need to listen to voters and schedule a binding referendum in November that will allow citizens to cast ballots on a sales tax increase to fund transit and bring in MARTA. (Commission Chairman Jeff Turner declined an invitation to write on this topic for this page.) In our second column, a Dunwoody resident puts forth his ideas for solving the gridlock on the northside Perimeter, from Gwinnett to Cobb counties.

Commenting is open.

If not now, Clayton, when?

By Roberta Abdul-Salaam

If the citizens of Clayton County are not given the opportunity to vote on a binding referendum to restore public transportation in this November’s general election, when will we have another opportunity?

You may remember the protracted fight to bring MARTA to Clayton after we successfully passed legislation to do so in 2010. Businesses are leaving the county, and new businesses want a mobile workforce. Citizens are losing their jobs. Students have cut their educations short.

The question I am asked most often is, when are the buses coming back? We voted on it already, so what happened? Then I try to explain that only the Clayton County Commission can implement the legislation by putting a binding referendum on the ballot. The commission must vote on this by July 1.

Transportation is perhaps one of the biggest issues facing Clayton citizens. The loss of public transportation caused a lot of economic hardships for families and businesses alike. However, I am excited about the passage of House Bill 1009. This bill is modeled on the legislation I passed in 2010 and was overwhelmingly supported by voters. Over 69 percent voted in favor of bringing MARTA to Clayton.

This is about more than transportation; it is about respecting the expressed will of residents.

HB 1009 could bring more than $49 million per year (indefinitely) for the sole use of Clayton public transportation. This legislation is a win-win for the county because, according to the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, approximately 65 percent of these funds would be generated by people traveling through Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Clayton will benefit without bearing the brunt of the tax.

We are four years beyond the vote to bring MARTA back with another opportunity for transportation justice. HB 1009 passed both chambers of the Legislature. Now, it is up to the County Commission. I urge the commission to support representation on the matter of taxation.

A one-cent MARTA sales tax will improve quality of life, economic development and job creation for Claytony — all of which we desperately need. It is time for Clayton to achieve economic and transportation parity with our neighbors in DeKalb and Fulton counties.

This legislation is about more than buses. We have the opportunity to go beyond where we were with C-Tran. If this is placed on the ballot and voters support it, we have the potential to bring in MARTA, rapid transit and commuter rail service from the airport all the way down to Lovejoy.

It also allows the county to look at implementing Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), which according to the National BRT Institute is “an innovative, high-capacity, lower-cost public transit solution that can significantly improve urban mobility. This permanent, integrated system uses buses or specialized vehicles on roadways or dedicated lanes to quickly and efficiently transport passengers to their destinations.”

I am optimistic. I look forward to the Clayton commission picking up the mantle by placing a binding referendum on the November ballot to bring MARTA to Clayton County.

We at Citizens for Progressive Transit will continue our grassroots advocacy to bring public transit back. We will do it through the Friends of Clayton Transit, Sierra Club, Citizens for Progressive Transit and a broad-based coalition of local leaders, ministers and transportation/community organizations.

Voters must continue to be heard. We must attend the feasibility study hearings being conducted by the Board of Commissioners. We must be heard at the County Commission meetings. Finally, we must go to the polls and vote.

Twice now, our Clayton County legislative delegation has successfully passed legislation that enables the County Commission to act. There is but a small window.

Commissioners must act by the July 1 regular meeting if this is to be on the ballot. Act they must. If not now, when? Transit matters.

Former state Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam is founder of Friends of Clayton Transit and served as vice president of Citizens for Progressive Transit.

Northern Arc fixes require creativity

By Gordon Jackson

A few years ago, the Georgia Department of Transportation began looking at the Northern Arc of I-285 through the Revive 285 process. As a member of the Community Action Committee, the two most significant factors from those discussions about trips on 285 were:

1) The significant number of daily trips from Lawrenceville to the Perimeter employment center. One only has to observe I-285 during rush hour to know many hundreds of east and west trips are generated along the Northern Arc. The interstate system through the metro area is radial to the center of Atlanta, as are many of the arterial surface streets. I-285 connects development nodes on the radial routes.

2) Many of the trips on I-285 are “local,” people using the interstate to go from one radial arterial to another — for example, from Ashford-Dunwoody to Chamblee-Dunwoody roads.

How can we enhance transportation system capacity to serve one of the largest economic engines in the Southeast? My proposal is to provide frontage roads on both sides of I – 285 to reduce the congestion caused by local trips; place a monorail transit system within the frontage road system to reduce right-of-way acquisition costs; reinvent MARTA, and extend the MARTA rail system.

Some specifics:

• Establish a frontage road system from the Doraville MARTA station to the Cumberland Mall/Cobb Galleria area. Much of this system already exists. Are there gaps? Yes. But it can be designated, advertised and expanded as such now.

• The monorail system would provide a rapid transit connection from Doraville to the Galleria. Monorails are supported by single support columns that could be placed in the same right-of-way as the frontage road and are generally elevated above cross streets and traffic. Disney moves over 150,000 people per day by monorail on a 13.6-mile system. A similar 24-kilometer system will serve the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil. Further studies should determine whether this is the most cost-effective system.

LRT (light rail transit) and BRT (bus rapid transit) generally require some sort of dedicated lane. They are either consuming a lane that would be otherwise be used by cars and trucks, or are subject to the delays of the roadway system. For LRT or BRT to run within the frontage road system would require significant intersection improvements as well as a widened right of way to accommodate dedicated lanes.

• It’s time to reinvent MARTA. Remove the 1-cent sales tax in Fulton and DeKalb counties and replace it with a truly dedicated state tax or user fee across the 10-county metro area for major transportation improvements. As part of the reinvention, MARTA should be absorbed by a state agency with authority to operate transit beyond Fulton and DeKalb.

• Extend MARTA rail lines in the heavy demand corridors — the north line to Alpharetta, and the northeast line to Gwinnett Mall. These routes serve the heavily traveled Ga. 400 and I-85 corridors. The extensions would connect to the monorail at Doraville and Dunwoody to provide east-west access across the Northern Arc.

In summary, widening I–285 appears to be a practical impossibility. Getting local trips off I-285 preserves the available capacity for longer trips. Transit provides a cost-efficient alternative for those who can effectively use it.

None of the above will be easy. There will be huge political, jurisdictional, environmental and cost issues. But nothing gets done unless you start. It’s time to start.

Gordon Jackson is a retired transportation consultant and past president of the Dunwoody Homeowners Association.

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