A head-scratching debate between rail options for T-SPLOST

It seems like a no-brainer. But those cases often make brains hurt the most.

Commuters along I-75 northwest of Atlanta want relief from traffic congestion. The state owns a railroad line that runs from Atlanta through the downtowns of Vinings, Smyrna, Marietta, Kennesaw and Acworth. It’s double-tracked most of the way, meaning there’s room for freight and passenger rail alike.

Make a few modifications, buy some train cars, and a commuter rail service for Cobb could be up and running within a few years — for a tiny fraction of the money that a 1 percent sales tax for transportation, or T-SPLOST, is forecast to provide if voters approve it next year.

Instead, transit planners want to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more to build a lower-capacity light rail line. Which wouldn’t be completed for more than a decade. And which, even when finished, wouldn’t go beyond Cumberland Mall. To reach Acworth would take another decade and nearly $2 billion more, from a source TBD.

What was that about a no-brainer? State Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, asks the same thing.

“Why wouldn’t we use an existing resource that millions…of dollars have been poured into the last century…before we spend $100 million a mile to try to create a whole new architecture in a way that hasn’t been proven yet, and that voters haven’t shown a commitment to?” Setzler told me Monday.

The light rail plan calls for a new line from the Arts Center MARTA station to the Cumberland Mall area, barely inside Cobb. The exact alignment would be decided later, but the draft T-SPLOST project list assigns it $856 million for 8 miles.

Based on two state estimates since 2001, Setzler said his commuter rail alternative would cover roughly 30 miles and “can be done for considerably less than $100 million.”

With the savings, he would convert parts of Cobb Parkway and Windy Hill Road into “modified super-arterials” on which motorists could drive for miles with no stoplights. They wouldn’t be full super-arterials like Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, as some critics charge in arguing his cost estimates are too low. Instead, they would use the same, scaled-down model the T-SPLOST list envisions for a stretch of Tara Boulevard in Clayton County.

These two plans, he argues, offer more relief from traffic congestion, much sooner, than a $856 million light rail line.

“Perhaps light rail in 20 years makes sense to go to Cumberland,” he says. “It can creep north more slowly over time as the population moves and the density is created to support it. But…it’s just not the solution from a cost-benefit perspective. And you’re not forced to advance it so far so fast…if you’ve got another alternative to get people out of traffic.

“If it’s truly about traffic relief, use commuter rail to solve the traffic problem. And begin to see the redevelopment benefits in our historic downtowns.”

Listening to Setzler reminded me of a June conversation with William Lind, renowned conservative transit advocate. Some of the same people who support Cobb light rail brought Lind to Atlanta to pitch the benefits of cost-conscious transit.

One of his anecdotes about maximizing resources — with commuter rail, no less — now seems particularly apt:

“I had the head of the Columbus [Ohio transit] system say to me, ‘They wanted me to build a $1 billion light rail paralleling the existing double-track railroad,’ ” Lind told me. “The answer should be, ‘Hell no!’ ”

Like I said: No-brainer.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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79 comments Add your comment

MarkV

September 30th, 2011
6:58 pm

Kyle,
Earlier somebody attacked your qualities as a journalist. I did not like the tone of that attack, but this article raises some doubts in my mind. If you write about an issue like this, would it not be appropriate to include the arguments from the other side?

Strawman

September 30th, 2011
7:06 pm

And, on a different note, this from an illustrious figure on the left, the “reverend” Al:

http://newsbusters.org/blogs/noel-sheppard/2011/09/30/al-sharpton-put-governor-christie-jail-90-days-lose-weight#ixzz1ZS4nH3FI

I think I now really know what someone means when they say “you just can’t make this stuff up.”

Strawman

September 30th, 2011
7:07 pm

Oh, boy…corporations undoubtedly leave much to distrust, but the blind trust in the government on the left is incomprehensible:

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/09/30/solyndra-loan-program-on-pace-to-commit-5m-for-every-permanent-job/

Strawman

September 30th, 2011
7:08 pm

Ah…the UN – the favorite bastxxd child of FDR (whose mislaid affection for it was shrewdly exploited by Stalin at the end of WWII to the detriment of many people). The League of Nations had been a resolute failure, but FDR (in his teeming sagacity) thought to resurrect it. I now present you with yet another palpable display of the rightness of our former president’s predilection:

http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/A/AF_EQUATORIAL_GUINEA_UN_PRIZE?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2011-09-29-14-25-35

Strawman

September 30th, 2011
7:09 pm

Strawman

September 30th, 2011
7:15 pm

“Make a few modifications, buy some train cars, and a commuter rail service for Cobb could be up and running within a few years — for a tiny fraction of the money that a 1 percent sales tax for transportation, or T-SPLOST, is forecast to provide if voters approve it next year.

Instead, transit planners want to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more to build a lower-capacity light rail line. Which wouldn’t be completed for more than a decade. And which, even when finished, wouldn’t go beyond Cumberland Mall. To reach Acworth would take another decade and nearly $2 billion more, from a source TBD.”

You know, Kyle, you see the very same folly in government-run education. Instead of investing the bulk of its monetary resources in teachers, they instead bullheadedly continue to invest it it new buildings (when alternative solutions – like refurbishing an abandoned mall) would cost but a fraction of that money. It’s like liberals think they must spend lost of money on new things or nothing can work. Perhaps we really need a depression.

Waheema

September 30th, 2011
7:37 pm

Voters are right when they realize that the TSPLOST planners did not spend nearly enough energy on actually relieving transportation problems. I am starting to believe that TSPLOST is a giant waste of an enoumous pile of our money.

Now with Ten Percent More Flavor

September 30th, 2011
7:54 pm

This is how Georgia Republicans want to spend tax dollars more wisely. How much would those shovel ready jobs cost compared to the stimulus shovel ready jobs.

Jon

September 30th, 2011
8:00 pm

We need a Marta link to Cumberland Mall period. Its a no brainer otherwise the Cumberland area will not keep up with its rivals Dunwoody and Sandy Springs.

I have no problem with the comuter train as well but we have to have the Marta link.

lil barry's mamma

September 30th, 2011
8:07 pm

Glad this idea of using existing rail resources hasn’t been thought of, or publically advocated before your article, I mean it would be a shameful waste of originality now wouldn’t it?

But then again, did you mention whether or not this nifty old idea that makes a heck of alot of dollars and sense would shun inclusion of unionized mostly liberalized socialized governed ITP MARTA group?

Using existing rail lines whether state owned or privately held rail line rights of way that can be readily expanded to accommodate a public-private commuter rail venture of the NON – UNION and without the mostly liberalized socialized governed ITP crowd in control would simply be asking too much. Not to mention it is too appealing to the conservative elements of this state OTP that hate what MARTA and all the socialist liberaltard welfare crap it represents.

Don’t make book on this TSPLOST for MARTA passing Kyle.

Steve - USA

September 30th, 2011
8:10 pm

MarkV@6:58

You could make the same accusation against Bookman every day.

Skram30082

September 30th, 2011
8:18 pm

Unless this line provides access to a MARTA station, this line is a train to nowhere. Once it crosses into Fulton County, near the intersection of Atlanta and Bolton roads, it continues down to the large switching yard near West Marietta Street.

Not saying this is a bad idea at all, but it has to at least intersect MARTA at a currently existing station to provide a seemless route of transportation.

This certainly makes more sense than a stub line from the Arts Station to the Cumberland area.

Comrade MarxistV

September 30th, 2011
8:23 pm

Best way to kill any hope of TSPLOST passing, even with good transportation ideas, will be putting support of MARTA in the deal.

Rafe Hollister

September 30th, 2011
9:20 pm

Government will always travel around their elbow to get to their wrist. These obvious solutions using existing rail have been around since I have lived in the Metro, 1973. Always shot down by the big government knows best bunch that have created the current jam packed roads and raillines that go nowhere anyone wants to go. I’m voting against this Splost as effort to save the taxpayers some money that otherwise will be wasted.

The big government solutions take so long to complete that people’s habits and lifestyles have changed by that point.

MarkV

September 30th, 2011
11:41 pm

Steve – USA @8:10 pm: “You could make the same accusation against Bookman every day.”

Thank you for the information. It does not address the point of my post, however.

a reader

September 30th, 2011
11:46 pm

i couldn’t capsulize my thought for bookman earlier so WTF. ATL is where it all happens for GA. where the liberal hits that mat. the dynamic is profound yet literal. i’m trying to find an amusing way to describe the way white folks notice how many black people live in atlanta ga. befuddlement.
i’m pretty sure that GA is locked in a dumb way for a predictable span. maybe it’s a cocoon.

a reader

September 30th, 2011
11:59 pm

but i just had another thought. what color hat do we follow when stupid incites the crowd?

a reader

October 1st, 2011
12:01 am

cain’t see it from ma house

Michael H. Smith

October 1st, 2011
6:01 am

I’ll be joining with you Rafe in voting against this SPLOST. Your comment was right on target. In fact your point about this bunch that basically wants to “reinvent the wheel” instead of using “the perfectly better wheel that already exists” said it all, leaving nothing more worth mentioning to add on this subject.

ragnar danneskjold

October 1st, 2011
6:35 am

Seemingly would be a lot cheaper to build a heavy-rail/MARTA link than it would be to extend MARTA to Cumberland Mall. “No-brainer” looks about right to me. Similarly there is a heavy rail in the Northeast slightly west of I-85, could connect Norcross, Duluth, Suwanee, Buford, and Gainesville to downtown comparatively easily.

carlosgvv

October 1st, 2011
8:32 am

Strawman – “Perhaps we really need a depression”

At the rate things are going now, we will probably be in one in a couple of years.

@@

October 1st, 2011
8:47 am

Light rail? Will the connection be underground or above?

A compromise for the “quaint”.

Delayed response to Hillbilly from downstairs (two stories).

@@, Aquagirl

If y’all had one, you’d understand.

I wear a shirt, pants, shoes, and an occasional hat. To which “one” do you allude?

(IW&SH)

@@

October 1st, 2011
9:01 am

Well, carlos…Obama thinks we’ve gotten soft, soooo

perhaps he agrees and is working hard to bring about that depression.

carlosgvv

October 1st, 2011
9:11 am

@@

Since the Tea Party Congress was ready, willing and able to let our Country go into default, looks like they agree also.

A Realist

October 1st, 2011
10:32 am

All this is very interesting – granted, if you want the best long term investment, you’d go ahead and take the existing branch of MARTA (just north of the Arts Center Station), let it break through the ground and continue on up I75 – for a long way – but that would be blasphemy. It would obviously bring crime and mayhem into the ‘burbs, that have none of that now.

That being said, we now plan to invest 7 Billion (with a ‘B’) of taxpayer subsidy into HOT lanes. (read Saturday’s AJC). 7 Billion would build quite a bit of transit – but the SRTA and friends would really like the money, so we build tollways.

Kyle’s point is interesting, but you really, really do need to connect with MARTA somehow. Commuter rail is necessary for the region, and that might really work, if you don’t dump the line into the CSX freight yards. On the other hand, commuter rail is not politically feasible, after all, it would require a taxpayer subsidy that is really not fair (see the previous paragraph.)

Wow, we sure are shooting ourselves in the foot multiple times.

@@

October 1st, 2011
10:47 am

Technical or real? Temporary or permanent? How great was the danger of missing an interest payment?

You base your opinion on what Moody’s says?

In one of the most stark condemnations of the credit rating agencies, a Senate investigations panel said the agencies (Moody’s & S&P) continued to give top ratings to mortgage-backed securities months after the housing market started to collapse.

Looks like Barney Frank and Moody’s are kissin’ cousins.

I supported Bush’s “Ownership Society” for, what I thought, were the right reasons. Turns out my faith in mankind was unjustified as it too often is.

Oh well…

@@

October 1st, 2011
10:51 am

Oops! No slanties in the last two paragraphs.

IHB

Cutty

October 1st, 2011
1:12 pm

As this is such a no-brainer (better late than never), who is at fault for leaving out such an obvious solution? Obama’s? Pelosi’s or Reid’s? Those powerful GA Democrats? Wingfield carefully poses his argument as if there were some well-coordinated effort to leave out surefire way to alleviate traffic.

Problem is, republicans in the Gold Dome are so spineless, that they couldn’t fathom having to actually raise taxes to address metro Atlanta’s traffic concerns. No, they allowed local politicians to have entirely too much influence on what should be a state-led project. That’s probably why this reasonably well-thought line won’t be built, and if it is, I bet you dollars to donuts that it will never intersect with a MARTA station. Republicans showed 0 leadership, punted on this issue, and we’re now left with a referendum that probably won’t pass and if it does it will have odd projects such as renovating McCollum Field and the BeltLine on it (I live in the City) that have nothing to do with addressing transit concerns. If you’re always gonna blame Obama for the nation’s problems, the least you could do is dish same said blame towards republicans of this state when it’s completely warranted.

ViewFromMidtown

October 1st, 2011
1:21 pm

Well, welcome to the freakin’ party Kyle. It’s so cute when you Republicans suddenly have a brainstorm that been advocated by others for a decade and almost break your arms trying to pat yourselves on the back. The sad fact is that the GOP has been blocking commuter rail for years – even the high-profile Brain Train.

As for this particular corridor (which was on GDOT’s Georgia Rail Passenger Program map), when the TPB Concept 3 was ratified after considering every study that had been conducted affecting that region, it was designated as a high capacity corridor. Commuter rail is considered medium capacity as opposed to light rail which would operate at twice the frequency commuter rail would and be far more useful in the long run particularly with the interlining options available for other potential LRT such as a northern perimeter line. Also, as other commenters noted, the end-point for commuter rail is currently missing. A funding commitment to the MMPT to facilitate easy transfers to the MARTA and other systems is key for commuter rail.

The reason the TSPLOST is going to the voters to begin with is that the GOP legislature is too cowardly to actually fund the infrastructure that is necessary to support the state’s growth. When the TSPLOST fails, they’ll either have to man up and fund transportation properly or watch the state stagnate and then decline while rational states move into the 21st century with vision.

Robert

October 1st, 2011
1:49 pm

In some way i agree coment but other ways. All the tea bagers get head out the damm ground. Understand something i schools in bad shape we have no water. We have nothing to move around any where in Atlanta. Just imange we had good rail system in place we still have thrashers, we great corprate companies come here pump money to ecomny.. I live acworth ga i wll tell if could use the public transportion to work i would but we crap of Leadership in this State for the last 18 years enough infighting lets work togerther to make happen

Bryan -- MARTA Supporter

October 1st, 2011
2:37 pm

If the dummies of Cobb county would have just supported MARTA in the first place we would be spending millions on bull crap light rail. We’d already have HEAVY rail where it needed to be and they could waste their money on building “super arteries.”

Dusty

October 1st, 2011
3:54 pm

So, downtowners here don’t understand why we (the people) don’t want to spend $100 milion on new fan-dangle light rail when there is heavy rail already in place that we could use for good transportation routes and LESS money.

Some people seem unaware that when you don’t have much money, you do NOT spend much. Thus it is with government funds. WE DON’T HAVE MUCH MONEY TO SPEND AND NONE TO WASTE! We also do not want added debt left for our children to pay.

The tea partiers know that. They also do not want any more money taken from them for wasteful projects. Do not raise taxes. That last “T” in SPLOST stands for TAX.

Please think before you add another tax to citizens already short of money and jobs.

Dumb and Dumber

October 1st, 2011
5:44 pm

ViewFromMidtown said it well.

There are a couple of major problems with the TSPLOST — the biggest one being that it leaves the question of who’s in charge left hanging. I know, Deal wants the legislature to fix that by creating yet another transit agency next year. As we like to say, WTF? GRTA, GDOT and ARC all have the authority to run transit lines in the suburbs, we don’t need more alphabet soup nonsense. That GRTA chose to run bus lines that compete with Cobb, Gwinnett and MARTA routes is so dim-witted that it defies explanation. I’d like to hear one “conservative” on this board explain why a state transit agency is competing with local and regional transit agency routes — all with taxpayer funding. And before you blame Obama or Barnes, GRTA has been under GOP control for nine years now.

But what Kyle nor Dusty can figure out is that their proposed commuter rail line which they “discovered” has been talked about for years, but unless we build a train station in the railroad gulch between CNN/Phillips and the 5 Points MARTA station, the Cobb line’s got nowhere to go. There is even $80 million in federal funds waiting to help build the multi-modal commuter rail station there — but its not in GOP TSPLOST list of projects. Why not? Because it also must be part of an extension of commuter rail to Lovejoy (and then Macon). Which the northsiders in the GOP loathe.

Jim Wooten, bless his senile heart, could never figure out why transportation planners all said a central commuter rail station for metro Atlanta has to be located in the railroad gulch — its simply really once you look at a map — its where the east/west and north/south rail lines cross. But since its in downtown Atlanta which is full of “those people” its a non-starter for the GOP.

Before you build commuter rail lines you have to figure out where they can tie into existing transportation networks or job centers — you would think this would be obvious, but then you’d have to consider the historic opposition to transit in the GOP and the suburbs — which means that the TSPLOST will fail (because its poorly conceived and should fail) and then the GOP can say “see? we tried but the voters said no, it’s their fault.”

I say give Deal and the GOP a mulligan, have them revoke the whole TSPLOST nonsense and try again. This time, start with deciding who is in charge and stop the Balkanization of transit and transportation planning in Georgia. We’ve still got plenty of other issues to fight over where everyone who lives OTP can blame on those that live ITP and vice versa.

Lil' Barry Bailout (Unexpectedly Revised Downward)

October 1st, 2011
8:26 pm

MarkV: would it not be appropriate to include the arguments from the other side?
———————–

Kyle IS the other side.

Lil' Barry Bailout (Unexpectedly Revised Downward)

October 1st, 2011
8:30 pm

How’s MARTA doing, and why should we want more of that?

Comrade MarxistV

October 1st, 2011
10:08 pm

MARTA REEKS ON ALL SIDES

Kyle Rules!

Dusty

October 1st, 2011
10:38 pm

Dumb & Dumber,
Don’t worry your little ol’ head about the plans for these rail lines or who is running them. We wouldn’t be voting on TSPLOST if nobody was in charge.

What you need to worry about is MONEY. Taxpayer money. If we are going to increase ways to improve transportation around Atlanta, it better be sensible and economical. The Feds owe how many trillions? The states and counties can’t meet their budgets. Unemployment is out of sight! Let’s get the economy and the finances straight before we start huge projects to be “paid off in ten years”!! Yeah! What a joke! We can’t even pay what we owe NOW!!

Forget TSPLOST and forget the Feds. Nobody with good sense wants to raise taxes in these hard times and nobody with good sense wants to increase the debt of the USA.

There are some things even worse than being stuck in slow traffic. Think about it. You might be able to figure it out.

Lee

October 1st, 2011
10:41 pm

MARTA is starving because their funding is limited (i.e. we subsidize roads and not trains). Also, they can’t really grow ridership because there aren’t enough stations where the people are or want to go. So actually, more of MARTA would be an improvement despite MARTA’s current problems.

And I like the idea of using existing tracks for cheaper transportation options. It makes a lot of sense!

Mike

October 1st, 2011
11:56 pm

Kyle, I usually never agree with you, but I do agree with you on this. I’m not sure why commuter rail lines and the multi-modal station in the gulch are not being considered for the TPLOST. Commuter rail is a much better fit for our region. I’d also like to see more MARTA rail extensions.

Unfortunately the Republicans in this state and most people in the suburbs have this strange hatred towards the city, which I’m sure is one reason why we can’t get anything done with transit. It’s really pathetic.

A Conservative Voice

October 2nd, 2011
8:23 am

You know folks, I see it everyday, from the WH on down to the lowest local level. There are absolutely millions of extremely smart Americans from all walks of life……from the very rich to the person begging on the streets. Why in the %^&*(*%$# aren’t we asking these people for their input and taking advantage of their vast storehouse of knowledge that we so desperately need in this country. Our elected officials seem to think that they are the only ones with the know how to make these decisions that affect all of us. As evidenced in this article, we have assets that aren’t being utilized that could help solve our transportation problems. In 1983 the great leaders in our state gave the railroads the permission to stop providing passenger rail service. With a little foresight, that infrastructure could now be providing an alternative to building expensive lines and more roads. Lets identify all of those assets now and begin to utilize them again to stop spending all of this money that we don’t have. Folks, we are in a recession (I think it is a depression) and we’re heading, so the experts say, for another one. We have millions of people out of work, our economy is worse than it has been in my lifetime and I’m old…….no more added taxes until we get this thing straightened out…..vote NO to TSPLOST and let’s get some input from us ordinary people. I know that gonna be hard for you politicians to accept, but GET OVER IT.

Ian Ausfarht

October 2nd, 2011
8:59 am

kyle sux donkey dix sideways……..

Michael H. Smith

October 2nd, 2011
9:22 am

For what it is worth A Conservative Voice as it has been mention many times already on this blog article commuter rail service using existing rail and or rail rights of way infrastructure is NOT a new idea by any stretch of the imagination.

The politicians Republican and Democrat alike already know what needs to be done. As usual this is about power and money, who gets to hold & keep it and who doesn’t. To any that think differently
stop and ask yourself, why Cobb and Gwinnett have their own separate bus systems? Ain’t nothing strange about the dislike that exists between these two sharply opposite governing philosophies. One more time for the slow learners: This is about power and money, who gets to hold & keep it and who doesn’t.

A reference link to the cited dollars & sensible past: The Georgia Association of Railroad Passengers

http://www.garprail.org/documents/grpp2006factsheet.pdf

Michael H. Smith

October 2nd, 2011
9:36 am

One more link for the truly statewide passenger rail interested:

http://www.georgiarail.org

another voice

October 2nd, 2011
9:51 am

As a regular I-75 commuter and a generally frugal person, I really like these ideas. I like a cheaper way to bring rail and a way for buses to move more quickly between cobb and downtown. This isn’t a partisan solution, it is well thought out, saves taxpayer money, and will speed up the entire process. I would like to know how I can make my support for this plan heard.

@@

October 2nd, 2011
10:08 am

You know folks, I see it everyday, from the WH on down to the lowest local level. There are absolutely millions of extremely smart Americans from all walks of life……from the very rich to the person begging on the streets. Why in the %^&*(*%$# aren’t we asking these people for their input and taking advantage of their vast storehouse of knowledge that we so desperately need in this country.

So true BUT…

the government sees us as lowly financiers. We don’t rank among the “experts”, of whom they are so fond.

As the story goes, Clayton County’s “experts”…when laying out their road system, threw down a handful of match sticks to map out how our roads were to run.

I can’t really get into this transportation thingy seein’s how we, as a nation, aren’t goin; anywhere for the next 5 to 8 years.

It’s the economy, stoopid.

Michael H. Smith

October 2nd, 2011
10:09 am

This isn’t a partisan solution?

Want to bet? I’ll be glad to make some easy money very quickly this morning.

One partisan side Democrat socialists and liberals will put government and unions in control at totally taxpayer expense and on the other partisan side Republican Libertarian capitalists and conservatives will have very little government involvement with a non-union private sector heavily invested and in control of operations for as much profit as possible with least amount of taxpayer dependence.

@@

October 2nd, 2011
10:11 am

aren’t goin;

Take ^^^ that semi out.

Michael H. Smith

October 2nd, 2011
10:17 am

Well, @@, I’m hopin’ and changin’ that what one of those Republican candidates for Prez said… believe it was Newt…

When your neighbor loses his job it’s a recession

When you lose your job it’s a depression

WHEN OBAMA LOSES HIS JOB IT’S A RECOVERY!

I’m very much in the trans thingy if it is done correctly and that seems a very long reach at the moment.

@@

October 2nd, 2011
10:21 am

Michael:

Originally?

When your neighbor loses his job it’s a recession

When you lose your job it’s a depression

WHEN OBAMA (JMMY CARTER) LOSES HIS JOB IT’S A RECOVERY!

Ronald Reagan’s.

With or without baggage, Newt’s got it goin’ on in the ideas department. Intelligent and beyond. He would eat Obama’s lunch in a debate.

@@

October 2nd, 2011
10:22 am

DANGIT! CLOSE THOSE SLANTIES!!!!

IHB