By Ron Sifen
More and more community leaders in Cobb are realizing that the light rail proposal will consume a lot of tax dollars, but deliver little improvement in traffic congestion.
State Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) has criticized this project, saying that it “is not about traffic relief: it’s about economic development.” Setzler has recommended an alternative package of projects that would do far more, short term and long term, to alleviate traffic congestion in Cobb.
The Atlanta newspaper recently published a Politifact fact check on State Sen. Majority Leader Chip Rogers’ statement that rail “doesn’t do a great job of lessening traffic.” PolitiFact judged this statement to be “Mostly True,” and cited strong evidence to support that judgment. They downgraded to “Mostly True” only because they thought he should have added that adding lanes also doesn’t do a great job of lessening traffic in the long term. (I think that rail designed to alleviate traffic congestion can be successful. The problem with the proposed Cobb Parkway light rail concept is that it is designed to promote development, at the expense of traffic congestion relief.)
Local state legislators Lindsey Tippins, Sharon Cooper, Earl Ehrhart, former Cobb Commission Chairman Earl Smith, and others have also spoken out against this boondoggle.
Perhaps the most important question was raised in a Sept. 4 Marietta Daily Journal editorial. “So who is the proposed TSPLOST really designed to serve? Business interests and in the Cumberland/Galleria area? Or commuters?”
TSPLOST proponents plan to spend several million dollars to “educate” us about the alleged benefits of these projects. Consider the “information” we are already receiving.
At recent town hall meetings, Cobb has claimed that Cumberland-to-Arts Center light rail would achieve 20,000 riders per day, and that this is the equivalent of getting 20,000 cars off the road.
Does that mean that we will actually get 20,000 cars off the road in Cobb County? No!
The ARC has preliminary calculations and is projecting 16,500 trips per day, not 20,000. Their route includes three Cobb stations in the Cumberland area and five Atlanta stations.
* Only 7,200 of these boardings are projected to be in Cobb County.
* Some of these will be people who already ride transit along this route, and will take light rail instead of buses.
* Some of these will be return trips for people from Atlanta who took the light rail to the Cumberland area, and are returning home.
* Some of these boardings will be people who drove to Cumberland and parked, rather than driving a few hundred more yards into Fulton County.
* None of these actually result in cars off the road in Cobb.
* Cumberland to Arts Center light rail might not even take 2,000 cars off the road in Cobb. Not much benefit for a billion dollars. Other projects could accomplish far more traffic congestion relief for the same money.
By the way, TSPLOST projects are supposed to be able to be completed within 10 years. GDOT estimates light rail just from Arts Center to Cumberland will be completed in 2026.
Will light rail do better when it eventually gets built all the way to Acworth (mostly along Cobb Parkway)?
When the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority started the Northwest Connectivity Study, it was assumed that GRTA would recommend light rail for this corridor. After a few years, GRTA concluded that light rail was the wrong answer for this corridor. At one meeting, GRTA demonstrated why light rail would not meet the needs of suburban commuters.
They went through the route, station by station, and projected how long each stop would take, and how long it would take to get from each station to the next. It would take 80 minutes to get from Town Center to Arts Center.
Then they presented the following scenario. A north Cobb commuter works near Peachtree Center, and typically has a 50-minute commute each way. Light rail offers the following alternative.
* Drive 10 minutes to the Town Center transit station.
* Five minutes to park and get to the train
* Five minutes wait for the train
* 80 minutes commute to Arts Center MARTA station
* 10 minutes to get to the MARTA platform and wait for the next MARTA train
* 10 minutes to Peachtree Center
* 10 minute walk to work.
GRTA concluded that very few “riders-of-choice” would be willing to turn their 50-minute commute each way into a 130-minute commute each way.
Even if light rail were completed all the way to Acworth utilizing Cobb Parkway most of the way, and even if Cobb could slash the trip time from Acworth to Arts Center, including at least 12 stops, down to 60 minutes, instead of 80 minutes, light rail as currently conceptualized would still double a commuter’s total trip time.
GRTA clearly demonstrated that this is insufficient to get suburban “riders-of-choice” out of the cars, and onto transit.
The TSPLOST is a boondoggle unless our tax dollars are spent to optimize traffic congestion relief.
Ron Sifen is a Vinings resident and former head of the Vinings Homeowners Association. A recent TSPLOST editorial of his can be found here.