Jonesboro pitching downtown plan, awaiting rail funds

By Billy Corriher

The city of Jonesboro will introduce its Master Plan for downtown development at a meeting with the Georgia Rail Passenger Authority today. The city's plan is centered around a new commuter rail station at the old depot, but funding for the proposed rail line from Macon to Atlanta, via Clayton County, is still up in the air.

The entire rail project will cost at least $200 million, and the state government has yet to contribute sufficient funds.

Governor Sonny Perdue has released $4 million in bonds for the project, and the state Department of Transportation has kicked in $10 million. After the state re-dedicated some funding, U.S. Rep. David Scott secured $21 million in federal funds. Scott said before the federal funds could be allocated, the state had to make a commitment.

For the project to proceed any further, the state will need to allocate more funds for the rail. The Clayton County state representatives need to secure funding from the state and "drive this ball across the touchdown line," Scott said.

Former Gov. Roy Barnes had allotted $174 million in loans for the commuter rail project, but Perdue blocked the loans in May 2003. Instead, Perdue proposed express buses and traffic light improvements as a solution to metro-Atlanta's traffic woes.

Scott said that Perdue's other solutions have not been as effective as a rail system could be.

Doug Alexander, director of the state rail authority, said that buses and rapid transit lanes are good, but a rail line would be more effective at getting traffic off the congested interstates and encouraging development.

Walker said the rail station would bring in consumers and, along with improvements planned by the city, would encourage more businesses to locate in downtown Jonesboro.

Jonesboro resident Vicki Smith sat on the stakeholders committee which helped plan Jonesboro's downtown development plan. Smith said that establishing the rail station is essential for the plan.

"It's a good way to get people in and out of town without the traffic," she said, adding that locating the station downtown would make it accessible. "If I rode the train, I'd want to get off right where things are happening."

Walker said that, even if the commuter rail line is not established in the near future, the city can still begin implementing its plan for revitalizing downtown.

"While the commuter rail station is a vital component, it's not the only component," Walker said. Regardless of when the station is built, the Atlanta Regional Commission will still fund the city's Livable Centers Initiative and the city will go forward with the planned improvements.